Whyalla - Culture and History

The first European to visit the site of modern day Whyalla was Matthew Flinders. On 9 March 1802 Flinders sailed along the coast and named Hummock Hill, which now is the site of the city's lookout - a marvellous location which affords 360° views across the city and steelworks as well as across Spencer Gulf and down the coast.

Thirty eight years later Edward John Eyre, on one of his many expeditions to the peninsula which now bears his name, passed near the present site of Whyalla. However it wasn't until 1862 that the first pastoral lease - appropriately called Mount Hummock - was taken up in the area.

In 1880 iron ore leases were taken out at Iron Knob and by 1886 BHP had control of the leases with the plan to transport the ore across the Spencer Gulf to be used as a flux at Port Pirie where the silver, lead and zinc from Broken Hill was being smelted.

In 1901 a tramway (actually it was a privately owned railway but it was always called a tramway by the locals) was built between Iron Knob and Hummock Hill. It replaced the bullock drays which had been used to bring the iron ore to the coast.

Slowly a tiny settlement began to grow up around Hummock Hill. It was known until the 1920s as 'Hummocky'. Fresh water was shipped across the Gulf from Port Pirie, a general store was built (1903), the telephone was installed (1911) and just a month before the arrival of the first policeman the town officially changed its name to Whyalla, an Aboriginal word probably meaning 'deep water place'.

For most of its life (probably for all of its life) Whyalla has been a town totally dependent on the economic decisions of BHP. On 8 January 1915 ore from Iron Knob was shipped to Newcastle thus ensuring the city's existence as the major port for the Middleback Ranges iron ore deposits.

The development of the town-city from the turn of the century until 1970 was heavily influenced by BHP. Effectively a company town from 1900-1945 it then became a 'city commission' by a special Act of Parliament. From 1945-70 three local members, three BHP representatives and a chairman appointed by the South Australian government ran the town (it was proclaimed a city in 1961). It finally achieved full local government autonomy in 1970.

Between 1938-40 BHP turned the town from a port to a major production centre. In two years the harbour was dredged, a blast furnace was built and a shipyard was constructed. Between 1941-78 sixty-three ships were built. At its peak Whyalla was the biggest shipbuilding port in Australia with a capacity to build ships up to 83 000 tonnes. The largest ship ever built in Australia, a bulk carrier called the Clutha Capricorn, was launched from the Whyalla shipyards in 1972.