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Port Pirie

South Australia, Australia

Grain silos, smelter and smoke stack from across the river, Port Pirie, South Australia.jpg
The lead smelter and grain silos of Port Pirie, South Australia.

Port Pirie is located in South Australia
Port Pirie
Population: 13,819 [1]
Established: 1845
Postcode: 5540
Elevation: 4 m (13 ft)
Time zone:

 • Summer (DST)

ACST (UTC+9:30)

ACDT (UTC+10:30)

Location: 223 km (139 mi) from Adelaide
LGA: Port Pirie Regional Council
State District: Frome
Federal Division: 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.


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 (34.4 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]

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
Precipitation mm (inches) 18.6
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[9]


Port Pirie is 5 km (3 mi) off National Highway One. It is serviced by an airport five minutes out of the city.


The first railways in Port Pirie were of the narrow 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge.[10]

From 1938 to 1970, Port Pirie had the distinction of being a break-of-gauge railway junction between railways of three different gauges:

  • By 1980, only the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge remains.

The original railway station was in Ellen Street, with firstly narrow gauge, then additionally broad gauge, tracks running down the centre of the street from 1875 to 1967.[11]

in 1999 port Pirie added GM22 and three carriages to the train station next to Wanderah road. The train had three carriages which was a training cafe (named Junction Express) for Pirie workers for the dole for a couple of years but was shut down for unknown reasons and moved down to the other end of the station in 2009 to make room for the Port Pirie library now built as part of the station. Originally the council did propose to move it to the Pirie Museum, but after being slack and leaving it unguarded and in a spot where it couldn't be seen by the general public day and night it became a vandalized haunt. in November 2011 the kitchen carriage was set a light and caused the council to come up with an idea of what to do with the train, they sent out an advert for the public to express interest and give ideas of what to do with the train, after many meetings Port Pirie regional council decided to sell the train & carriages to Seymour Railway Heritage Centre for $33,000 in total in February 2012. as of this point the train and carriages are still awaiting removal from port Pirie station.

On June 25, 2012 the engine and three carriages were moved to the end of Port Pirie station and then on the 26th of June the engine was lifted on to a truck and taken by road towards Victoria for its resting place at Seymour heritage centre, the three carriages started the movement on the 27th and took two extra days to remove due to badly being destroyed.

The carriages have been dumped n a vacant part of land and still sit there as of October 2012 and will probably stay there for years to come

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 Limited, 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.[12][13]

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 dreading 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

"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)."[16]

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.[17] The health impacts of these metals on dolphins has been examined and some associations between high metal concentrations and kidney toxicity were noted.[18]

Education and cultural aspects[]

The former 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[19] (years 8-12), St Mark's College[20] (reception - year 12), Mid North Christian College[21] (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)[22] 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[23] 2009[24]
  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[25]
  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%.[26][27]

State Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith (Liberal Party) (prematurely) claimed victory.[28] 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.[26][27]


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 - past and present[]

  • 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-)
  • Geoff Brock, State Politician
  • Sir Hugh Cairns (1896–1952), Rhodes Scholar, Neurosurgeon and crash helmet proponent
  • Andrew Lacey (1887–1946), Federal and State Politician, State Leader of the ALP 1933–1938
  • Keith Michell (1928-), Actor
  • John Noble (1948-), Actor and director

See also[]

  • Category:People from Port Pirie
  • Diocese of Willochra
  • Roman Catholic Diocese of Port Pirie


  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". Nyrstar Limited. Archived from the original on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  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. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Port Pirie (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  9. ^ "Port Pirie Nyrstar Comparison AWS". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved February 2014. 
  10. ^ Wilson, John, Port Pirie - The Narrow Gauge Era (1873–1935), Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, March 1970, pp. 49–62
  11. ^ Bake well, Guy and Wilson, John, Farewell to Ellen Street, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin September 1968, pp. 210–213
  12. ^ "Zinifex and Umicore seek to create the world's leading producer of zinc metal". Zinifex Limited. ASX. 2006-12-12. Archived from the original on 25 March 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  13. ^ "Zinifex, Umicore to combine zinc assets". The Age. 2006-12-12. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  14. ^ "Pt Pirie Environmental Health Centre". Retrieved 2006-06-11. 
  15. ^ "Zinifex Port Pirie Strategy". Zinifex Limited. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-04. 
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ John Pirie Secondary School
  20. ^ St Mark's College
  21. ^ Mid North Christian College
  22. ^ The Recorder > About Us Accessed 2 June 2013.
  23. ^ Port Pirie West Polling Booth, District of Frome, House of Assembly Division First Preferences, 2006 State Election. Retrieved on 28 June 2008.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Port Pirie West Polling Booth, Division of Grey, House of Representatives Division First Preferences, 2007 Federal Election. Retrieved on 28 June 2008.
  26. ^ a b Frome 2009 By-election results,, 2 Feb 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.
  27. ^ a b District of Frome - Electoral Results, Electoral Commission SA, 24 January 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.
  28. ^ Libs claim Frome victory, AdelaideNow, 21 January 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-15.

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