Wednesday, 22 September 2021 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Page 7281 – 7286
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (12:14): I move:
That this house recognises the history of Port Pirie and the great benefits that Port Pirie has contributed to—
(a) the state of South Australia;
(b) multicultural communities living in South Australia;
(c) the defence services during the previous two world wars;
(d) the success of the railway network in South Australia over many years;
(e) various sporting and cultural activities across South Australia and internationally; and acknowledges the determination, pride and patience of these communities.
Port Pirie was established in 1845 due to the establishment of the lead discovery at Broken Hill. Port Pirie was the nearest port, which was required to ship the concentrates after the processing into the required metals by the plant. The township was proclaimed the first provincial city in South Australia in 1953.
Port Pirie is a very multicultural city with numerous nationalities living within the city. The earliest group settlement of Italians in South Australia occurred in the late 19th century when a small number of fishermen from the town of Molfetta in the region of Puglia made their home in Port Pirie. By the 1930s, the number of Italians had grown to about 300. Being very skilled fishermen, they moved between the ports of Port Adelaide and Port Pirie. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Italian wives and children arrived in Port Pirie from Italy to join the original settlers. From the survey in 1991, the number of Italian people had grown to over 1,100.
On 9 September 2000, the Governor of South Australia, His Excellency Sir Eric Neal AC, CVO unveiled the monument in honour of the Italian migrants who settled in Port Pirie, which was mentioned yesterday by the member for Stuart. He and I were at the Blessing of the Fleet just recently, and the monument is in great condition.
Another early settlement of migrants was the Greeks, with the first settlers arriving in 1875. Other Greek settlers arrived from 1889, the year the smelters commenced operation. The Greek population increased in the years after the First World War, with many of those finding work at the smelters then known as BHP. By the mid-1920s, there were approximately 500 Greeks living in Port Pirie.
South Australia’s first Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of St George, was established in Port Pirie in 1924. By 1927, there were over 600 Greeks living in Port Pirie. I can remember as a child working for pocket money picking peas at Nelshaby at the foothills of Port Pirie, which at that time was a flourishing market garden area supplying markets in Adelaide and interstate. The pea picking was really hard, and you certainly earned every shilling, which it was in those days before decimal currency. You went home at the end of the night and might have a couple of shillings in your pocket, which was worth a lot of money in those days.
During the First World War, there was a ban on the export of metals to ensure that they did not make their way into enemy hands and to meet the demands of the smelting works at Port Pirie as they expanded. The smelter was taken over at that stage by the Broken Hill Associated Smelters in 1915. The lead output from Port Pirie, which was then purchased by the British government, was dispatched to Russia and Britain for conversion into munitions. This expansion in production led to Port Pirie becoming the world’s largest smelting works.
In 1941, munitions parts were being manufactured on a small scale in Port Pirie. By late 1942, approximately 250 people were employed in forging and machining shell casings at the smelter. In the Second World War, the Port Pirie smelter was contracted to sell 13,875 tonnes of lead per month to the British government for the period of the war. Within a year, production of munitions had expanded to the Eastern States, Adelaide and Whyalla. The civic leaders in Port Pirie demanded to be involved in munition manufacturing because Port Pirie stood alone in industrial performance.
During the war, the 14 Australian Personnel Staging Camp was located at Port Pirie to accommodate troops joining or leaving trains at Port Pirie Railway Station. The Red Cross frequently met at Port Pirie, assisting any sick and wounded servicemen who were passing through the camp. The Port Pirie rail marshalling yards were further utilised to hold military trucks, tanks, armoured cars and other military pieces ready to be deployed to various war locations. Port Pirie played host to thousands of Australian and American troops bound for Western Australia on their way to the war in the Pacific.
The Port Pirie aerodrome, which is not being fully utilised as a commercial operation at the moment and is under the council’s jurisdiction, was extensively utilised during the Second World War not only for training of aircraft pilots but as an airplane gunnery school. At various times, in excess of 2,000 personnel were trained before being sent to war zones not only across Australia but overseas. This site was ideal due to the prevailing winds, the vast land, the surrounding mountains and also the surrounding seas, which helped the trainee pilots to experience all aspects that may prevail during combat.
With the collapse of the Italian economy after the Second World War, the Italian government again began promoting immigration, and from 1945 to 1972 approximately 30,000 Italians settled in South Australia with quite a few of those coming into Port Pirie. This, plus the migration of the Italian fishermen from Molfetta and the Greek migration, started the story of a great multicultural community at Port Pirie, which now includes numerous nationalities from many cultures. Port Pirie can be and should be seen as a model of how communities can work and live in harmony despite religion, culture and other concerns.
Port Pirie has many valuable traditions, as well as the great foods that other nationalities have brought to our community. I can remember very vividly having a cheeseburger lunch with my late wife, Arlene. Might I mention also that the cheeseburger was invented in Port Pirie. Also, we were discussing the arrival of Rocky’s Pizza Bar. Rocky is still there. Rocky had the best pizzas, as well as lasagne and other things like that. We did not think it was going—
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan interjecting:
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: —I knew it was going to happen—to take off, but it really took off. After a night at the Central Hotel across the road, you just could not get in there. I also must mention that Port Pirie, as I said, was the home not only of the original cheeseburger but also the pie floater was invented in Port Pirie.
With inadequate road networks impeding the passage of wheat to the port, in November 1873 the South Australian Legislative Council elected a committee to discuss the Port Pirie Railway Bill. Around six months later, in May 1874, work began on a narrow gauge railway from Port Pirie to Gladstone, and that expansion of the railway network saw the expansion of Port Pirie.
Soon after the construction of the railway, four jetties were built in 1874 to meet the expected increase in trade. The railway from Port Pirie was part of the 1870s public works program, and in June 1879 the first railway station opened in Port Pirie at the southern end of Ellen Street. The trainline used to go down the main street, pick up the passenger service at that particular point and then go down to the smelters.
This building was weatherboard, but a new building was then commenced in 1900 by railway staff with a new station built in 1902. That building is still there but it is not used as a railway station anymore: it is used as a National Trust museum. It is in an iconic location with the post office alongside. It is one of the original buildings in the main street. Also, right alongside that is theoriginal bond store. When ships came in they would have to pay the bond and taxes, etc., which was all done in Port Pirie.
Advances in sea transport saw the arrival of the first steamers in Port Pirie in 1875. I have seen photographs of up to 15 to 20 schooners berthed at Port Pirie, which at one stage was one of the busiest ports in Australia—not only South Australia but Australia. Photographs of the windjammers are absolutely magnificent. The river itself runs in the same direction parallel to the main street, Ellen Street, Port Pirie. The main street has the same curve as the river, and when you look at it from above, from the air, it is a magnificent looking site.
In 1937, a standard gauge railway connected Port Augusta to Port Pirie, and in 1955 it stretched up to Marree. In 1970, the narrow gauge travelled from Port Pirie to Cockburn, and the 56 kilometre privately run link through to Broken Hill was replaced by a standard gauge line, thus linking the east and the west coast of Australia with a single uninterrupted standard gauge.
In those days, every train had to go through Port Pirie. The three different gauges were in place. One train would come in on a certain gauge and stop at the railway station, which is now part of the tourism and art centre on the southern side of Ellen Street. They would then have to change the bogies on the engines to transfer to another gauge, as well as transfer all the goods from the vans across into other vans on the other side of the platform.
At that particular point there were 300 to 400 people working, not only in the South Australian railways but also the commonwealth railways. Workshops were there. At that particular stage we had yard masters in the main street, Ellen Street, as well as at Solomontown, Bungama and Coonamia. We had four different railway stations, four different railway superintendents and also the yardmasters.
For many years, Port Pirie had a thriving railway system. The Coca-Cola factory was there; it was the Moyles factory to start off with, soft drinks, and then we had the opportunity to have the Coca-Cola facility there, manufacturing and bottling Coca-Cola. The Condon brothers were the instigators of that, Brian and John (Brian is still alive); the Condon family were the pioneers of getting that there.
We had various bread factories there, such as Goldcut and Buttercup. We had three cake manufacturers there. We had very large waterside workers operations—three or four different waterside consortiums there with about 1,000 workers—and various engineering opportunities. We had three large oil installation facilities: Mobil, Shell and BP.
I worked for BP for 10 years, and the fact is that each company would have other companies like Amoco and Ampol come in and get their fuel from there. The tankers would come in and unload right in the main street, basically opposite where the silos are now; all off the one ship. They would put it down to BP and, once they were finished with theirs, they would put a plug in there and it would go to Shell or Mobil or whatever it might be. In the old days everyone used to only use BP, Shell or Mobil, but they all came from the same place, all from the same tanker.
We had many other activities there that have either disappeared or have substantially reduced in size. One thing that is there is the multimetals facility on the northern end of the main street of Port Pirie, Nyrstar. Nyrstar has been there for over 100 years; it has been the backbone of our community for many, many years. Trafigura are the owners of that at the moment.
The smelter has been the backbone and a lifeline, and I spoke about this in a grieve yesterday, that there were some families there for 50 years. Without the smelter being there, and the transformation back in 2014, I would hate to think what would have happened to our community as well as to regional South Australia, in particular. A lot of people depend on that not only in terms of Port Pirie but also in terms of the value-adding down the line.
Over many years, Port Pirie has been served by very dedicated state and federal members of parliament from both political persuasions, and our community has always been very grateful for those people. In the political arena, Port Pirie and Crystal Brook have produced not only members of parliament but also Speakers of the house and a President of the Legislative Council, as well as a Premier of this state, which some communities cannot boast.
The negative coverage of Port Pirie by outsiders is well and truly unjustified with the city’s past, and we are going through a transition at the moment, as are other areas such as Port Adelaide. We have a great past, we have a great history, and we have a great future, but there are negative comments that come in from people who have not been there and who do not know the issues, and we are in a transition period at the moment. Port Pirie and the surrounding areas have contributed to both the state and commonwealth governments, and the negativity it gets, as well as other communities in regional South Australia, is not warranted.
I am very, very proud of the history of Port Pirie. As I have said, I came from Wandearah, and my dad was a rabbit trapper. We used to come into Port Pirie for our groceries, and I came in to do my primary and secondary schooling; my primary school was one classroom, with seven grades and one teacher. I am forever grateful to Port Pirie and what it has offered me personally, as well as my family, relatives and the community. Again, I hope the house will endorse this notice of motion.
Mr HUGHES (Giles) (12:28): It is with great pleasure that I get up to support this motion from the member for Frome. It is a great motion. Port Pirie is a community that has, over many, many years, made a very significant contribution to our state. It was—I think it still is—the largest lead smelter in the southern hemisphere; at one stage it was the largest lead smelter in the world.
That has not been without its problems, both the legacy issues surrounding that and ongoing issues. My community of Whyalla—and indeed, before Whyalla, Hummock Hill—had a very close relationship with Port Pirie. Across the water, it is in a sense our closest neighbour. It is 22 kilometres approximately from Whyalla to Port Pirie—
The Hon. G.G. Brock: Straight across.
Mr HUGHES: Straight across. People often talk about a bridge. That is not going to happen. If ever did happen, if it could ever be justified, it will happen further north of Spencer Gulf, but I do not think I will be seeing that any time soon.
That early relationship is an interesting one. When iron ore was discovered and eventually mined at Iron Knob—which was the richest iron mine in the world at the time—the initial iron ore did not go to the Eastern States; it actually went to Port Pirie and was used as a flux in the smelting process. In that early relationship, Pirie was the first customer for the iron ore from Iron Knob, which went through what was then Hummock Hill.
In return, we got something that was incredibly crucial in those early days in Hummock Hill—later Whyalla—which was water from Port Pirie. The water from Port Pirie came over on a barge. That sustained the small population of Hummock Hill for a number of years until eventually a desalination plant was built and then, ultimately, in the 1940s the first of the Morgan to Whyalla pipelines. Pirie did play an important role also in the development of what was Hummock Hill and what became Whyalla.
There were other linkages between the two communities. As I said, the distance between Whyalla and Port Pirie by water is 22 kilometres, but there is another area very close to Whyalla—Point Lowly—which also formed part of Port Pirie’s history. For those people who do not know Point Lowly, it is on the Lowly peninsula. It had a lighthouse dating back to the 1800s and it had beautiful beaches, one of which was in a bay we can no longer access because of Santos, but there is still a beautiful beach at Point Lowly. In those days, the only thing at Point Lowly was essentially the lighthouse. This links into the story about lead exposure.
Workers and their families from Pirie would be boated over to Point Lowly to recuperate in an environment that was pristine. In those days and indeed today, the Point Lowly peninsula is a beautiful part of our state, famous now for the cuttlefish aggregation. One of the best beaches in Spencer Gulf is the beach at Weeroona Bay. As I said, there are other beaches at Point Lowly as well.
That played an important role in the working and recreational life of people from Port Pirie. Indeed, the BHAS built what looks like a fine stone building at Point Lowly as accommodation for those workers and families that came over. I think it is a real tragedy that that building was lost to time and demolished many years ago—I suspect back in the 1950s—but it looks like it was quite a magnificent building at Point Lowly that was lost.
We know that Port Pirie has made a number of contributions, but it always gets back to the smelter. Whyalla and Pirie have that in common. Ultimately, Whyalla added value both in terms of intermediate products and finished products when it came to iron ore. Because of that amazing discovery in the 1800s at Broken Hill of that incredibly rich deposit of lead, gold, silver, zinc, that became the underpinning of the development of Port Pirie and it was, as the member for Frome indicated, for a whole period of time, a booming town.
I came in on the tail end of the speech and the reference to its stronger multicultural base, with the Italians and others coming after the end of the Second World War. It is interesting, when you look at the history of Port Pirie, that before the First World War there were over 500 Russians in Port Pirie and there was a Russian language school and a Russian library. They came from one particular area of Russia. There were 500 people from Russia in Port Pirie back before the First World War. That is an interesting piece of history.
Like Whyalla, Pirie has gone through its ups and downs. When you are heavily dependent upon a major industry, you are subject to all sorts of variables, potential external shocks and what have you. Both cities have deep connections going back to the distant past and not so distant past with Whyalla with BHP and what happened at Broken Hill. There is that strong linkage there.
The Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS) was there for many years. It was a bit of a consortium originally and then it became Pasminco, Zinifex, and then Nyrstar. It has changed hands. During those periods of changing hands, there is always uncertainty at different times. Workers have been laid off. Every now and again there is that feeling of almost an existential threat to something that has become such a fundamental part of the economy and the community. Like Whyalla, Port Pirie has managed to get through those changes and may it continue to do so into the future, along with Whyalla.
It is sometimes said by those opposite that we just ignore the regions. But when the heavy lifting needed to be done, Labor was there for Port Pirie and was there for the member for Frome. Manufacturing is part of our DNA and we were not going to see the smelter at Pirie close. There was incredibly strong advocacy on the part of the member for Frome and it was very clear that this was something incredibly close to his heart. It was also close to Labor’s heart as well, that, as a state, we could not afford to lose the smelter in Pirie. When the heavy lifting was needed, we were there. There was some criticism of the $290-odd million underwriting that we provided for Port Pirie.
I now reflect upon what happened in those days. It is somewhat similar with the steelworks: the federal Liberal government were missing in action. They were not there wanting to be party to this underwriting. They were missing in action. They were prepared to see yet another part of our sovereign manufacturing capacity go to the wall, but Labor in this state was not prepared to see that happen.
Port Pirie has had a proud history. Those linkages still exist between Whyalla and Pirie and, indeed, Port Augusta. Those Upper Spencer Gulf communities once upon a time used to be referred to as the Iron Triangle. All those Upper Spencer Gulf communities have great potential, some of it unrealised. Let’s realise that potential.