Lake Macquarie History

Sulphide Corporation - History

Sulphide Corporation was an important company in Lake Macquarie for over 100 years and was a major employer during that time. Although it ceased production in 2003, the ongoing industrial, economic, environmental and social significance of the Sulphide to Lake Macquarie is substantial. At the time of its closure, Lake Macquarie City Library was able to secure a large number of records relating to Sulphide employees and make them available to the public.

History

photo: sulphide corporation

Much of northern NSW was underdeveloped when the management of a London-registered company known as the Sulphide Corporation (Ashcroft's Process) Limited set their sights on establishing an industry at Cockle Creek in 1895. They were confident they could make a commercial success of the electrolytic zinc process developed by Edgar Ashcroft.The reasons for choosing the Newcastle area were explained by the Corporation's first Chairman, the Earl of Kintore, a former Governor of South Australia:

"The place selected for the erection of the company's works is Newcastle, New South Wales, which offers exceptional advantages for the purpose, being situated on the sea, with good port and harbour facilities, and having ample supplies of coal in the immediate vicinity. It has also the advantage of possessing good wharfage and railway accommodation and an abundant supply of salt and fresh water, all of them essential for our purpose. Newcastle is also a port of call and coaling station for steamers to and from all the leading Australian ports so that freights can be easily arranged for both in respect of plant and machinery and the company's ores and products."

Although the first industrial use of the Cockle Creek site failed after just two years, it left behind two important legacies. First, it advanced the electrolytic process significantly, paving the way for successful electrolytic zinc plants like the EZ Plant in Hobart. Secondly, it began a remarkable period of industrial activity at the Cockle Creek site, which spanned more than a century.

The site has been through enormous change in its 106 year history - World Wars, the Great Depression, population growth, market fluctuations, changes in process, a myriad of different products, and more recently, community and environmental concerns. It grew to be one of the Hunter's largest employers - at one time employing more than 800 people - and an important economic contributor. In its last year of operation, it contributed more than $80 million to the local economy.

Year Milestone
1895 Sulphide Corporation chooses Cockle Creek site for electrolytic zinc plant
1897 March - Plant operations commence; July - Electrolytic process abandoned - decision taken to convert plant to an orthodox lead smelter
1902 First of five zinc distillation plants commissioned
1911 Establishment of Sulphide Employees' Union
1912 State-of-the-art Dwight and Lloyd sintering machines installed
1913 Sulphuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants commissioned Reclaiming Superphosphate, early 1900's
1917 Full-scale lead refinery constructed and commissioned
1922 Smelting section of the plant closed due to low metal prices
1923 Expansion of acid and fertiliser production
1925 Sulphide Corporation entered its cement production phase
1931 Company directors and salaried staff agree to 20 % wages cut to minimize costs in the wake of the Great Depression
1942 Cockle Creek works declared a "protected industry" freeing the Corporation from wartime restrictions
1949 $3 million upgrade announced to double sulphuric acid production and to enable zinc production by the ISF (Imperial Smelting Furnace) process
1950 Sulphide Corporation limited enters voluntary liquidation, and a new company is formed - Sulphide Corporation Pty Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Consolidated Zinc Corporation Ltd
1957 Plans announced for an $8 million upgrade to re-establish zinc smelting operations, and expand sulphuric acid and superphosphate plants
1961 New zinc-lead smelter commissioned at Cockle Creek, ushering in new era of employment, export revenue for both the company and the Port, and 40 % boost in Australia's zinc-lead smelting capacity
1962 Conzinc Riotinto takes 75% control of Sulphide Corporation
1964 Corporation founds a subsidiary, Greenleaf Fertilisers Ltd, to manage fertiliser production at the plant
1965 Greenleaf begins construction of a $16 million high-analysis fertiliser plant at Kooragang Island ( the first manufacturing plant on Kooragang)
1968 Refinery added to zinc smelter, adding four new products to plant output
1972 Employee blood testing implemented. Corporation announces plans for a $3.5 million upgrade of capital plant and $3 million environmental program
1973 Systematic noise reduction program begun, along with regular monitoring of effluents and emissions
1974 Corporation celebrates the production of one million tonnes of zinc and lead - the first ISF in the world to achieve this
1975 Sludge treatment plant commissioned to help remove heavy metals from liquid effluent
1978 July - $3.25 million investment announced in Lead Dross Leaching Plant - the only one of its type in the world Electrolytic process abandoned - decision taken to convert plant to an orthodox lead smelter
1985 Corporation spends $3.1 million on improved technology to increase blast furnace zinc output and place 0 continuous tapper on the furnace
1988 Pasminco formed with merger of lead and zinc assets of North Broken Hill Holdings Lt and CRA Ltd. $50 capital investment program announced for the Cockle Creek site including $12 million of new environmental measure.
1991 Community health survey reveals widespread soil and dust contamination and elevated blood lead levels
1992 Company announces plans to develop a buffer zone around the plant to ensure the site could meet current and future lead-in-air goals
1993 NSW Government grants development consent for the company's expansion and improvement program but sets operating conditions among the toughest in the world Capacity of ISF increased to 90,000 tonnes of zinc per year, automatic zinc slab stocking and stropping introduced, along with improved gas cleaning in the acid plant
1997 $8 million Toil Gas Scrubber constructed, significantly reducing sulphur dioxide emissions
2001 Business Improvement process (BOOM) introduced to Pasminco smelting sites as part of a company wide effort to deliver $100 million in cost savings in a 12 month period
2002 Despite significant improvements, Pasminco announces closure of the site between 2006 and 2008 due to long-standing marginal performance
2001 Closure is brought forward to September 2003 because of the negative movement in key external factors since the original announcement

From: One Last Look - Memories of Pasminco Smelter