The Clifton School of Arts stands on Dharawal country. The CSA acknowledges the Wodi Wodi people as the traditional custodians of this land. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay our respects to elders past and present.
The original Clifton School of Arts was established in 1880 when Alexander Stuart (owner of the local Coalcliff coal mine and later Premier of NSW) gave the use of a room in an old weatherboard house (across the road from the existing building) for the purpose of providing classes for the young workers. This became the first home for the School of Arts. The area grew steadily through the exploitation of the local coal deposits and by 1888 Clifton was an important commercial centre with both coach and railway terminals. Plans were made to replace the original School of Arts with a more substantial building.
However, times soon became difficult for the Illawarra with continuing industrial unrest including lengthy and bitterly contested strikes. There were also major mining disasters in 1887 and 1902 in which several hundred men and boys were killed. Added to this was the problem of the location of the coal and associated mining and shipping difficulties which meant that the mines were always economically marginal.
In 1910, the Coalcliff Colliery miners went out on strike for six months and it was during this time, that the existing Clifton School of Arts was built. The cost of £100 was raised by public subscription, the land was donated by the mining company and the striking miners provided the labour.
The first stage consisted of four rooms on two storeys and although the School was really meant to be a much larger building, given the changed economic circumstances of the area the planned hall at the back of the building was never added. Although the School was built at Clifton, Scarborough (formerly South Clifton) had become the centre for growth and so Clifton’s population steadily declined as the mine closed and miners sought work elsewhere. The partially-completed building operated as a School of Arts for a number of years and later became the local general store. Later still it provided a home and studio space for local artists.
Over the years the building deteriorated badly and it looked as though it would have to be demolished. In 1996, however, a new School of Arts Committee was formed and fundraising and lobbying for the restoration began. Grants were received from Wollongong City Council, NSW Heritage Commission and private donors but of course nothing would have happened without the efforts and enthusiasm of the local community whose energies have brought the building back to life continue to support it as a community facility.
The CSA was reopened in 2003.
Since then, Clifton School of Arts Inc has repaired, sealed and stabilised the western wall of the CSA, repaired and, in some cases, renewed windows, repainted the interior and exterior of the building, installed new interior lighting, a safety rail and lighting on the front stairs, and a new kitchen, and renovated the toilet.
The current School of Arts Committee is determined to complete the building that the Clifton miners intended in 1911. On 7 December 2021, Wollongong City Council approved a development application to provide safe access and facilities for those with mobility issues, accessible parking and a small multi-function gallery space at the rear of our existing heritage building.
The land on which the Clifton School of Arts stands is owned under a Trust by Clifton School of Arts Incorporated, established in 1996.