Steel - The Final Years

The Final Years

In 1992, the cost reduction scheme known as the Business Improvement Plan (BIP) was introduced. In the same year the new Supply and Personnel system (SAP) began.

In September, in Future Directions, BHP announced it would continue integrated steelmaking operations at Newcastle Steelworks. Significant expenditure was proposed on plant improvement and the introduction of new technology.

The Sydney Mini Mill (later known simply as the Sydney Steel Mill) was commissioned in September.

Bob Kirkby was appointed Group General Manager on February 1, 1993. One of Kirkby's first initiatives was a focus on safety. World-class safety experts DuPont assisted Rod and Bar to implement safety changes. The Steelworks launched the environment improvement program ‘Towards 2000’ in 1994.  In December, coal-fired power generation ceased with the Steelworks buying 90% of its electricity from Pacific Power.

Sydney Steel Mill's $100 miIlion rolling mill rolled its first bar on October 10 1994.

As Newcastle Steelworks celebrated its 80th birthday in June 1995, concern mounted about its future.

BHP industrial land to the west of the Steelworks was set aside for a future industrial park, later called Steel River.

The coke ovens created a world first in its $2.8million repair of the 5A battery - it was the deepest hot regenerator repair undertaken on an Otto battery and used a specially built water-cooled cage.

In 1996, Rod and Bar Products merged with Long Products (Whyalla) to form the Long Products Division, headquartered in Newcastle. In August, BHP announced a far-reaching review of Steel Group, including Long Products, because of disappointing profit results.

On April 29 1997, BHP announced the future of the Steelworks. Main points were that iron and steel making would be phased out by the end of 1999, with the loss of 2,500 jobs. The existing rod and bar mills were to be retained along with an expanded wire mill. Feed for Newcastle would be supplied from Whyalla.

A major human resources program, ‘Pathways’, incorporating career planning, retraining, retirement and financial advice, counselling and a host of supports, was launched to assist employees to prepare for job loss. Departmental Transition Steering Teams comprising representatives of employees, unions, management and staff provided input into closure organisation.

1998 was marked by preparations for closure. The Federal Government approved ‘Manufacturing in Bond’ for the Steel River site, planning started for the ‘Ribbons of Steel’ arts festival to commemorate closure, and Steelworks' tours restarted.

$18million was spent on improving the Bar Mill to a world-class operation and $44million was spent on upgrading the Wire Mill. On August 31, the Newcastle mainframe was turned off marking the end of an era in computers.

On 30 September 1999, iron and steel making ceased and the plant closed. All structures except a few heritage-listed buildings have since been demolished. The site is currently being remediated awaiting reuse, possibly as a container terminal.

The Rod Mill, Bar Mill, and what started as Stewarts & Lloyds, Rylands and the Wire Rope Works were all amalgamated to become Onesteel, which continues operating today as the descendants of the once-massive Newcastle Steelworks.

Complied from notes by Sue Maiden, and from RodBar – final edition.

Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association