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Port Pirie

Port Pirie
South Australia
The lead smelter and grain silos of Port Pirie, South Australia.
Port Pirie is located in South Australia
Port Pirie
Population 13,819 (2011 census)[1]
Established 1845
Postcode(s) 5540
Elevation 4 m (13 ft)
Time zone ACST (UTC+9:30)
 • Summer (DST) ACDT (UTC+10:30)
Location 223 km (139 mi) from Adelaide
LGA(s) Port Pirie Regional Council
State electorate(s) Frome
Federal Division(s) Grey

Port Pirie (post code: 5540) is the sixth most populous city in South Australia after Adelaide, Mount Gambier, Whyalla, Murray Bridge and Port Lincoln. It is a seaport on the east coast of the Spencer Gulf, 223 km (139 mi)[2] north of Adelaide.

The settlement was founded in 1845 and is the site of the world's largest lead smelter, operated by Nyrstar.[3] It also produces refined silver, zinc, copper and gold.


  • History 1
  • Demographics 2
  • Geography 3
  • Climate 4
  • Transport 5
    • Railways 5.1
  • Industry and employment 6
    • Development 6.1
    • Waterfront development 6.2
  • Tenby10 (Lead levels) 7
  • Education and cultural aspects 8
  • Media 9
  • Politics 10
    • State & Federal 10.1
    • Local 10.2
  • Notable residents 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


Prior to European settlement, the location that became Port Pirie was occupied by the indigenous tribe of Nukunu. The location was called 'Tarparrie', which is suspected to mean "Muddy Creek". The first European to see the location was Matthew Flinders in 1802 as he explored the Spencer Gulf by boat. The first land discovery by settlers of the location was by the explorer Edward Eyre who explored regions around Port Augusta. John Horrocks also discovered a pass through the Flinders Ranges to the coast, now named Horrocks Pass.

The town was originally called Samuel's Creek after the discovery of Muddy Creek by Samuel Germein. In 1846, Port Pirie Creek was named by Governor Robe after the John Pirie, the first vessel to navigate the creek when transporting sheep from Bowman's Run near Crystal Brook. In 1848, Matthew Smith and Emanuel Solomon bought 85 acres (34 ha) and subdivided it as a township to be known as Port Pirie. Little development occurred on site and by the late 1860s there were only three woolsheds on the riverfront.[4]

The government town was surveyed in December 1871 by Charles Hope Harris. The thoroughfares and streets were named after the family of George Goyder, Surveyor General of South Australia, with the streets running parallel and at right angles to the river. In 1873 the land of Solomon and Smith was re-surveyed and named Solomontown. On 28 September 1876, Port Pirie was declared a municipality, with a population of 947.

With the discovery of rich silver-, lead- and zinc-bearing ore at Broken Hill in 1883, and the completion of a narrow gauge railway from Port Pirie to close to the Broken Hill field in 1888, the economic activities of the town shifted. In 1889 a lead smelter was built by the British Blocks company to treat Broken Hill ore. The Broken Hill Proprietary initially leased the smelter from British Blocks and then began constructing their own smelter from 1892. In 1915 the smelter was taken over by a major joint venture of Broken Hill-based companies, Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS). Led by the Collins House Group, BHAS became the biggest lead smelter in the world by 1934 processing lead and zinc ore from Broken Hill.[5] The smelter gradually passed to Pasminco, then Zinifex, and is now operated by Nyrstar

By 1921 the town's population had grown to 9801 living in 2308 occupied dwellings. By this date there were also 62 boarding houses to cater for the labour demands at the smelter and on the increasingly busy waterfront.[6] Port Pirie was declared South Australia's first provincial city in 1953, and today it is South Australia's second largest port. It is characterised by a gracious main street and some interesting and unusual historic buildings.[7]


According to the 2006 Census, the population of the Port Pirie census area was 13,206 people. Approximately 51.8% of the population were female, 86.9% are Australian born, over 92.7% of residents are Australian citizens and 2.6% were Aboriginal people.

The most popular industries for employment were Basic Non-Ferrous Metal Manufacturing (9.7%), School Education (6%), Hospitality (only including hotels) (11%), Health (5.4%) and Animal Husbandry (4%), while the unemployment rate is approx. 11%. The median weekly household income is A$608 or more per week, compared with $924 in Adelaide. 27.1% of the population identify themselves as Catholic, while 23.7% identify with no religion at all.[8]


Port Pirie is at an elevation of 4 metres above sea level. It is approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) inland, on the Pirie River, which is a tidal saltwater inlet from Spencer Gulf. It is on the coastal plain between Spencer Gulf (to the west) and the Flinders Ranges to the east.


Port Pirie exists in a region with a semi-arid climate, outside Goyder's Line, surrounded by mallee scrub. Average daily maximum temperatures vary from a mild 16.4 °C in winter to 32.0 °C in summer. Its average annual rainfall is 345.2 millimetres, most of which falls in winter.

According to the Köppen climate classification, Port Pirie has a warm semi-arid climate, noted as BSk.

Climate data for Port Pirie
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 46.3
Average high °C (°F) 32.0
Average low °C (°F) 17.7
Record low °C (°F) 4.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 18.6
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[9]


Port Pirie is 5 km (3 mi) off the Augusta Highway. It is serviced by Port Pirie Airport, six kilometres south of the city.


The first railway in Port Pirie opened in 1875 when the South Australian Railways 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge Port Pirie-Cockburn line opened to Gladstone, ultimately being extended to Broken Hill.[10] The original Ellen Street station was located on the street with the track running down the middle.[11][12] The station today is occupied by the Port Pirie National Trust Museum.[13]

In 1937, it became a break-of-gauge station when the broad gauge Adelaide-Redhill line was extended to Port Pirie. At the same time the Commonwealth Railways standard gauge Trans-Australian Railway was extended south from Port Augusta to terminate at the new Port Pirie Junction station where it met the broad gauge line, in the suburb of Solomontown.[14][15]

As far back as 1943, a plan existed to build a new station to remove trains from Ellen Street.[16] As part of the gauge conversion of the Port Pirie to Broken Hill line, Mary Elie Street station was built to replace both Ellen Street and Port Pirie Junction stations.[17]

When opened, the new station was the meeting point for the Commonwealth Railways and South Australian Railways networks with through trains changing locomotives and crews, so the disadvantages were not as notable. However, after both became part of Australian National in July 1975 and trains began to operate in and out with the same locomotives, trains began to operate via Coonamia station on the outskirts of the city.

Mary Ellie Street station was eventually closed in the 1990s and in 2009 was redeveloped as the city's library. Until 2012, a GM class locomotive and three carriages were stabled at the platform.[18]

Industry and employment

The main industries are the smelting of metals, and the operation of silos to hold grain. The silos have been closed.

Port Pirie's main employer is Nyrstar, which operates the largest lead smelter/refinery in the southern hemisphere.[3] A lead smelter has been operating in Port Pirie since the 1880s, and high blood lead levels in the local population are an ongoing concern. The Stack, which can be seen miles away, is 205 metres tall, and is the tallest structure in the state. In 2006 Zinifex formed a joint venture with Umicore to create Nyrstar, which owns the smelter, with the intention that it would eventually be an entity separate from the parent companies.[19][20]

Flinders Industrial, a new industrial estate, is currently in its second stage and is planned to be home to the new council depot. There were plans to build a sulphuric acid plant for the benefit of the Nyrstar Smelter, but this project has been shelved and deemed not feasible.


A new $3.3 million cultural precinct was completed in 2010 built by the Port Pirie Regional Council in partnership with the Federal Government. A committee is also looking at building a multi-purpose stadium. The swimming pool is now state of the art after receiving a $1 million refit. A major Waste Recovery Facility was opened in 2013, which allows all waste and recycled materiel to be sorted and sorted under one roof. In 2012 Port Pirie Regional Council completed a $5m Community Water Recycling project with Nyrstar which allows 350ML of water to be reused from the smelter. Plans are underway to establish a large shopping complex in the city with an additional supermarket and department store. The city's population is continually growing and property prices continue to rise. The Port Pirie Regional Council has a number of large projects that will be launched or completed next financial year.

Waterfront development

The PPRC completed a major redevelopment of its foreshore area in 2014 including the construction of the Solomontown Beach Plaza, opening up Beach abroad to through traffic, replacing lighting along the beach as well as improvements to security in the region. In addition, by the end of 2014, the council aims to replace and duplicate the current Solomontown boat ramp and undertake dredging in the vicinity of the ramp. This investment is aimed at creating a waterfront which will revitalise the area from the Main Road boat ramp up to the area off Ellen street.

Tenby10 (Lead levels)

Lead smelters contribute to several environmental problems, especially raised blood lead levels in some of the town population. The problem is particularly significant in many children who have grown up in the area. There is a government project to address this.[21] Nyrstar plans to progressively reduce lead in blood levels such that ultimately 95% of all children meet the national goal of 10 micrograms per decilitre. This has been known as the tenby10 project. Community lead in blood levels in children are now at less than half the level that they were in the mid 1980s.[22]

The Port Pirie smelter has a project underway to reduce lead levels in children to under 10 micrograms per decilitre by the end of 2010.[23]

"The goal we are committed to achieving is for at least 95% of our children aged 0 to 4 to have a blood lead level below ten micrograms per decilitre of blood (the first ten in tenby10) by the end of 2010 (the second ten in tenby10)."[23]

Higher concentrations of lead have been found in the organs of bottlenose dolphins stranded near the lead smelter, compared to dolphins stranded elsewhere in South Australia.[24] The health impacts of these metals on dolphins has been examined and some associations between high metal concentrations and kidney toxicity were noted.[25]

Education and cultural aspects

The former Ellen Street railway station now a museum

Port Pirie is the main centre for the Mid North area. Many towns in the area rely on Port Pirie for shopping and employment. It also has many educational institutions such as John Pirie Secondary School[26] (years 8-12), St Mark's College[27] (reception - year 12), Mid North Christian College[28] (reception - year 12), many preschools and primary schools, and a TAFE Campus (Adult Education).

Port Pirie is home to the National Trust Historic and Folk Museum and Memorial Park. Every September and October it hosts a country music festival. It has significant Italian & Greek communities.

The Keith Michell Theatre, within the Northern Festival Centre, is named after the actor Keith Michell who grew up in Warnertown, 5 km (3 mi) from Port Pirie.


Port Pirie is serviced by two local newspapers, The Recorder (Tuesdays and Thursdays)[29] and the free Flinders News (Wednesdays). The Recorder has recently changed to a morning paper, after being delivered at around 3pm. Now readers can grab a copy of the paper off their front lawn early in the morning. It covers a small coverage area outside of the city however the Flinders News covers the mid north, Clare Valley and part of the Yorke Peninsula.

Just recently the Flinders News won an award at the nationwide Fairfax Regional Media Awards for best co-op as well as placing runner-up in best feature and sales team of the year. The Advertiser also covers some Port Pirie news, but to a very small extent. Television coverage is broad. ABC and SBS are available in the city with Southern Cross (7, 9 and 10) as well as Austar. Several radio stations cover Port Pirie including ABC 639AM, ABC 891AM, 1044 5CS, 1242 5AU, triple j, Magic FM and Trax FM (a community station).


State & Federal

Port Pirie West
State Elections
2006[30] 2009[31]
  Labor 60.2% 36.6%
  Liberal 28.8% 16.9%
  Family First 5.7%
  SA Greens 3.4% 2.6%
  Democrats 1.9%
  Geoff Brock 40.9%
  Nationals SA 2.4%
  One Nation 0.5%
Port Pirie West
2007 Federal Election[32]
  Labor 58.79%
  Liberal 28.02%
  Family First 5.18%
  Greens 4.29%
  National 1.46%
  Democrats 1.38%
  Independent 0.89%

The results shown are from "Port Pirie West", the largest polling booth in Port Pirie, which is at the SA TAFE Campus.

Port Pirie is part of the federal division of Grey, and has been represented by Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey since 2007. Grey is held with a margin of 4.43% but is considered a safe Liberal seat.

The city is part of the state electoral district of Frome, which had been held since 1993 by former Liberal Premier, Rob Kerin, with a margin of 3.4%. It also has been considered a safe Liberal seat.

Although the region is generally Liberal-leaning because of its agricultural base, Port Pirie is an industrial centre that is favourable to the ALP.

In late 2008 Rob Kerin announced his retirement, which led to a by-election being held in January 2009. Port Pirie mayor Geoff Brock announced his candidacy as an independent, and subsequently took the seat off the Liberals at the 2009 Frome by-election. After the poll for the by-election had closed and first preferences had been counted, (but before other preferences had been distributed), the result was Lib: 39.2%; ALP: 26.1%; Brock 23.6%; Nat: 6.6%; Greens: 3.8%; Other: 0.7%.[33][34]

State Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith (Liberal Party) (prematurely) claimed victory.[35] Distribution of National, Greens and other preferences placed Brock ahead of the ALP candidate. Hence with the assistance of the ALP candidate's preferences, Geoff Brock won the by-election 51.7% to 48.3% for the Liberal candidate.[33][34]


Port Pirie is in the Port Pirie Regional Council (PPRC) local government area (along with some of the sparsely inhabited areas around it).

Notable residents

  • Nip Pellew (1893-1981), Former Australian Test cricketer and North Adelaide player
  • Mark Bickley (1969-), Former Adelaide Crows dual premiership captain
  • Mark Jamar (1982-), Melbourne Demons player & all Australian
  • David Tiller (1958-), Former North Adelaide Roosters captain & premiership player
  • Elijah Ware (1983-), Port Power and Central Districts player & premiership player
  • Abby Bishop (1989-), Canberra Capitals player
  • Lewis Johnston (1991-), Sydney Swans, Adelaide crows
  • Brodie Atkinson (1972-), St.Klida, Adelaide Crows, North Adelaide premiership player(1991), Sturt premiership player(2002) & Magarey medal winner(1997)
  • Sam Mayes (1992), North Adelaide, Brisbane Lions (2013-)

See also


  1. ^ Population 2011 Census Australian Bureau of Statistics
  2. ^ UBD South Australia and Northern Territory Country Road Atlas, 6th Edition, 2005. Universal Publishers Pty Ltd. ISBN 0 7319 1606 9
  3. ^ a b "Port Pirie Overview".  
  4. ^ Erik Eklund, Mining Towns: making a living, making a life'', New South Publishing, Sydney, 2012, p. 137
  5. ^ Eklund, Mining Towns, pp. 137-138.
  6. ^ Eklund, Mining Towns, pp. 143-144.
  7. ^ "Port Pirie", Travel section,, 17 February 2005. Retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  8. ^  
  9. ^ "Port Pirie Nyrstar Comparison AWS". Climate statistics for Australian locations.  
  10. ^ Wilson, John, Port Pirie - The Narrow Gauge Era (1873–1935), Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, March 1970, pp. 49–62
  11. ^ Bakewell, Guy and Wilson, John, Farewell to Ellen Street, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin September 1968, pp. 210–213
  12. ^ Ward, Andrew (1982). Railway Stations of Australia. South Melbourne: MacMillan Company of Australia. pp. 60–61.  
  13. ^ Port Pirie National Trust Museum Explore South Australia
  14. ^ Solomontown Railway Station Adelaide Advertiser 14 July 1937
  15. ^ Port Pirie National Railway Museum
  16. ^ Council Wants No Trains in Ellen Street The Recorder 31 March 1943
  17. ^ The Planning & Evaluation of Rail Standardisation Projects in Australia GR Webb 1976
  18. ^ Port Pirie Marie Elie Street Display Western Langford Railway Photography
  19. ^ "Zinifex and Umicore seek to create the world's leading producer of zinc metal". Zinifex Limited.  
  20. ^ "Zinifex, Umicore to combine zinc assets".  
  21. ^ "Pt Pirie Environmental Health Centre". Retrieved 2006-06-11. 
  22. ^ "Zinifex Port Pirie Strategy". Zinifex Limited. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-04. 
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ Lavery, T.J., Butterfield, N., Kemper, C.M., Reid, R.J., Sanderson, K. 2008. Metals and selenium in the liver and bone of three dolphin species from South Australia, 1988–2004. Science of the Total Environment, 390: 77 - 85
  25. ^ Lavery, T.J., Kemper, C.M., Sanderson, K., Schultz, C.G., Coyle, P., Mitchell, J.G., Seuront, L. 2008. Heavy metal toxicity of kidney and bone tissues in South Australian adult bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), doi:10.1016/jmarenvres.2008.09.005
  26. ^ John Pirie Secondary School
  27. ^ St Mark's College
  28. ^ Mid North Christian College
  29. ^ > About UsThe Recorder Accessed 2 June 2013.
  30. ^ Port Pirie West Polling Booth, District of Frome, House of Assembly Division First Preferences, 2006 State Election. Retrieved on 28 June 2008.
  31. ^ Port Pirie West Polling Booth, District of Frome, House of Assembly Division First Preferences, 2009 By-election, 24 Jan 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.
  32. ^ Port Pirie West Polling Booth, Division of Grey, House of Representatives Division First Preferences, 2007 Federal Election. Retrieved on 28 June 2008.
  33. ^ a b Frome 2009 By-election results,, 2 Feb 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.
  34. ^ a b District of Frome - Electoral Results, Electoral Commission SA, 24 January 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.
  35. ^ Libs claim Frome victory, AdelaideNow, 21 January 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Port Pirie, South Australia reference
  • Port Pirie Regional Council
  • "Port Pirie", Travel section, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 January 2008.
  • "Port Pirie smelter changes from Zinifex to Nyrstar", ABC News, 31 August 2007.
  • Nystar, Home page - English.
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