PORTLAND NSW The Town that built Sydney
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PORTLAND NSW - "History"

Just over two hours drive west of Sydney, in the middle of the Great Dividing Range between Lithgow and Bathurst, lies the historic mining town of Portland. Once a bustling town built around the Portland cement works, the town has struggled to regain its former economic strength for more than a decade since the cement works closed.

The first successful manufacture of cement in NSW was carried out here late in the 19th century, based on local limestone deposits. The old bottle kilns (circa 1888) still survive since those days and now enjoy heritage protection.

Prior to white settlement, the Portland region was occupied by the Wiradjuri people. The first European in the area was James Blackman who surveyed roads in the area in 1820 and today Blackman’s Flat and Blackman’s Crown bear the family name.

Portland really got its start when Thomas Murray selected 61 hectares of land in 1863 and constructed his first lime kiln on what is now the corner of Lime and Villiers Streets.

The railway came to Portland in 1883 and the station was called Cullen Siding until 1889. The Cullen Bullen Lime and Cement Company established operations in the village that year. During the early 1890’s, the first cement-making kilns west of the Blue Mountains were built in Portland.

In 1894 the village was gazetted as Portland, possibly named after the limestone rich Isle of Portland, on the southern shores of England. Others say the name derived from the Portland cement-making process.

The cement works opened in 1902 and Portland was declared a town in 1906. Cement produced at the Portland cement works helped build the city of Sydney and was shipped around Australia until the works were closed in 1991. Local resident, 85 year old Jack Kearns coined the phrase “the town that built Sydney” one evening in the Coronation Hotel where he sometimes plays an impromptu rendition on the accordion and the harmonica with his friend Dexter on guitar in front of an enthusiastic audience. Jack has a wealth of local knowledge and his son was once the postmaster at Portland.

Dr August Wilhelm Karl Scheidel can be considered the father of the modern cement industry in Australia. He registered the Commonwealth Portland Cement Company Ltd in Sydney in December 1900 on behalf of the New Zealand Mines Trust whose Board of Directors was in England. He was a brilliant man who designed the cement works at Portland and supervised their construction. It is a great credit to him that there were no accidents during the erection of these works and the associated infrastructure.

Dr Scheidel was a pioneer in industrial relations who insured his employees against accidents and introduced the eight-hour work day at the Portland cement works. He provided an ambulance service and accident ward for the works which he shared with the town when such facilities were rare in the country. He supported the building of a hospital, which was opened in 1913. In 1901 he provided land for a church in the southwest corner of the cement works, which is still in use today as the Anglican Church. The Portland cement works provided free street lighting for the town and housing for staff members. Many of those building still survive in the town today.

Today the dust from the cement works is gone and the industrial focus of the town is the Mt Piper Power Station and the coal mines located nearby. Surrounded by sheep and cattle farms, the town has also attracted an increasing number of new businesses whose owners have come to enjoy a country lifestyle close to Sydney. Goats, alpacas, horses, olives, chestnuts and grapevines are making inroads as large farms are broken up into smaller holdings and more ‘out-of-towners’ move in.