Wollongong was founded as a village in 1816; its name is an Aboriginal word meaning “sound of the sea.” It became a town in 1843, a municipality in 1859, and a city in 1942. It was amalgamated with other municipalities and shires in 1947 to form the City of Wollongong, which extends for some 30 miles (50 km) along the coast. Originally dependent on grazing and lumbering, the area early became the focus of prosperous dairy farmers.
Wollongong was once a centre of heavy industries, such as steel production at Port Kembla, which were attracted by the rich Bulli coal deposits nearby. Steel production declined in the late 20th century and with it coal mining. Coal is still mined, but by the early 21st century it had been supplanted in importance by other economic activities, among them construction and manufacturing.
In addition to steel, Wollongong’s industries manufacture other metallurgical products, including copper, as well as bricks, fertilizers, machinery, processed foods, chemicals, clothing, and coke. A fishing fleet operates from the artificial harbour of Port Kembla. Wollongong is linked to Sydney (50 miles [80 km] north) by road and rail.
It is the site of the University of Wollongong (1975; originally  a division of the New South Wales University of Technology), which is a major local employer, and of a college of technical and further education. The Science Centre and Planetarium is a popular attraction, and the Illawarra Museum, housed in a 19th-century post office building, has exhibits on the life of that period.