Whyalla, city of steel.
Whyalla, South Australia's second largest city (1976 pop. 33,390) and major industrial force, was officially proclaimed on 16 April 1914. However its history dates back much further than that. On 9 March 1802, Matthew Flinders discovered and named Hummock Hill.
After the settlement of South Australia in 1836 the natural resources of the area were soon used by pastoralists. The first pastoral lease in the Iron Knob area was granted to Thomas Patterson in 1854. Ten years later, a lease over fifty-one square miles was granted to Frederick George Morgan who named it Mount Hummock. However it were the underground resources which started the development of Whyalla and helped BHP becoming the largest company in Australia.
Rich iron ore was expected by Edward John Eyre in 1840. In 1878 Samual Davenport, owner of nearby Corunna Station, had samples of iron ore assayed and submitted to London for the Colonial Exhibition. Corunna Station later provided the setting for some parts of the films The Sundowners and Kangaroo. Iron ore deposits were discovered in the Middleback Ranges at Iron Knob and Iron Baron during the late 1800s. The first application for a mining permit was lodged by William Jones in June 1888. During the next three years thirty-four mineral applications were made to mine the area with most of the applicants looking for gold and silver rather than iron ore.
In 1896 BHP secured the deposits for its use as a flux in the Port Pirie smelters. The first shipments of iron ore from Hummock Hill were made by barge to Port Pirie. In 1901 work began on a private narrow gauge railway line, from Iron Knob and Iron Monarch to Hummock Hill, and a jetty to allow easy transportation of the iron ore. Later a conveyor belt, crushers, storage bins and power house were added and completed in 1914 making it possible to transport iron ore to Newcastle. All this expansion created the need for more workers and by 1905 a permanent settlement was well established. It had a doctor, post office, shop and even a hall which was used as a school during the week and church on Sunday.
After the proclamation of the town, blocks of land were sold for an average of $10. With the rapid increase of population later land auctions were held in 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1920 when it had a population of 860. As was often the case in new settlements, live was hard and devoid of the most common necessities.
As a result of the low rainfall, about 250 mm a year, regular supplies of water have been a major problem for many years. Water had to be brought in from Roopena by bullock drays or by barge from Port Pirie. Ships from Newcatle carried it as ballast to the thirsty people of Hummock Hill. In 1911 the S.A. Government constructed a 500,000 litre water tank and BHP later excavated two reservoirs. Unfortunately demand almost always exceeded the supply.
It was not until 1941 that work was started on the 370 km overland pipeline from Morgan to Whyalla. With its completion in 1944, a permanent supply of River Murray water became available to the town. A second pipeline was completed in 1967. The other kind of liquid refreshment did not become available on a regular basis until the Jetty Hotel was completed. It was later replaced by a far more imposing Whyalla Hotel.
During the late 1930s a blast furnace was erected and a large wharf and harbour installed. Both were completed during 1941. The blast furnace had a daily output of 750 tons of pig-iron, all of which went to New South Wales to be converted to steel. Expansion accelerated even more during World War II with the opening of a shipyard, after much hard work by Premier Thomas Playford. The first ship, a corvette named the HMAS Whyalla was completed in 1941. This ship was used as a mine sweeper and for escort, survey and patrol duty. After the war it was sold to Victoria to keep the entrance of Port Phillip Bay clear. It returned to Whyalla in 1987 where it is now used as part of a tourist attraction. The Whyalla shipyard became the largest in Australia, eventually employing 1500 men.
All this activity resulted in a rapid expansion of the work force at BHP and the doubling of the town's population. Additional labour was also required to build gun emplacements to protect BHP's iron works from possible enemy sea raiders. During and after the war Whyalla built many ships and the additional labour resulted in a total population of 7,500 in 1946. By the end of the war Whyalla had one of the largest furnace units in the world and a very busy shipyard. Shortly after the war a solar salt industry was added to its already powerful industrial base.
To satisfy the continuous demands for labour both the Commonwealth Government and BHP placed advertisements in overseas newspapers for many years to attract fitters, turners and machinists. The continuous influx of new migrant and Australian workers created a severe housing problem and although the South Australian Housing Trust completed hundreds of homes and units, most of the recent arrivals had to live in tents until they had completed their own homes, often assisted by their neighbours or work mates.
In 1945 Whyalla ceased to be a 'company town' with the establishment of the Whyalla Town Commission which carried out the duties of local government.
Started as a factory in the desert, Whyalla became the boom city built on money and the muscle of many Australians and even more European migrants. It now had a hospital, several schools with 6000 students in 1968, hotels, library, banks, police station, court house and many shops.
In 1961, when Whyalla had a population of nearly 14,000 it was proclaimed a City. With the completion of forty-five ships, the opening of a steel plant and a population of 22,000 by 1965, which included 8,500 migrants, the future of Whyalla was assured. The population boom peaked in 1976 when it settled at just over 33,000.