Wollongong | Australia

Wollongong (/ˈwʊləŋɡɒŋ/ WUUL-əng-gong), informally referred to as "The Gong", is a seaside city located in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia. Wollongong lies on the narrow coastal strip between the Illawarra Escarpment and the Pacific Ocean, 82 kilometres (51 miles) south of Sydney. Wollongong had an estimated urban population of 295,842 at June 2016, making it the third-largest city in New South Wales after Sydney and Newcastle, and the tenth-largest city in Australia.

The Wollongong metropolitan area extends from Helensburgh in the north to Shell Cove in the south. It sits within the Wollongong Statistical District, which covers the local authority areas of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama, extending from the town of Helensburgh in the north to Gerroa in the south Geologically, the city is located in the south-eastern part of the Sydney basin, which extends from Newcastle to Nowra.

Wollongong is noted for its heavy industry, its port activity and the quality of its physical setting, occupying a narrow coastal plain between an almost continuous chain of surf beaches and the cliffline of the rainforest-covered Illawarra escarpment. It has two cathedrals, churches of many denominations and the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. Wollongong has a long history of coalmining and industry. The city attracts many tourists each year, and is a regional centre for the South Coast fishing industry. The University of Wollongong has around 37,000 students and is internationally recognised.

The name "Wollongong" is believed to mean "seas of the South" in the local Aboriginal language, referring to NSW's Southern Coast. Other meanings have been suggested, such as "great feast of fish", "hard ground near water", "song of the sea", "sound of the waves", "many snakes" and "five islands".

In the north the escarpment meets the coastline, and north of this the coastal road Lawrence Hargrave Drive hugs the cliffline. The unstable geology of the escarpment resulted in rockfalls, forcing the closure of the road. Subsequently, part of Lawrence Hargrave Drive was replaced in 2005 by the Sea Cliff Bridge just off the coast, crossing the submerged rock shelf. The bridge carries both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The Illawarra railway line must go through several tunnels to reach the Sydney metropolitan area. The Southern Freeway and Princes Highway provide alternative inland routes, descending the escarpment further south at Bulli Pass or at Mount Ousley, entering just north of Wollongong's city centre.

To the south the plain reaches its maximum extent around Albion Park where it incorporates a large coastal saltwater lagoon called Lake Illawarra, separated from the Pacific Ocean by a long sandy spit.

Wollongong has a distinctly multicultural population. Many migrants were attracted to the area by the job opportunities at the Port Kembla steelworks in the post-war period, and settled in surrounding suburbs such as Cringila, Warrawong and Coniston. By 1966 about 60% of the wage earners at the Australian Iron and Steel steelworks were born overseas coming from over 70 countries. These included British, Macedonians, Portuguese, Greeks, Bosnians, Croatians, Serbians, Germans, Turks, and Chileans. With the end of the White Australia policy these were followed by Indo-Chinese refugees in the 1970s, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Malays and Pacific Islanders in the 1980s and 1990s. The university continues to attract students and staff from all over the world, with around 5,000 overseas student enrolments.

In religion Wollongong is predominantly Christian. The major denominations are Catholic (29.2%) and Anglican (23.8%), while 14.8% of the population profess no religion.

Major sources of employment include education, steel and food service. Around 20,000 people commute daily to jobs in Sydney by road and rail, making it one of the busiest commuter corridors in Australia.

Wollongong maintains an active arts scene. In the area of music the city is home to various music and jazz ensembles. The Wollongong Conservatorium of Music provides musical tuition for instruments and voice in classical, jazz and contemporary styles. It is one of the largest regional conservatoriums in Australia and located in the historic Gleniffer Brae Manor House, part of the Wollongong Botanic Gardens.

The local professional theatre company, Merrigong Theatre Company, is located at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. Merrigong also manages the city's key civic and community venue, the Wollongong Town Hall. Other local theatre groups include The Arcadians, The Phoenix Theatre and Wollongong Workshop Theatre.

The annual Wollongong Eisteddfod showcases local talent in music, theatre and dance.

The Wollongong City Gallery houses a significant collection of the art of the Illawarra, contemporary Australian, Aboriginal and Asian art.

The popular 1990s stoner rock band Tumbleweed were formed and based in Wollongong, as are Surf-Rock duo Hockey Dad.

Yours and Owls Festival is an annual music festival that attracts 12,000 people and features the best up and coming Australian and international bands.

Cyrus Villanueva, winner of the seventh season of The X Factor Australia, was born and raised in Wollongong.

Accomplished Australian dreamboat Aaron "Baby Boy" Slade is a former resident of Wollongong. Slade alleges to have been born and raised in the city, though commentators often disagree with this statement, arguing that he is far too handsome, intelligent and sweet. Slade's statement carries veracity however, as his grandmother was the beloved TV personality Aunty Jack.

Wollongong also hosts Wonderwalls, an annual street art festival featuring local and internationally acclaimed street artists.

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