125 years of the Port Pirie smelter | PHOTOS

125 years ago, the now famous Port Pirie smelter began its operations.  

On June 27,  1889 the first shift went into work at 4am at what was then known as the British Broken Hill Smelters.  

Friday the Nyrstar Management team handed out free cake and coffee sachets at the gate from 5.30am to 8.30am to over 500 employees and contractors as a small celebratory token.  

The workers were given the cake between 5.30am and 8.30am as they were coming into work.   

Nyrstar have provided the following information from their archival records: 

 On June 27 1889, the South Australian Chronicle reported: 

“The British Broken Hill Limited Smelters began today, the first shift going on at 4 o’clock. So far everything is going smoothly.” 

And then the following day they further reported. 

“The Smelters are now running smoothly, one furnace being in full blast. The first lot of bullion was run off at midnight last night, and the start is considered most satisfactory taking into account the difficulties with the new machinery.”

And so the story of the Port Pirie smelter began, with millions of tonnes of metal being produced and many thousands of people being employed – often generations of the same family – throughout our continuous 125 year history.

A Nyrstar spokesperson said the Port Pirie site will further acknowledge and celebrate their history later this year with the launch of a history book about the smelter. 

The Nyrstar board recently approved a redevelopment with support from the State Government  

"....many things have changed and improved throughout our diverse history, the commitment of our employees and the ability the site has to overcome the many challenges faced to ensure we have remained operational is a story in itself," the spokesperson said.   

1885: First load of ore received at Port Pirie from Broken Hill by road on August 18.

1889: British Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd blew in first blast furnace on June 27. Refinery established by The Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd (BHP).

1890: British Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd discontinued smelting at Port Pirie on June 4 and later began smelting at Broken Hill. Pirie Smeltery leased to syndicate including BHP, Broken Hill Pty, Block 14 Co Ltd and Australian Smelting and Refining Co Ltd.

1892: Smeltery purchased by BHP.

1897: BHP transferred all smelting activities to Port Pirie

1905: The Zinc Corporation Limited (ZC) registered in Melbourne in September to treat zinc bearing tailings at Broken Hill.

1915: Zinc Corporation participated with other Broken Hill mining companies to acquire a controlling interest in BHP Port Pirie works resulted in the formation of The Broken Hill Associated Smelters Proprietary Limited (BHAS) on May 7. Port Pirie plant taken over on June 2.

1917: New central power plant commissioned in November.

1919: Beginning of the big strike at Broken Hill, May 20, and discontinuance of ore supplies for Port Pirie. Lead smelting operations ceased at Port Pirie on July 30.

1921: Production resumed at Broken Hill. Smelting recommenced at Port Pirie on January 17. Fire completely destroyed Dwight and Lloyd roasting plant on January 25 and Port Pirie plant shut down. Production resumed at Port Pirie on August 19. Zinc distillation ceased at Port Pirie.

1922: Granulation of blast furnace slag introduced.

1924: EZ Contact Acid Plant commissioned in March.

1925: BHP sold its shareholding in BHAS to the other partners. Zinc Corporation increased interest to 25 per cent. Reference to Arbitration Court discontinued and system of round table conferences established at Broken Hill and Port Pirie for industrial agreements.

1928: Delivery of molten bullion to Refinery commenced in January. Telpher system placed in operation in July delivering to transfer station for feeding furnaces.

1929: Furnaces fed direct from Telphers as from January.

1931: First Plant Scale unit (Softener Furnace) brought into operation in what was to become the new Continuous Refinery.

1934: Parting Plant brought into operation, July, virtually completing the new Continuous Refinery.

1936: First double row tuyere furnace came into operation, October.

1938: Mechanised transport fleet replaced horses.

1939: Broad gauge rail line laid in Works area.

1941: New Dwight and Lloyd Plant brought into operation, July.

1944: First ore production on limited scale by New Broken Hill Consolidated Limited (NBHC). Port Pirie connected to Morgan – Whyalla pipeline.

1945: Zinc Corporations interest in BHAS increased to 50 per cent.

1946: Oil Replaced coal in Power Plant

1949: BHAS Adelaide office opened

1952: Full Scale experimental VDZ plant brought into operation in Refinery. New No. 1 blast furnace completed. Port Pirie works connected to ETSA supply.

1953: New Contact Acid Plant brought into operation using brimstone.

1954: EZ acid plant ceased operations.

1955: Updraught Sintering Plant began operating. BHAS Power Plant closed down. Production of 2000 lb lead blocks started. Manufacture of sulphuric acid from brimstone ceased in November.

1956: Manufacture of sulphuric acid from sinter gas started January. Sulzer pump installation commissioned.

1959: New Lead Refinery commenced operations. Old refinery closed down.

1962: Continuous drossing process for blast furnace bullion introduced. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited (CRA) formed in July through the merging of the Australian interests of Consolidated Zinc Corporation and Rio Tinto.

1963: Commercial quantities of sheet lead produced by the DM continuous casting process. Diesel electric locomotives and new wagons inaugurated on Broken Hill – Port Pirie railway. New Health Centre opened.

1964: New No.2 blast furnace completed and blown-in. Treatment of refinery softener slag in Rotary Furnace started in January.

1965: The 36 in. semi-commercial DM machine transferred to Product Development Laboratory, Melbourne.

1966: Monetary system changed to decimal currency in February.

1967: First units of Slag Fuming Plant commissioned in June. Zinc Plant commissioned and first cathode zinc produced in December. Wharf reconstruction programme completed. Silver yard extensions completed and occupied in April. Railway passenger traffic transferred to new station.

1968: Wardang Island operations terminated and first shipment of Coffin Bay limesand received.

1969: New Concentrates Handling Plant completed in June.

1970: First concentrates received on standard gauge line in January.

1971: No. 1 blast furnace dismantled during later part of the year. New 50-ton road weighbridge commissioned in December. New Block Moulding Wheel commissioned. CRA and NBHC merged lead/zinc/silver and certain other related interests into an integrated company, Australian Mining and Smelting Company Limited (AM&S).

1972: Commonwealth Government terminated sulphur bounty payments. Broken Hill South Ltd ended mining operations at Broken Hill.

1973: General conversion to metric system started on Works as from June 27. Regulations under the South Australian Health Act introduced from January 1 to control pollution.

1974: BH South Limited (previously Broken Hill South Limited) sold its shareholding in BHAS to Australian Mining and Smelting Limited. Market lead first produced on No. 1 Straight Line Moulding Machine. BHAS became 70 per cent owned by AM&S and 30 per cent by North Broken Hill.

1975: New Crushing Plant Commissioned.

1977: BHAS Sydney Office opened.

1978: Natural Gas replaced oil firing in plants. Air Separation Plant commissioned. Oxygen injection to Blast Furnaces.

1979: New Administration Building opened. Sinter Breaker commissioned in April. 205 metre stack and associated fume control plant completed in June. BHAS Pty Ltd incorporated and office opened in London, 1st January 1980.

1980: Debismuthising Plant and Third Straight Line Moulding Machine commissioned. Employees Superannuation Fund inaugurated in November. Commenced full-scale treatment of Sulphide Corporation bullion.

1981: BHAS won Australian Mining Industry Export Award. Continuous Sulphur Drossing Plant commissioned.

1982: No. 2 Blast Furnace modified. Standardisation of rail tracks in works completed. BHAS Board approved construction of $12M Copper Recovery Plant.

1983: Major organisation changes planned for BHAS through introduction of Organisation Development Study. No. 3 Kiln Dust Recovery gas cleaning system awarded special commendation at Australia’s Engineering Awards. BHAS Co-operative Council disbanded on December 22.

1984: Copper Plant commissioned on June 15. $1.2M upgrade and extension of Main Changehouse completed in July. BHAS entered into two significant secondary lead joint ventures – Simsmetal and Thai Ping Metal Industrial Co.

1985: Major environmental programme established. 50th Anniversary of Baillieu Cup Inter-Company First Aid Competitions hosted by BHAS in Port Pirie. Strategic plan for computer systems at BHAS prepared.

1986: Production of lead and its associated metals lower than normal as result of Broken Hill industrial dispute affecting concentrate deliveries for three months.

1987: Environment and Economic Improvement Plan (EEIP) approved by BHAS Board on August 10. No. 4 Blast Furnace demolished. Works ICL mainframe computer replaced with new DEC Digital “VAX8500” Computer. Silver of 9999 grade produced for first time at BHAS. New amenities building at Refinery opened. Fire destroyed Sinter Plant Control Room on December 31.

1988: Sinter Plant Control Room restored and commissioned January 31. DM machine for the production of sheet lead re-located from Harrisfield to BHAS. CRA Ltd and North Broken Hill Holdings Ltd merged lead/zinc mining and smelting facilities with each group holding 40 per cent equity and 20 per cent held by the public. The merger of the newly formed and independently managed Company, Pasminco Ltd, became effective from July 1.

1991: Zinc Plant manual stripping machine replaced with new automated machine

1995: Fresh water granulation in Blast Furnace. No. 1 Straightline Lead Casting machine upgrade

1996: Oxygen Plant built on site. Green Shed on wharf commissioned

1997: Ship unloader brought by Barge from Hobart, 3rd June. Co-treatment shed commissioned

1998: Upgrade of the Silver Yard. Larger upgrade of debismuthising plant. Introduction of the Batch Refinery Process.

2001: Pasminco called in administrators and was declared bankrupt.

2002: Zinifex is created, following the insolvency of Pasminco.

2006: Zinifex announced it would merge its smelting operations with Umicore with the intent of floating new company, Nyrstar. Nyrstar was floated in October.

2007: Blast Furnace Enclosure commissioned

2012: Nyrstar announced plans to transform the Port Pirie operation away from that of a primary lead smelter into a highly flexible polymetallic processing and recovery centre resulting in an improved environmental footprint and a step change reduction in airborne metal and dust emissions.

2014: The Nyrstar board conditionally approves smelter redevelopment with support from the South Australian State Government

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