Information for Students

In this section, we have a lot of information that we hope you find interesting and useful! We cover:

  1. Maritime Studies
  2. History of Nobbys
  3. Kings Town to Newcastle
  4. Coal – Australia’s First Export
  5. Vessel Traffic Information
  6. Pilotage in the Port of Newcastle
  7. Shipwrecks and Dramatic Rescues
  8. Vessels in the Port of Newcastle
  9. Distances in the Port of Newcastle
  10. Moving Cargo
  11. Do You Know?


1. Maritime Studies

Australian Maritime College

The Australian Maritime College is located in Launceston, Tasmania. It offers a variety of maritime learning opportunities, including distance learning.


Hunter Institute of TAFE

The Hunter Institutes Faculty of Transport runs the Newcastle Maritime Training Centre at the Newcastle Campus. Courses include maritime and marine engineering, boat and ship building etcetera. The Institute also offers courses online.

University of Wollongong

Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security (ANCORS)

Studies in Fisheries Management, Law of the Sea, Maritime Regulation and Enforcement, International Fisheries Law, Master of Maritime Studies.


2.  History of Nobbys

The First Discovery of Nobbys

From its early beginnings as an isolated island, Nobbys has changed significantly over the past 200 years. Not until the discovery of coal by Europeans in 1797 by Lt. John Shortland was the region viewed as having any significance.

Captain James Cook was the first European to note Nobby’s Island from the ship Endeavour and he described it as "a small clump of an island lying close to shore". This less than complimentary description of Nobbys Head was written in his private log on the 10th May 1770.

At that time, Nobbys was indeed an island, not being joined to the mainland until 1846.

Historical thinking was that Nobbys was twice the height of what it is today. Original references to Nobbys height were based on the work of British naval officer, Ensign Francis Barrallier, who estimated the height at about 62 metres (203 feet) in 1801.

Research in 2010 by the Coal River Working Party has shown the height of Nobbys to have been about 43 metres. The Working Party based its findings on 1828 survey fieldbooks by Sir Thomas Mitchell who made detailed observations around Newcastle and Nobbys.

The Working Party also advised that early colonial paintings and sketches confirmed Mitchell’s survey results. The 43 metres is about the height of the current Signal Station (the taller of the buildings on the headland).

Nobbys Island to Nobbys Headland

An early problem facing captains of sailing ships entering Newcastle was the loss of wind in the ship's sails as they passed the towering Nobbys outcrop at the port's entrance.

To alleviate this, the top of Nobbys was physically removed to reduce its height to 27.5 metres in 1855. The resulting rock was used in the construction of the breakwater.

With its prominent position at the entrance to the port, a lighthouse was built and just after midnight on the 1st January 1858, the light came into operation. At that time, the light burnt China Tea Oil, which gave a more brilliant light than kerosene and was less dangerous.

It was later replaced by a fixed, incandescent kerosene vapour lamp. In 1935 the 100,000 candle power light was changed to 580,000 candlepower, visible at a height of 35 metres above sea level.

The headland still houses the port's lighthouse (domed building) and Signal Station in addition to three vacant cottages that were homes of signal station staff of the Newcastle Port Corporation and their families.

Perfect Weather Station

Because of Nobbys positioning it has been selected by the Bureau of Meteorology as an ideal weather monitoring station. Nobbys meteorological activity includes automated reporting to the Bureau, of temperatures, wind speed and direction and rainfall.

Convict Built Pier

Governor Macquarie ordered the start of what we now call Macquarie Pier (between Nobbys Beach and the headland) in 1818 to help create the port. After a number of stops and starts, it was completed in 1846.

Convict labour was chosen to undertake the construction because it was a hazardous job with the convicts having to work under all sea and weather conditions, night and day, and many lives were lost to the sea.

The rock taken from lowering the height of Nobbys was used in the construction of Macquarie Pier.

Nobbys Breakwater

The breakwater beyond Nobbys was started in 1875 and extended a number of times before being finished in 1915. It is also called the 'southern breakwater'.

For those of you on the north side of the harbour, the northern breakwater was built between 1898 and 1912 and runs a distance of 530 metres from the high water mark on Stockton Beach.

Then and Now

Various bicentenary projects funded by the Newcastle Port Corporation in 1997 focussed on the vivid history surrounding Nobbys and the breakwater, including a series of sculptures displayed along the breakwater and a viewing platform overlooking a set of historic convict steps.

Full-time staff last worked at Nobbys in 2001 when the Vessel Traffic Information Centre was transferred to the current Pilot Station of the Newcastle Foreshore.


3.  Kings Town to Newcastle

Newcastle was originally called King's Town and was first settled in 1801.

This first settlement only lasted eight months however, and in 1804 this area was resettled and renamed Newcastle.

In its first years, King's Town and Newcastle were little more than a highly restricted prison, no one was allowed to enter or leave the settlement without the express prior permission from the governor.

Even a wayward crew member or captain from a visiting ship could be punished with lashings if found on land after dark.


4. Coal – Australia’s First Export

More than two centuries of coal loading in the Port of Newcastle

Not until the discovery of coal by Europeans in 1797 by Lt. John Shortland was the region viewed as having any significance.

Newcastle can claim the honour of developing Australia's first export - the loading of coal for India. This summary lists the historical events, which have led to the development of Australia’s largest export industry in the Port of Newcastle.


First Fleet arrives and settlement of Australia commences.


Lt. John Shortland was the first European to discover the Hunter River and collect coal samples scattered on the shores.


Fifty tonnes of Newcastle coal exported to Bengal via Sydney aboard the barque, Hunter. The cargo resulted in Newcastle becoming Australia's first commercial export port.


The first coal mine using convict labour is established under the present Fort Scratchley.


First attempts made to settle the area in 1801 but discontinued in 1802. In this period the first direct shipment of coal was made to the Cape of Good Hope in the vessel Anna Josephs.


Newcastle re-established as a penal settlement. Coal was obtained by driving tunnels into nearby cliffs. Ships were loaded by wheelbarrow from a dump at the foot of Watt Street, Newcastle.


The total amount of coal shipped since European discovery reached 50,000 tonnes.


A short wharf and loading chute erected at the foot of Brown Street, Newcastle.


The Australian Agricultural Company commenced construction of coal staithes (elevated stagings) near Merewether Street, Newcastle.


The Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. given permission to erect steam cranes at Kings Wharf.


Coal exports for the year amounted to 566,000 tonnes.


On the 24 June there were 69 vessels in port waiting for cargo.


First hydraulic cranes erected at Bullock Island (now Carrington).


Coal exports to overseas and interstate ports for the year exceeded 4,500,000 tonnes.


The controversial 'McMyler Hoist' erected at the Dyke.


A record 5,236,621 tonnes of coal shipped through the port.


First electric cranes built at the Dyke.


Newstan Colliery builds the Dyke Loader, the first modern conveyor type loader.


The Maritime Services Board (MSB) commenced operation of the Basin Coal Loader with a capacity of 7 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa).


Canwan Coals Ltd. completed a conveyor link with the Basin Coal Loader, increasing capacity by 4 Mtpa.


Port Waratah Coal Services Pty Ltd (PWCS) commenced operations at the 16 Mtpa Steelworks Channel Loader.


PWCS upgrades its facility at Port Waratah to increase capacity to 28 Mtpa.


Kooragang Coal Loader Ltd. (KCL) commenced operation of a new loader on Kooragang Island. Stage 1 of the facility had a capacity of 15 Mtpa, bringing present port capacity to 43 million tonnes Mpta.


The 315 metre Iron Pacific leaves port with a record lift of 182,464 tonnes of coal. Of this total, 103,238 tonnes was loaded in Newcastle and the remainder in Port Kembla.

Receival berth for coal from Catherine Hill Bay on the self-discharge vessel Wallarah completed at Dyke 6.


Monthly tonnage record of 3,326,020 loaded in June.


The bulk coal carrier, Iron Pacific, loads a record 177,289 tonnes of coal at KCL in August. The Basin Coal Loader is decommissioned in December after 21 years of operation. In the financial year 1987-88, coal exports exceed 30 million tonnes.


KCL loads its 50 millionth tonne of coal onto Shirotae Maru in April. Concorde Maru sailed from PWCS on 2 June with a record load for that facility of 144,936 tonnes.


The MSB Hunter Ports Authority withdraws from coal operations in the port on the 1 July, with maintenance and operations now controlled by PWCS. The port's two coal loading facilities, PWCS and KCL, merge on the 4 July to form the largest capacity coal loading operation.


Iron Pacific loads a new record 183,904 tonnes of coal in January (record is still current).

2010 Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group in May 2010 opens the $1 billion first stage of its Kooragang Island coal terminal.
2010-11 The 100 million tonne export record is broken when 108.26 million tonnes of coal is exported in the 2010-11 financial year.


More than 142 million tonnes of coal was exported from the Port of Newcastle in the 2012-2013 financial year. The total amount of trade throughput of 148.87 milion tonnes was the 13th consecutive record year for imports and exports.


Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group in September, 2013 officially opens the final stage of its coal terminal, the overall project costing $2.5 billion to take export capacity to 66 million tonnes per annum.

Port Waratah Coal Services completes the final stage of an expansion at its Kooragang coal terminal to bring to an end an eight year, $1.6 billion expansion program. Coal loading capacity is now 145 million tonnes, comprising 120 million tonnes at the Kooragang coal terminal and 25 million tonnes at the Carrington coal terminal.



5. Vessel Traffic Information

Click the link above to read about how the Corporation manages ship bookings into and out of the Port of Newcastle

The primary role of the Vessel Traffic Information Centre (VTIC) is to operate the Corporation's ship booking system, which includes planning, booking and coordinating vessel movements.

The VTIC operates 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.


6. Pilotage in the Port of Newcastle and the use of Navigation Aids

Click the link above to read about how the Corporation manages ship movements by highly skilled marine pilots into and out of the Port of Newcastle.

With over 4.600 shipping movements per annum, vessel safety is paramount in the port. The Port of Newcastle is a compulsory pilotage port which means that a ship’s pilot, employed and certified by Newcastle Port Corporation, is transferred to all ships entering and exiting the port.

Pilots provide advice to the ships' masters (captains) to assist vessels arriving and departing from the port. The marine pilot takes charge of the conduct of the navigation of the vessel whilst the master retains command of the vessel. About 80% of Marine Pilot transfers to and from ships are completed by helicopter, the remaining 20% being by pilot cutter vessels.

The available modern technology and the extensive training and experience of the Newcastle Port Corporation's marine pilots today, has not always been the case. State of the art navigation aids, channel markers, radar and vessel tracking systems are used to assist the pilots in moving vessels safely into and out of the port in a variety of weather conditions and around the clock.


7.  Early Days - Shipwrecks and Dramatic Rescues

Newcastle's early years as a commercial port are dotted with shipwrecks and dramatic rescues. In its first years as a commercial port, many sailing ships ended their working lives on the notorious Oyster Bank at the entrance to the port.

Prior to the construction of the breakwaters at the port's entrance, heavy seas often pushed the sailing ships into difficulties on the Oyster Bank or Stockton Beach. The northern breakwater at Stockton now lies over the Oyster Bank and many of the wrecks that it claimed.

The first vessel to founder was the colonial schooner, Francis, which ran aground on the Oyster Bank in 1805.

In total, some 59 ships have been lost within a 25 mile radius of Newcastle. The most recent was in May 1974 when the bulk carrier, Sygna, was driven ashore on Stockton Beach by gale force winds and giant seas.

The ship was on its maiden voyage and at the time the port recorded the largest swell conditions at the harbour entrance with a wave height of more than 17 metres. The bow section was salvaged and taken to Taiwan and the stern remains as a popular fishing location and landmark.

Pasha Bulker

The most recent shipping incident occurred on Friday, 8 June 2007 when the bulk carrier, Pasha Bulker, ran aground in heavy seas on Nobbys Beach at Newcastle. The vessel was successfully refloated on 2 July after 25 days on the beach. Tugs towed Pasha Bulker into port on 4 July for temporary repairs before its was eventually towed to Vietnam for major repairs.

Submarine Attack - 8 June 1942

Newcastle was seen as a strategic commercial and industrial target by the Japanese.  Fort Scratchley's massive guns went into action against a Japanese I-24 submarine during World War II, earning it distinction as the only fort on the Australian coast to have fired in anger.

Whilst the target of the attack was the BHP steelworks in Mayfield, little damage resulted from the 34 shells fired on Newcastle during the night of 8 June 1942. The most significant damage recorded was to a house in Parnell Place, Newcastle East.


The guns at Fort Scratchley now have pride of place at this historic site and are occasionally used for ceremonial purposes or to welcome a cruise ship when its sails into the harbour.


8. Vessels in the Port

Coal Vessels

There are three size groups of coal vessels that regularly visit the Port of Newcastle. These are:

Handy size (between 20,000 and 35,000 tonnes) and Handy Max (between 35,000 and 50,000 tonnes) which load and discharge from river ports around the world

Description comes from being able to meet dimensional restrictions of the locks of St Lawrence Seaway which limits breadth to 23m, length to 222m and draft to 7.9 m

Panamax size which load between 50,000 and 90,000 tonnes, their description coming from the ability to sail through the Panama Canal.

Description comes from being able to meet dimensional restrictions of the locks of Panama Canal which limits breadth to 32m, length to 275m and draft to 11 m

Cape size which load between 90,000 and 180,000 tonnes, their description coming from inability of passing through the Suez Canal or Panama Canal because of size but able to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn

Other Vessels

Other vessels calling into port are small tankers, navy ships, cruise ships, heavy lift ships and general cargo and bulk ships.

Note 1: There are exceptions to the rule.

Note 2: Largest ship to enter port: Iron Pacific at 315 metres in length which loaded 183,904 tonnes of coal in January 1996. The Iron Pacific was specifically constructed with twin rudders for Newcastle and Port Kembla. Coal was exported from Newcastle and Hay Point to Japan and then iron ore was loaded in Western Australia for Port Kembla and Newcastle steelworks. The 317 metre cruise liner, Celebrity Solstice, is scheduled to enter port in March 2014.


9. Distances Within the Port

The distance from the breakwater at Nobbys at the entrance to the Port of Newcastle to the coal and bulk berths at Kooragang Island is about six kilometres.

It takes a vessel between 40 and 50 minutes to navigate up the main shipping channel to the berths at the Port Waratah Coal Services coal terminal and up to 75 minutes to reach the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group coal terminal in the South Arm of the Hunter River.

Vessels sailing to the Basin area (grain, general cargo and heavy lift berths) take about 30 minutes to sail the 3.5 kilometres from the port entrance.


10.  Moving Cargo

The ways in which cargo is loaded and unloaded has changed dramatically in the port's 214 year history. None more so than coal.

Originally the coal was loaded onto the ships using wheelbarrows, a slow and painstaking process. In 1860 steam cranes were introduced making loading faster. Hydraulic and electric cranes were then introduced, but as the trade demands on the port increased, further improvements in technology were needed.

Today high speed belt conveyors, giant reclaimers and stackers and shiploaders with capacity of up to 10,500 tonnes per hour all ensure that Newcastle remains one of the world's leading coal export ports.


11. Do You Know?

Do you know how far you walk or jog when you go out along Macquarie Pier (from Nobbys Beach carpark to the road leading up to Nobbys headland) and the southern breakwater (from Nobbys headland out to sea)?

The area is a popular site these days for early morning walkers or joggers as they try to keep fit while trying to take in the stunning views of Newcastle Harbour.

The distance from Nobbys carpark to the fork in the road that leads up to Nobbys headland is about 550 metres. If you continue to the end of the southern breakwater it’s about another 800 metres – a return trip of approaching three kilometres.

For those of you on the north side of the harbour, the northern breakwater was built between 1898 and 1912 and runs a distance of 530 metres from the highwater mark on Stockton Beach.

11a. Ballast

Do you know that there is an old tale in the port that if you walk along the shores of Stockton you walk on top of every country in the world. It’s a little farfetched but there is rubble, soil, gravel and stone from many countries in the world that came to Newcastle in the form of ballast in old sailing ships.

And it’s not only Stockton that has a small slice of the world in its make-up. The foreshore on the southern side of the harbour (including the area near Customs House), Dyke Point, Carrington and the current Honeysuckle site have been partly filled with ballast.

The ballast includes stone from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, soil and gravel from Peru, Chile and Ecuador in South America, and even rubble from the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

There was a time when vessels from China, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, New Guinea, the Philippines and the Seychelles were refused permission to dump ballast on the edge of the harbour because of a health scare. The ships were ordered to dump their ballast at sea before entering the port.

Ships visiting the Port of Newcastle these days no longer use solid material as ballast but utilise a water ballast system.