Whyalla Steelworks

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The Whyalla Steelworks circa 2009

The Whyalla Steelworks is a fully integrated steelworks and the only manufacturer of rail in Australia. Iron ore is mined in the Middleback Range to feed the steelworks, resulting in the distribution of finished steel products of over 90 different grades. It occupies a 1000 ha site on the shore of False Bay, Spencer Gulf and is the largest employer in Whyalla, South Australia. Approximately 1.2 million tonnes of raw steel is produced in the steelworks each year, with about 65% of that transferred by rail to OneSteel's Market Mills as billets for further processing. The balance of the steel is then converted to finished products in the Whyalla Rolling Mill. These products service the construction and rail transport industries. Dust emissions from the steelworks became a controversial topic in 2005 after legislation was rewritten to nullify a legal battle between Onesteel and the South Australian Environmental Protection Agency. The steelworks is open to the public for guided tours which can be booked at the Whyalla Visitors Centre.[1]


Iron ore mining[edit]

The Whyalla Steelworks receives iron ore mined at various sites along the Middleback Range in South Australia. Iron ore mining in this region dates back to at least 1900. Prior to the steelworks' construction, the ore was shipped from Whyalla (then known as Hummock Hill) to Port Pirie for use as a flux in smelters.[2] It was later supplied to steel-making facilities at Port Kembla in New South Wales. The first shipment of iron ore by sea for Port Pirie departed Whyalla in 1903. The first mines to be developed were Iron Knob and Iron Monarch, with later developments including Iron Baron, Iron Knight, Iron Princess, Iron Chieftain and Iron Duke. The mines were developed by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, which went on to develop the steelworks and shipyards.

Steelworks and Shipyards[edit]

HMAS Whyalla was built at the BHP shipyards and now sits in dry-dock adjacent to the Whyalla Visitors Centre.

The steelworks first established a plant for the production of pig-iron for sale or use at other BHP plants. The announcement was made in 1937 and South Australian legislation was prepared to facilitate the development. Water security for the project was also guaranteed by the development of the Morgan-Whyalla pipeline.[2] The Whyalla Steelworks was opened in May 1941 with the first blast furnace 'blown in'. A shipyard was also constructed, designed to aid the British Commonwealth's efforts in World War II. After the war, the steelworks and shipyards continued to produce a range of products including rail track and maritime vessels for commercial use.

In the 1960s, a BOS rolling mills and coke ovens were constructed, enabling the Whyalla plant to become a fully integrated steelworks.

BHP's shipyards continued to operate until 1978. Many of the vessels were produced for the use of BHP Shipping. The eventual closure of the shipyards came as a major blow to the town of Whyalla and plunged it into an economic recession. The threat of the closure of the steelworks has surfaced periodically, but as of 2014 is yet to eventuate.

Current operations[edit]

Arrium is the owner and operator of the Whyalla steelworks.

The iron-making department incorporates the blast furnace, coke ovens and the power and services departments of the Whyalla steelworks. Molten iron is supplied from here to the BOS for manufacture into steel. Coke is supplied to the plant from Newcastle or Port Kembla and ships are loaded with iron ore for shipment from Whyalla's port. Finished steel products are distributed by sea, road and rail. As of 2014, the steelworks is owned and operated by Arrium Ltd. Previously known as Onesteel, the company was originally 'spun out' from BHP in 2000. At the same time, other BHP steel-making assets were 'spun out' to form Bluescope Steel.

Steelworks Development[edit]

  • Blast Furnace No.1 was built between 1938 and 1941, blown in 1941, relined in 1965, closed in 1981 and demolished 1997.
  • Blast Furnace No.2 was built in 1965, relined 1981 and again in 2004.
  • The Boilerhouse was built in 1941 with 3 boilers. Boiler No.4 was added in 1950 and Nos. 5 and 6 in the late 1960s. Only Nos. 5 and 6 remain in full-time operation, with No.4 on standby.
  • The Salt Water Pump House was built in 1941 with 3 salt water pumps with another 3 pumps added later. Only 5 remain, with No.1 now serving as a backup diesel pump.
  • The Coke Ovens were built in the 1960s with 2 batteries. Another battery was added in the 1980s.
  • A 1.5 GL reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant was commissioned in December 2011.

Vessels built at Whyalla shipyards[edit]

MV Lake Illawarra was sunk after colliding with the Tasman Bridge in 1975. 5 motorists' lives were lost.
HMAS Pirie was launched in Whyalla in 1941
HMAS Kalgoorlie was launched in Whyalla in 1941
Plate from the vessel P.J.Adams on display at the SA Maritime Museum.
Name Type Owner DWT Launched
HMAS Gawler Corvette Royal Australian Navy 690 1941
HMAS Kalgoorlie Corvette Royal Australian Navy 690 1941
HMAS Pirie Corvette Royal Australian Navy 690 1941
HMAS Whyalla Corvette Royal Australian Navy 690 1941
Iron Monarch Ore Carrier BHP 8160 1942
Iron Duke II Ore Carrier BHP 7740 1943
River Glenelg Freighter Australian National Line 9260 1943
River Derwent Freighter Australian National Line 9320 1944
River Murchison Freighter Australian National Line 9250 1944
River Murray Freighter Australian National Line 9380 1945
River Murrumbidgee Freighter Australian National Line 9290 1945
Dandenong Freighter Australian National Line 3040 1946
Daylesford Freighter Australian National Line 3030 1946
Delamere Freighter State Shipping Service of Western Australia 3010 1946
Barrigun Freighter Australian National Line 6350 1947
Iron Yampi Bulk Carrier BHP 13100 1947
Balarr Freighter Howard Smith Industries 6350 1948
Balook Freighter Australian National Line 6350 1949
Iron Kimberley Bulk Carrier BHP 12760 1949
Iron Derby Bulk Carrier BHP 11790 1950
Baroota Freighter Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd. 6350 1951
Iron Wyndham Bulk Carrier BHP 13070 1952
Iron Whyalla Bulk Carrier BHP 10800 1953
Yanderra Collier Australian National Line 4830 1954
Yarrunga Collier Australian National Line 4830 1954
Lake Eyre Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 10160 1955
Iron Spencer Bulk Carrier BHP 12800 1956
Lake Illawarra Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 10160 1957
Lake Torrens Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 10160 1957
Lake Macquarie Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 10160 1958
Iron Flinders Ore Carrier BHP 19400 1959
Mount Keira Ore Carrier Australian National Line 14220 1959
Iron Dampier Ore Carrier BHP 19320 1960
Mount Kembla Ore Carrier Australian National Line 15240 1960
Mittagong Bulk Carrier Bulkships Ltd. 16660 1962
P.J. Adams Tanker Ampol Petroleum Ltd. 32770 1962
Wollongong Bulk Carrier Bulkships Ltd. 16660 1962
Seaway Queen Roll-on/Roll-off Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand 3250 1963
Musgrave Range Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 21740 1964
Seaway King Roll-on/Roll-off Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand 3250 1964
Darling River Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 49780 1965
Gerrigong Bulk Carrier Bulkships Ltd. 21740 1965
Bogong Bulk Carrier Bulkships Ltd. 55880 1966
Ocean Digger Oil Drilling Barge ODECO (Aust) Ltd. 1967
Cellana Tanker Shell Co. of Australia Ltd. 22350 1968
Iron Hunter Bulk Carrier BHP 55460 1968
Kanimbla Container ship Bulkships Ltd. 10670 1968
Clutha Oceanic Bulk Carrier Hastings Shipping Co. Pty. Ltd. 55630 1969
Manoora Container ship Bulkships Ltd. 15140 1969
Yarra River Bulk Carrier Australian National Line 55680 1970
Amanda Miller Tanker R.W.Miller & Co. Pty. Ltd. 67060 1971
Mobil Australis Tanker Mobil Oil Australia Ltd. 24380 1971
Clutha Capricorn Bulk Carrier Clutha Development Co. Pty. Ltd. 84330 1972
W.M. Leonard Tanker Ampol Petroleum Ltd. 25910 1972
Iron Duke Roll-on/Roll-off BHP 14630 1973
Iron Monarch Roll-on/Roll-off BHP 14630 1973
Arthur Phillip Tanker Botany Bay Tanker Co.(Aust) Pty. Ltd. 67820 1974
Zincmaster  ?  ? 12696 1975[3]
Seaway Princess  ? Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand 5550 1975[3]
Union Rotorua  ? Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand 14550 1976[3]
Union Rotoiti  ? Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand 14550 1976[3]
Iron Carpentaria Bulk Ore Carrier BHP 45430 1977[3]
Iron Curtis  ? BHP 45430 1978[3]

Electricity supply[edit]

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company was responsible for bringing electricity to the townships of Iron Knob, Whyalla, their associated mines and ultimately the Whyalla steelworks. This was achieved by the construction of three powerhouses. As of 2014, the steelworks continues to generate its own electricity.

The first powerhouse was built to provide electricity to the company towns of Whyalla and Iron Knob. It also provided electricity to the associated mines.

The second powerhouse was built in the 1920s to replace the first and was decommissioned in late 1941. It was still standing in the 1990s.

The third powerhouse was built in 1941 as part of the No.1 Blast furnace. It features 2 turbo alternators and 2 turbo blowers and remains in operation. It provides electricity for use around the plant and air to the blast furnace. Compressed air is also utilised around the plant by a number of other departments.

ETSA began supplying domestic and commercial electricity to the wider Whyalla and Iron Knob region in the 1960s.

Water supply[edit]

Morgan on the Murray River: the majority of the steelworks' water is pumped to Whyalla from here.

The Whyalla Steelworks draws the majority of its required water from the River Murray, via the Morgan-Whyalla pipeline. In December 2011, a reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant was commissioned. Capable of producing 1.5 GL of water per year, the plant allows Arrium to reduce Murray River water consumption by up to 25%.[4] The brine from the plant is discharged into settling ponds which flow into the waters of False Bay, Spencer Gulf.


The rail network inside the steelworks is both standard and narrow gauge. The rail operations are carried out by Genessee & Wyoming Australia, which also operates the ore train for export for Onesteel. Track maintenance is carried out by Transfield services. Locomotives that currently operate inside the steelworks are from the 900, CK or GM classes for the standard gauge hot metal and steel products shunt.

Red dust controversy[edit]

The rooftops of Whyalla are often pink with dust from the Whyalla Steelworks.

Dust emissions from the Whyalla steelworks have been considered as a potential cause of elevated lung cancer incidence among residents of Whyalla. Between 1999 and 2004, 95 cases of lung cancer were recorded- 32 more than the Government of South Australia's Department of Health anticipated based on studies of other regions in the state.[5] Concerns regarding emissions and their health impacts came to a head between 2005 and 2007, largely due to the efforts of Ted Kittel and the community-lead Whyalla Red Dust Action Group. Residents of East Whyalla and students of the Whyalla Town Primary School are believed to be worst impacted by the dust emissions due to their proximity to the source.[6] The public controversy was predicated by a legal case heard in the Environment Resources Development Court in 2005, EPA v. Onesteel. The case evaporated after Onesteel successfully renegotiated the terms of their governing Indenture Act, with the support of the Government of South Australia.[7]

Onesteel's response[edit]

Onesteel responded by incorporating new processes into the design of Project Magnet. By proposing to transport ore from the Iron Duke mine in a slurry pipeline, the company hoped to reduce opportunities for the emission of excessive red dust. The project was supported by acting Premier Kevin Foley who espoused the project's economic merits. The project represented a $395 million investment in the development of Whyalla's economy with coincidental environmental benefits.[8] The plan was to be implemented by 2008. The company also engages in the assessment and remediation of buildings in the town of Whyalla, with results and other emissions statistics published in The Whyalla News.

Political response[edit]

Greens MLC Mark Parnell openly criticised the government for initially relaxing the EPA licensing conditions on dust emissions by modifying the company's Indenture Act after significant breaches were recorded in 2005.

The Australian Democrats' leader Sandra Kanck was critical of the removal of the Minister for the Environment from the role of overseeing emissions licensing for Onesteel. The party was concerned that the sole ministerial responsibility for the company's emissions was now left in the hands of the Minister for Mineral Resources.[9]

At the time, Premier Mike Rann was critical of the EPA, describing it as a 'toothless tiger... because it didn't have the backing of government, it didn't have independence'.[9]

As public and political pressure persisted, the Government eventually modified the licensing conditions for the facility's allowable airborne pollution emissions. This included reducing the number of days per year that excessive dust was permitted. In 2006, 29 days of 'excessive dust' were recorded. The changed conditions would limit breaches to 10 days in 2008, and ultimately 5 days in 2011. Additional breaches could incur a fine of up to $120,000.[5] The company was required to report monthly to the Government of South Australia with emissions reports and details of any remedial actions taken.[10]


Despite describing their 'journey' with Whyalla's dust-affected community as 'reactive', 'very closed door', and 'adversarial',[7] OneSteel eventually worked with the Whyalla Red Dust Action Group and sustainability consultants to address the community’s issues and work towards a feasible solution. OneSteel believes that Project Magnet was successful in addressing the red dust issue, mainly through the company’s introduction of a wet crushing process in 2007. Since then, OneSteel has attempted to further reduce its dust emissions and works with council and community groups to improve the visual appearance of dust-impacted areas in Whyalla.[11]

The WRDAG was disbanded in 2010 after agreement that the red dust issue had been addressed. Former chair of the WRDAG, Ted Kittel, stated “The problem is resolved with a fair and reasonable outcome. I believe that OneSteel has now set a benchmark in the way it addresses environmental issues and in the excellent way it now communicates with the community.”[11]


  1. ^ City of Whyalla > Tours Whyalla City Council, South Australia. Accessed 2014-01-27.
  2. ^ a b Scheiffers, Sue "A Ribbon of Steel - Whyalla Surges Ahead" Lutheran Publishing House, South Australia (1985). ISBN 0 9596198 1 X
  3. ^ a b c d e f Shieffers, Sue "A Ribbon of Steel - Whyalla Surges Ahead" Lutheran Press, South Australia (1985). ISBN 0 9596198 1 X
  4. ^ Swallow, Julian "Thar she flows at Whyalla plant" The Advertiser, South Australia (2011-12-02). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  5. ^ a b "Red dust cancer fears in steel town" News.com.au, South Australia (2007-12-06). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  6. ^ Parnell, Mark "Whyalla red dust pollution - where is the Health Minister?" The Greens, South Australia (2006-01-07). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  7. ^ a b Phillips, Scott K. "IAIA08 Conference Proceedings - Shifting to Sustainable Business: OneSteel Whyalla Steelworks Case Study" 28th Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment, Perth (2008-05-04)
  8. ^ "Red dust project strikes 'balance': Foley" ABC News, South Australia (2008-03-18). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  9. ^ a b Royal, Simon "Has new legislation neutered the EPA?" Stateline, ABC, South Australia (2005-09-16). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  10. ^ "Steelworks to reduce dust emissions" Manufacturers' Monthly (2007-12-11). Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  11. ^ a b Onesteel Sustainability Report > Environment Onesteel, South Australia. Accessed 2014-01-27.