They don’t just make steel at BlueScope’s Port Kembla plant - they make music videos, too.
Jimmy Barnes chose the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (BOS) area as a backdrop for his 1985 Working Class Man video.
Standing in front of the BOS vessel as it spews white-hot flame and sparks of metal cascade down the side like tinsel, it’s easy to see why he chose to belt out a verse in front of it.
To watch it in action is really quite striking; there’s a load roar as the mix of scrap steel and molten iron is heated up with oxygen, then flames start to climb out of the top of the vessel, changing from orange to a white so bright it forces you to turn your eyes away.
But you don’t want to turn your eyes away because, if you do, you’d miss the spectacle of the slag sparking out and giving its best impression of fireworks display.
It’s also really hot - throwing more than 1500 degrees celsuis. No wonder Barnsey wore a sleeveless T-shirt while he stood in front of it.
The BOS area is just one part of the massive BlueScope steel site at Port Kembla. At about 760 hectares, it’s almost big enough to warrant its own postcode. In size and other respects it feels like a suburb - it has its own train station in Lysaghts (the South Coast line cuts through the plant), its own fire services and the streets all bear names and signs - like Caster Park Road or Tin Mill Road.
In a two-hour tour of the site, it felt like we barely scratched the surface of what goes on inside the gates. But what we did see was hot - very hot. Whether it’s standing in front of the BOS vessel as the flames bubble up or leaning over the red slabs of steel as they roll off the line the heat is intense. So intense that it takes those slabs days to cool. No wonder workers in those section monitor everything from air-conditioned control rooms.
A tour also throws some light on incorrect assumptions drawn from outside observation. Like that flame that burns over the steelworks is only there when they’re making steel. And those white clouds of ‘‘smoke’’ that rise up from within? Well, that’s not smoke but steam from the water being used to cool the hot steel.
In the light of the push to force governments to use Port Kembla steel, there’s also the misconception that all steel could be sourced from the Illawarra. But some steel products - like railway lines, beams and bars - aren’t made at Port Kembla. What is made there is flat steel products - for things like roofing, walling or guttering.
So if the government is looking for rebar for reinforced concrete, then Port Kembla can’t help. But if they’re building, say a stadium, then Kembla steel can form the roof. Just like it did for a number of structures at the Sydney Olympics.
Now that we know the steelworks will be staying open, you’ve still got a chance to join the 5000 or more people who tour the site every day. Given how much space BlueScope takes up, it makes sense to go and have a look at what they’re doing with it.
Just be prepared for the heat.