Whyalla

Whyalla
Steel city positioned between Spencer Gulf and the desert on Eyre Peninsula
It is hard to get excited about Whyalla. It is a steel city. Port Kembla or Newcastle on the Spencer Gulf. A large sad sort of place reddened, like a bruised eye, by the powdery iron ore which is blown over the city from the steelworks.

Located 76 km south of Port Augusta and 388 km from Adelaide, Whyalla is one of the three major centres on the Eyre Peninsula and, like Ceduna and Port Lincoln, it is driven by the local steel and petroleum industries. It is also the largest provincial city in South Australia.

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.

Advertisement

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.

Things to see:

HMAS Whyalla
Of all the ships built in Whyalla, the 650 tonne corvette HMAS Whyalla, the first ship completed at the shipyard, has become the most famous. It now stands like some kind of strange vessel which has lost its way glaring down over the Lincoln Highway at the northern entrance to the city.

Whyalla Maritime Museum
This is an ideal starting point for any visit to Whyalla. The Whyalla Maritime Museum, a really excellent and comprehensive display, combines a history of local shipping (through models, photographs and audio visual displays) with a guided tour of the HMAS Whyalla and a huge model railway display. The museum and Visitor Information Centre are open from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. every day (except Good Friday and Christmas Day) with tours of the ship being held on the hour every hour between 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. (November - March)

Tours and the Visitor Information Centre
It is really quite difficult to enjoy the attractions of Whyalla without a good map and some directions. The Whyalla Fauna and Reptile Park and the Mount Laura Homestead Museum are both located on the outskirts of the city and the Steelworks Tour, the highlight of any visit, should be organised well in advance. A visit to the Tanderra Tourist Centre, next to the HMAS Whyalla, is therefore a natural starting point. The centre's telephone number is (08) 8645 7900 or 1800 088 589. The excellent (and free) Whyalla Visitors Guide is arguably the best publication of its type in Australia. It has a detailed map and very clear directions to all the major attractions in the area.

Hummock Hill
To get some overall perspective of the city a visit to Hummock Hill is a necessity. Located at the eastern end of the city it looks over the BHP's Pellet Plant to the north, across the marina to the east, down the coast to the south and across the city centre to the west. It was used as an observation post during World War II and the gun emplacements are still standing.

On the southern slope of Hummock Hill, near the beach, are the Ada Ryan Gardens. This pleasant green park, complete with a duck pond and some native fauna, is a cool retreat from the hot dryness (the town boast 301 sunny days and only 268mm annual rainfall) of the town.

Mt Laura Homestead Museum
Beyond the Ada Ryan Gardens (turn off the Lincoln Highway at McDouall Stuart Ave then turn right into Nicholson Ave and Ekblom St) is the National Trust Mount Laura Homestead Museum. It is a strange sight. An old rural homestead in the heart of suburbia and close to the large Westland Shopping Centre. Like all the National Trust Museums on Eyre Peninsula, the Mount Laura Homestead has been expanded to include a restored cottage which dates from 1914, and an extensive display of old engines. Outside is Whyalla's original wood and corrugated iron lockup (it must have been absolutely deadly in summer) which is the only known example of a portable gaol in South Australia. Near the homestead is an engine which was used to haul iron ore from Iron Knob to Whyalla more than eighty years ago.

Visiting the Steelworks
Whyalla is still the only steelworks in Australia to hold regular public tours - they are now run by a private company. The tours, which leave the Visitor Information Centre at 9.30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, last for about two hours and cover the entire steelmaking process from the coke ovens and blast furnace to the rolling mill. The steelworks now specialise in long products - railway lines, rolled steel joists etc. The major period of expansion for the steelworks occurred in the 1960s when two blast furnaces were opened, the coke ovens were commissioned (1968) and an iron ore pelletising plant was constructed.

Scenic Drives
Beyond the town centre there are a number of interesting scenic drives. Anyone wanting to understand the entire iron ore industry in the region should travel to Iron Knob. There is also a very interesting drive out to Port Bonython and Point Lowly which lies about 25 km northeast of the town. This coastal strip is a fascinating mixture of the old and the new. The huge Santos Fractionation Plant processes oil which has travelled 659 km from the Moomba oil and gas field. There are no conducted tours. However people driving past can see the huge storage tanks (175 000 and 250 000 barrels capacity) and the jetty which stretches for 2.4 km into the Gulf.

Fitzgerald Bay/Point Lowly hiking, cycling and driving trail is a twelve kilometre long heritage and nature trail that follows the coast. The interpretive signs along the trail explain the Aboriginal history, early European exploration, flora and fauna and marine life in the area.

Port Lowly Lighthouse
Two kilometres beyond the Santos Plant is the Port Lowly Lighthouse which dates from 1883. It was originally built in masonry and extended in concrete. The original lantern is still in place. The lighthouse was manned until 1973 (the two lighthouse keeper's cottages are nearby) but is now fully automatic.

Cuttlefish and Whyalla
Between May and August, the breeding season for the Australian giant cuttlefish (sepia apama), Whyalla attracts people from all over the world. The concentration of these unique creatures in the waters around Whyalla is quite remarkable. One scientist, Dr Mark Norman from the University of Melbourne, has described it as "the largest aggregation of Giant Cuttlefish in the world". There are opportunities to dive and be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of these 'chameleons of the sea'. On every cuttlefish dive visitors are assured of unlimited encounters as these strange creatures hover and perform one of the most colourful and beautiful spawning dances in the marine world. This is a memorable marine gatherings and easy, boat or shore, shallow dive or snorkels - a must for every diver to experience at least once in their life.

Whyalla Tourist Information Centre
Lincoln Hwy
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 7900, 1800 088 589
Facsimile: (08) 8645 3620

Airport Whyalla Motel
Lincoln Hwy P.O. Box 2105
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 2122
Rating: ***1/2

Alexander Motor Inn
99 Playford Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 9488
Rating: ***1/2

Country Inn Motel
Playford Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 0588

Whyalla Foreshore Motor Inn
Watson Tce P.O. Box 607
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8877

Westland Motel/Hotel
100 McDouall Stuart Ave
Whyalla Norrie SA 5608
Telephone: (08) 8645 0066
Facsimile: (08) 86451656
Rating: ****

Bayview Hotel
13 Forsyth St
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8544

Eyre Hotel
Playford Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 7188

Lord Gowrie Hotel
Gowrie Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8955

Spencer Hotel
Forsyth St
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8411

Sundowner Hotel/Motel
Cowell Rd
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 7688

Westland Hotel/Motel
McDouall Stuart Ave Whyalla Norrie
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 0066
Rating: ****

Whyalla Hillview Caravan Park
Malaquana Rd
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 9357
Free Call: 1800 828 012 (bookings only)

Whyalla Foreshore Caravan Park
Broadbent Tce
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 7474
Rating: ***

Alexander Motor Inn
Playford Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 9488

Barnacle Bill Family Seafood Restaurant
Jenkins Ave Whyalla Norrie
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 3433

City Pearl Chinese Restaurant
Jenkins Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 2196

Foreshore Motor Inn "Watersedge"
Cnr Foreshore Rd & Watson Tce
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8877

Bayview Hotel
Forsyth St
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8544

Lam Inn Chinese Restaurant
Jenkins Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 0999

Oriental Inn Chinese Restaurant
Essington Lewis Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 4630

Spencer Hotel
Forsyth St
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 8411

Tavern In The Town Restaurant
Kelly St
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8644 1826

The Inn
Playford Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 0588

Vegas Bar & Restaurant
McDouall Stuart Ave
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 0066

Westlands Chinese Takeaway & Charcoal Chicken Restaurant
Westlands Shopping Centre
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 1132

At the Beach Cafe
Whyalla SA 5600
Telephone: (08) 8645 1444

Comments