The original Clifton School of Arts was established in 1880 when Andrew Stuart (owner of the local coal mine and later premier of NSW) gave the use of a room and later £30. The weatherboard building later burned down.
The area steadily grew through the exploitation of the local coal deposits and by 1888 Clifton was an important commercial centre with both coach and railway terminals.
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 second and still standing 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 however finally in 1996, 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 enthusiasms of the local community whose energies have brought the building back to life continue to support it as a community and tourism facility.
Clifton School of Arts
338 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Clifton NSW 2515
Phone: (02) 4268 0489