Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Grasping the metal

As Mark approached Whyalla along the Lincoln Highway yesterday, he was probably quite unaware of several large 'holes in the ground' just a few miles to the west, in a range of hills known as the Middleback Ranges.....
These are the Iron Duke mines, a source of iron ore which has been hugely important in the history of Whyalla where Mark overnighted yesterday.

Whyalla's original purpose in life was as a transhipment port (built in 1901) for iron ore bound for the lead smelters (where it was used as a flux in the furnaces) at Port Pirie on the other side of the Spencer Gulf where Mark has ended today's leg. In 1920 its importance increased as it started exporting ore to the steelworks at Newcastle, New South Wales.
Incidentally, by some curious coincidence, I have just typed 'Newcastle' as the train I am on has arrived at Newcastle station (not the one in Australia!). Modern digital technology never ceases to amaze me. Blogging wifi on a train.....I'd never have imagined that would be possible even five years ago!
Whyalla's real rise to fame began around 1939 when a blast furnace was built at the port. This is very typical of the sequence of events associated with iron and steel production worldwide. In the early years of production, more coal was required than iron ore to produce one tonne of steel. Hence, the early steelworks were located on the coalfields such as at Newcastle. More recent steelmaking technology demanded more iron ore than coal and as both are bulky commodities, it was better to shift production to near the iron ore. Hence the opening of the blast furnace in Whyalla and subsequent location nearby of the Australian naval shipyards (using the sheet steel produced there). The late 20th century saw the closure of the shipyards and a rationalisation of the steel industry (sound familiar?). Today, steel is still produced in Whyalla but in much smaller quantities than previously and some ore is still exported. The legacy of the industrial history is, however, clearly visible from the air and on the ground....

Incidentally, it is worth considering how a large town with a population of 20,000 in a very arid area supplies its residents with water. The answer in the case of Whyalla is via two huge pipelines which bring water from the Murray River on the other side of the Spencer Gulf.

Having reached the northern end of he gulf at Port Augusta, Mark has now headed south towards Adelaide and has stoped at Port Pirie for the night. Port Pirie has the dubious distinction of having the largest lead smelter in the world - a fact you can easily believe when you see the size of its chimney which, at 205m, is the tallest structure in the state of South Australia.

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