Fremantle Stuff > Ewers

John K. Ewers 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Chapter 15:
The Kwinana Industrial Complex

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It is not proposed to give a detailed description of the huge Kwinana complex, but its rapid development is not without significance for the present and future progress of the City of Fremantle. Lying some 15 miles south of Fremantle, it takes its name from the State Shipping vessel, Kwinana, which in 1920 had been anchored at Careening Cove, Garden Island, for repairs after a fire at Carnarvon. Two years later she broke her moorings during a storm and was driven ashore a little north of Rockingham. For years the rusting hulk was a centre of interest along a somewhat featureless, sandy beach. The southern end of Cockburn Sound, of course, had many much earlier historical associations. The first settlers to the colony, including the lieutenant-governor. Captain James Stirling, were off-loaded on Garden Island from the transport Parmelia, when it ran aground on a sandbank in 1829. In 1847 the town of Rockingham was founded and during the mid-century developed busy shipping activities. In the 1870s it exported large quantities of timber brought by rail from the Jarrahdale Mill in the Darling Ranges. It also unofficially exported six Fenian convicts whose escape in 1876 has been described in Chapter Eight. However, Rockingham ceased to be active commercially and became instead a popular holiday resort, with an increasing number of permanent homes being built in the town and its southern extension to Safety Bay.

It is only in the past fifteen-twenty years that the township of Kwinana has emerged with two satellite towns—Medina and Calista —already developed, and two others—Orelia and Parmelia—to be developed later. Facilities in the area now include a modern shopping centre, four schools (including a high school), a kindergarten, a community hall, library, hotel, infant health centre, maternity

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hospital and a district club. All this has come about because of the establishment near by of heavy industry on a large scale.

The Kwinana industrial complex was triggered off by the decision of British Petroleum Ltd to build an oil refinery there. This came on stream in 1955 and was followed by something of an industrial chain reaction. First came a steel-rolling mill and then in quick succession a blast furnace, an alumina refinery, a nitrogenous fertilizer plant, plants for producing steel pipes, for prefabricating steel and sand-blasting and, somewhat to the north and well back from the beach area and not visible in the over-all view of the complex, a cement works. When fully developed, the Cockburn Sound-Kwinana-Rockingham region is expected to have a population of 200,000 and to provide employment for 80,000.

No doubt, the most significant single industry there is the oil refinery, occupying 1,000 acres, about half of which are developed. With a capital investment totalling $100 million, it processed more than 30 million tons of crude oil in its first 12 years of operation. It not only produces various types of refined fuel piped for bunkering to Fremantle Harbour, but supplies these for near-by industrial plants, as well as a number of side-products used by others. At present the State Electricity Commission is constructing an oil-fired power station at Kwinana with an ultimate total generating capacity of 1,000,000 kilowatts. This will be built in progressive stages to meet the requirements both of the area and the state’s electricity grid into which part of its power will be fed. The first section, expected to be completed by mid-1971, consists of two 120,000 kilowatt units, the first of which is already in commercial operation.

The steel-rolling mill of B.H.P.’s subsidiary, Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, developed by various stages from 1956, until on 19 November 1960, the parent company signed an agreement with the West Australian government by which it undertook to develop an integrated iron and steel industry at Kwinana in return for leases of the high-grade iron ore deposits at Koolyanobbing and Bungalbin, north-east of Southern Cross. One of the conditions of the agreement was that the West Australian government should undertake to build a standard-gauge railway connecting the Koolyanobbing mine with the Kwinana works before the end of 1968, with the company paying freight on the iron ore. This was done and the blowing in of the

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blast furnace at Kwinana in May 1968 was a major event in the industrial development of the state. It is the first major plant to carry the processing of Western Australia’s enormous iron ore reserves to the tertiary stage. By 1978 it will become a fully integrated iron and steel making centre.

The refinery of Alcoa of Australia (W.A.) N.L. was established at an initial cost of $22,000,000 and made its first shipment of alumina in 1964. In 1965 the company decided to double the refinery’s annual capacity and successive additions to the plant boosted it to 800,000 tons with an ultimate target of 1,040,000 tons by the end of 1970. Its bauxite is mined by open-cut from an area 200 miles long and 25 miles wide in the Darling Ranges near Jarrahdale, 32 miles from Kwinana, and is brought to the refinery site by a narrow-gauge railway constructed by the W.A.G.R. When the company saw that the Kwinana plant would reach its designed capacity of 1,250,000 tons by the end of 1970, it chose a new site for a second refinery near Pinjarra.

A $30,000,000 fertilizer complex just south of the oil refinery has an initial capacity of 300,000 tons a year. It is operated by C.S.B.P. & Farmers Ltd, the state’s major superphosphate producer, and Kwinana Nitrogen Co. Pty Ltd, and is designed to expand production with increased demand. It produces superphosphate, anhydrous ammonia, and compound fertilizers containing nitrogen phosphates and nitrogen, phosphate and potash. The nitrogen plants are on a 6-acre site between the oil refinery and the main fertilizer works. They produce ammonia, nitric add and ammonium nitrate, the main raw materials being by-products of oil refining. Another example of the interlocking of industry in the Kwinana complex is that the Western Mining Corporation’s nickel refinery, one of the latest additions, will require about 40,000 tons of ammonia a year from this source. Western Mining occupies a 200-acre site and when its refinery went on stream in May 1970, its capital expenditure was $30,000,000. Ore is brought on the standard-gauge railway from Kambalda, south of Kalgoorlie, where the Corporation will later set up a nickel smelter. The refinery will have an annual capacity of 15,000 tons of nickel metal, with about 150,000 tons of ammonium sulphate as a by-product.

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These are the giants of the Kwinana complex. But many other firms have been quick to see the advantage of the availability of a large number of by-products, excellent road and rail communications, and good harbour facilities. Among them is Electrical Power Transmission, established at Kwinana by the parent company, Society Anonima Electrica of Milan, Italy, in 1965, with a capital outlay of $1,500,000. It handles about 500 tons of steel a month, half the steel being locally manufactured, the rest coming from eastern Australia. Branches of E.P.T. have been established in all Australian states, and an engineering shop similar to the one at Kwinana, has been constructed at Port Hedland.

There are many other firms operating at Kwinana, many of them with considerable growth potential. They include Brambles Industrial Services, a subsidiary of Brambles Industries Ltd; C. A. Parsons of Australia, Ltd; Australian Liquid Air (W.A.) Pty Ltd; the Readymix Group (W.A.); Transfield (W.A.) Pty Ltd; N. B. Love Starches (W.A.) Pty Ltd; Gardner Bros. & Perrott (W.A.) Pty Ltd; Stanton Pipes of Australia Pty Ltd; H. Rose & Co.; Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd; Armco (Aust.) Pty Ltd; Chicago Bridge (Aust.) Pty Ltd; Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd; Chemical Industries (Kwinana) Pty Ltd; O’Connor Crane Service; T. W. Crommelin & Co., Pty Ltd; and Mephan Ferguson Pty Ltd.

The last-named firm has an interesting historical association with Western Australia. In 1898 C. Y. O’Connor had been impressed by the unique locking-bar pipe this firm had invented. After seeing it under test conditions in Adelaide he recommended it in preference to riveted pipes for the Coolgardie Water Scheme. Mephan Ferguson Pty Ltd and the Sydney-based firm of G. Y. C. Hoskins secured the contract for their manufacture, but in those days the steel plates used had to be imported, some from Germany and some from U.S.A. Today these would be Australian-made, perhaps Kwinana-made.

The Western Australian Government Railways is currently constructing a $7,000,000 railway terminus and marshalling yard at Robb Jetty, on the northern fringe of the industrial area. It will occupy 90 acres and there are already connecting rail links to Midland Junction and Kwinana. The terminus will handle both 3 feet 6 inches and 4 feet 8.5 inches gauges and will, when completed, link

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the area with the standard-gauge railway across Australia. The first stage of the project came into operation in October 1970.

This brief survey shows how a huge industrial complex, with an over-all capital expenditure of something like $350,000,000, has come into being in less than two decades. Connected with it is a complicated set of roadways which have given new significance, both for industry and for housing, to a vast area south of the river which at the end of World War II was virtually empty bushland. Altogether there are 7,000 'acres at Kwinana reserved for industry. Indeed, probably nowhere else in Australia do such opportunities exist so close to a major city and to such up-to-date harbour facilities as those described in the preceding chapter.

Go to Chapter 16: Fremantle in the Post-War Years.

Garry Gillard | New: 5 July, 2021 | Now: 12 July, 2021