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Joadja Town

Home > Southern Highlands > Outdoor | Tours | Family | Day Trips | Architecture
by Todd Newton (subscribe)
Published December 17th 2013
Unveil the stories of this old mining town
Joadja Town

Hidden away in the depths of the Joadja valley lies the 'ghostly' remains of an abandoned mining town.

Joadja Town is one of the best preserved shale mining sites in Australia. From the 1st of February in 2014, it will be reopening to the public. But if you make a special arrangement, you might be able to cut the wait.

The story of the town's origin is an interesting one.


A old photograph of a resident in Joadja

In 1798, a group of convicts escaped from a Sydney prison and were intent on fleeing to China. Fortunately, they weren't exactly geographers. . .

They were told that China was 'actually' located 180km south-west of Sydney and so they ventured.

John Wilson, an explorer, was given the task of finding them. He trekked through what is now known as the Southern Highlands . His expedition encouraged other explorers to follow in his footsteps and it eventually led to the discovery of the Joadja valley.

Deposits of shale were found in the hills. But no one knew of its significance until Edward Carter (a son of a farmer in the area) discovered its potential when he saw the gas given off the shale when two men were burning it. So mines were built, and the town of Joadja was established in 1870.

A sample of Shale: courtesy of US Government (Wikimedia Commons)

Shale was collected and used for four main ways; for producing light, for cleaning, for preserving timber and stone, and for lubrication. It was also sold to places in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as overseas, to produce gas.

Joadja became home to roughly 1300 residents. Many were Scottish families where most of the men worked in the mines, retort, and refinery.

An old photograph of a hauling engine

Access to the valley was limited with a rail gauge way into Mittagong, as well as three horse tracks that led down into the valley.


But enough about the history: feel free to explore the town on your own. But it would be more worthwhile to book a tour as you can speak with the tour guides (and land owners) who have a vast well of knowledge on the town and its history.

Tours are held on weekends at 11am and 2pm. You can book on weekdays but only if you are in a group of at least 15 people. Weekday bookings also come with a barbecue lunch.

Entry into Joadja Town is by dirt road.

Ghost tours are also held around the valley where you can visit the sites of some of Joadja's most gruesome deaths.

Some sites that you can see on the tour include;

The Incline

The incline

Shale and other goods were transported up (and down) the escarpment by loading wagons which were pulled by a 40 horsepower hauling engine. The incline was connected to a tramway in the valley and a rail line at the top of the hill which went to Mittagong in the Southern Highlands.

Several people were killed and crushed at the bottom of the incline by 'runaway' wagons.

The Railway Bridge

A creek separates the town into halves, meaning it would have been difficult to transport resources from the refinery (on the northern side) to the incline on the southern side. A railway bridge was built with eight pylons: six of them made from concrete and two pylons made of wood.

The remains of a bridge pylon in the distance

Many used the bridge as a walkway across the creek which became a dangerous practice. For safety, a pedestrian bridge made of wood was built alongside. It was built with hand rails.

A local fire incinerated the pedestrian bridge and destroyed most of the railway bridge leaving few remains.

Local lore also tells that the spirits of two murdered miners are said to roam the hills near the creek.

The Retorts

Here, the Shale obtained from the mines was converted into shale oil by warming it up to 500C, and vapours from the oils were collected and condensed. The 'D' shaped retorts are perhaps the only surviving examples of this kind of technology in the world.

The D-shaped retorts

Each retort is shaped like a 'D' to boost heating with the largest surface possible being exposed to the source of the heat (the shale).

Many workers nicknamed this place as 'Hell on Earth' because of its harsh working conditions.

The Refinery

Oil produced from the retorts was transported here via iron pipes beneath the ground. Oil was then separated into various components, where each portion was to have a specific use.

The Refinery was one of the most dangerous areas of the valley because a spark or naked flame could ignite any of the volatile resources stored here.

The Tar Pit

The tar pit

A pit was dug and used as storage for the tar left over in the retorts.

If you were to step on the ground, your foot would sink in like quicksand because remnants of the tar are still underneath. In fact, a lady had lost her golden retriever at the tar pit in the 1960s.

But don't expect to test it out for yourself. It's fenced off.

Carrington Row

Carrington Row
A cottage in Carrington Row

A stroll down Carrington Row will give you a glimpse of what living conditions were like for workers and their families. When shale mines first opened, most workers lived in huts of stringy bark while middle management built the cottages you see in the photos.

A cottage usually came with a small kitchen, wash house, and a fireplace in the main room.

Carrington Row
Inside a Carrington Row cottage

In these cottages, a whole family usually slept in the main room. At times, they may have even shared a room with another family.

Some cottages had their own toilets but they were built outside in a pit-type system and were away from the back door.

The School of Arts

In Joadja, there were two schools: the main school (built in 1890) with a large classroom for children, and the School of Arts which served many purposes throughout its course.

School of Arts
Remains of the School of Arts

In 1886, the School of Arts opened. Mechanical skills were learned here by workers. A variety of academic disciplines were also taught here including elementary mathematics, writing, reading, and literature.

Religious ceremonies were also held at the Arts school, although it was never technically a church. It also became a venue for community sporting events and it even served as a kind of public library at one point.


Inside the Auxilary

If you love wine tasting, this is the stop for you. The owners of the property make their own wine and whisky and store them in barrels in the auxilary. The owners may let you taste some of their produce.

Pay a visit

What you have just read has just scratched the surface of what there is to see and learn. Joadja's history is one of many colourful triumphs and many tragedies.

See it for yourself and tour the abandoned remains of this mining town.
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Why? Historical Tour
Phone: (02) 4878 5129
Where: Southern Highlands
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