Page 5773 – 5774 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Thursday, 27 May 2021
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (16:02): Today, I would like to talk about an assignment carried out by a student at John Pirie Secondary School on notable occasions and people who have come from Port Pirie. This assignment was carried out by Joshua McKay. He was one of several young students who have done some history of the notable people and events that have emanated from the city of Port Pirie.
On the evening of 30 October 1841, a fiery inferno engulfed the famous Tower of London’s grand armoury—the very symbol of British power. Heat liquefied the lead used on the tower to seal the roof tiles. It flowed down the tower into the courtyard. London’s Lord Mayor, John Pirie, was on hand to supervise the response. I am sure he had no doubt as he gazed upon the spectacular light from the fire that reflected in the molten pool. Little would he have imagined that the fate of that metal would be forever intertwined with the town which bears his name.
The people of Port Pirie share a commercial existence with the local lead smelter that they and other industrial towns could only understand. The iconic stack dominates the town’s skyline and everyone has a close connection with at least one person who works there, yet locals rarely pause to consider where the lead that has been produced in Port Pirie for over a century has found itself. When Phar Lap famously won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, he carried the hope of the Great Depression, yet he also carried something which has been shared by each winner of the world’s greatest handicap race ever since. In the rider’s saddlebag were a record number of flat lead bars, the same year that battery terminals from Port Pirie were waved across a Mount Panorama finishing line.
In 1983, Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond was planning to win the America’s Cup. The 12-metre yacht Australia II had a revolutionary weapon: it had a winged keel that had been modified in a private shed. No-one knew about it. It was done under the cover of darkness. Under the cover of darkness the keel was smuggled into the Port Pirie smelter and lined with Pirie lead before being shipped stateside for the big race. Down 3-1 in the first four series, Australia II would go on to claim victory in each of the remaining four races, delivering arguably the greatest upset in the history of international sport. This win announced to the world the arrival of Australia as a confident nation and powerhouse of sport.
However, Port Pirie’s industrial contribution to the nation and the world goes far beyond its industrial connection to sport. Well aimed Port Pirie lead was used by the first allied troops to halt the Nazi advance at the siege of Tobruk. On the muddy tracks of Kokoda the following year, it was also used by the same troops, who became the first allied soldiers to stop the advance of the invincible Japanese. During World War I, the troops in the trenches relied heavily on lead bullets and zinc cartridges, both of which were delivered to the British commonwealth. Both opportunities came from Port Pirie. Today, it continues to be used in armaments in allied nations fighting terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations.
Port Pirie also served as a very important training base for the Royal Australian Air Force’s bomber pilots during the Second World War due to the great suitability of its location for the relevant challenges encountered by the pilots flying the aircraft across the world. The surrounding terrains included the sea, mountains, land, and also various prevailing winds, which pilots encountered during their flights. Port Pirie also produced the uranium used in critical arms testing at the beginning of the Cold War. This is a remarkable contribution from a no-nonsense community. These and other stories of events and people with great connections to Port Pirie were instigated by Aaron Ward, a teacher at John Pirie Secondary School. The author in this case, as I said earlier, was Joshua McKay. Joshua needs to be congratulated on his investigations. This is not the only one. The school is asking its students to look at the history of their own community, and this has given those students an opportunity to understand how they can divulge, how they can research.
There are probably another 14 activities and assignments I will bring up to this chamber, including the one about Robert Stigwood, the manager of the Australian Music group the Bee Gees, and a few others who have been to Port Pirie, and I will be doing that in the next few weeks. Again, I want to pay tribute to the John Pirie Secondary School and also to Joshua McKay for a great job. Congratulations to everybody.