Welcome to Carbon Central

That’s where I live, according to an article just published in the UK in The Guardian.

Locals call this city "carbon central". But in the polarised Australian climate change debate, this mining hub is not central at all, but firmly positioned at one extreme.

Wollongong, 50 miles south of Sydney in New South Wales, is home to 300,000 people and millions of tonnes of coal.

The steep hills around Wollongong afford views of endless queues of ships on the watery horizon, waiting for their cargo of black gold. Coal has been the lifeblood of the city for 150 years and the backbone of its steel industry.

Regardless of the climate extremes, the droughts, wildfires, cyclones and floods that are ravaging Australia, locals do not want to give it up.

"It’s all right for greenies to say this carbon tax has to happen, but we can’t all hug trees for a living," said Brett Withers, who has worked as an industrial cleaning contractor in the steelworks for 20 years. "It might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If the tax comes in, this area will be devastated. It’s not just the steel industry – it’s the butcher, the hairdresser and the baker. Everyone will suffer." …

The article uses Wollongong as a hook but as it progresses it really has little to say about the place, or the way the debate is going here.

When I lived in Wollongong forty years ago it was indeed true that just about everyone in the area worked directly or indirectly for the steelworks and the coal mines, all of them Australian-owned – well with one controversial exception and that was a Yank company — or in fertiliser making or other metal industries or in clothing manufacture. The place was also a notorious or famous hotbed of left-wing politics, with quite a strong local communist party. The place also stank – literally. You could often see what you were breathing. But it was all pretty stable and sure as the industry was heavily protected and locked into special mates rates for raw materials.

port k

Port Kembla in the 1950s – Frank Hurley, photographer

Back here forty years on and changing times and globalisation have wrought havoc, or at any rate brought great change. The steel industry survives courtesy of some niche products, no longer protected, no longer getting raw materials from itself or at mates rates. Brett Withers really is a bit in the past there.

View from Bulli Lookout

Link there to a great page from Chilby Photography


1930 Steel Works

See also A Brief History of the Steel Industry at Port Kembla, A coal history in the Illawarra and w w w . i l l a w a r r a c o a l . c o m. The last two are from industry-related sources.

Today’s mines – and there are fewer of them – are most often in foreign hands: see Gujarat.

Gujarat NRE Minerals Limited, incorporated in October 2004, is a subsidiary of Gujarat NRE Coke Limited, the largest manufacturer of Low Ash Metallurgical Coke in India. Gujarat NRE is involved in mining, processing and marketing of world class coal products. The Company owns and operates the mine, NRE No. 1 Colliery (formerly know as South Bulli Colliery), spreading over 6421hector with reserves of over 300 million tonnes of coking coal and located in the Southern Coalfields of New South Wales, Australia. It holds the consolidated coal lease and other mining tenements which include mining purpose lease and exploration license to the NRE No. 1 Colliery. The colliery is surrounded to the north, south and west by other collieries.

The mine is located at a distance of 14 km from the Kembla Port Terminal in the Southern Coalfields of the New South Wales Coalfields…