Friday, 8 April 2016

Arrium steelworks and Whyalla

dominate the first few pages of our state newspaper this morning. For those of you in Upover I will need to explain. 
Arrium is in the hands of an administrator. It employs thousands of people across the country, a thousand of them in Whyalla. Indirectly it helps to employ thousands more. 
Arrium makes steel in Whyalla. We don't use it.
Yes, you've heard it all before.
When I was a kitten we spent two years living in a tiny rural community a very long way from the city. We travelled backwards and forwards a number of times. It was a day long journey starting at around 5am and ending in the early evening. From Whyalla onwards the road was not sealed.
Whyalla represented civilisation to us. It was the place where we stopped for petrol and milkshakes. Returning to the city I remember Whyalla rising out of the dust and heat of the semi-desert. I remember the huge "arms" of the cranes in the shipyards and the haze from the industrial section. I remember the bowsers in front of the open forecourt of the "BP" petrol station - so different from the old, old hand pump in the community we had come from.  I remember what was, to  us, an extraordinary array of goods in the shop where my parents bought the milkshakes intended to stop us from wanting anything more until we reached the city - still about five or six hours away.
And Whyalla was a busy place back then. We measured the size of places by the number of schools we had - and Whyalla had a number of primary schools, two high schools and "the Catholic place". It was "big". 
Most people were employed in the shipyards and associated industries or because of them. It was a "union" town. 
But between those trips and my leaving school some years later something happened. The shipyards started to decline first. It simply became too expensive to build ships there and to keep the associated industries going.
Whyalla has been dying with a long, slow exhalation of dust, rust, and dirt for the past half century. Governments have looked elsewhere to buy ships and steel. It's hardly surprising. It was, they thought, cheaper. Our new hospital - the most expensive in the southern hemisphere - is being built with second grade steel from China. We have been told that the steel is so poor that the hospital will probably only last fifty years. The old one has been there  longer than that and, taking everything into account, cost a good deal less to build. It was "too expensive" to use locally made steel. They didn't use it for the rail lines or a bridge either.
And now they want to "save" the steel industry. There are demands for the federal government to step in, for "the banks to do the right thing". 
It seems to me that it is a little late for that. We should have been using the steel they made there. We should have been building boats made from that steel. Perhaps the work force needed to be a little more reliable and a little less expensive too.
I know the economics are complicated but I also know that something should have been done a long time ago. CPR won't save the steel industry. It needs a heart transplant - a very expensive one.

1 comment:

Melodye Traupel said...

Oh, Cat, sounds just like our world Upover. It is all so overwhelming. Are we all working so that politicians and financial consortiums can gather up all the money? One of our largest automobile makers just announced they are moving car production to Mexico--thousands out of jobs. ARGH.
Sister Cat