ABOUT 400 people gathered at the former BHP steelworks on Tuesday to commemorate the centenary of the plant’s official opening on June 2, 1915.
The ceremony included the unveiling of a new sculpture to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at the steelworks – a moving ‘‘mourning circle’’ produced by Branxton artist and blacksmith Will Maguire.
It finished with the sealing of a series of BHP-related objects inside a time-capsule cut into a three-tonne bloom of steel made at the Newcastle works before its closure 16years ago.
Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association president Bob Cook said a plaque on the time capsule promised the interred items would be revealed in 50years’ time, on June 2, 2065.
Tuesday’s ceremony was attended mainly by former BHP Newcastle steelworkers, with a healthy contingent of employees working for OneSteel branded operations in Newcastle.
OneSteel separated from BHP in 2000 and employs about 1000 people in Newcastle at various steel mills and related sites.
Host John Church introduced the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter and Central Coast, Scot MacDonald, who praised former Newcastle MP Tim Owen for his role in securing $30,000 in state funding, which covered almost half of the cost of the memorial.
Mr Cook said the Australian Workers Union contributed $10,000 and various entities, including the BHP-spin-off Hunter United Credit Union, donated the rest of the eventual $70,000 cost.
BHP Billiton acting asset president Mark van den Heuvel spoke on the history of the plant, as did popular former steelworks general manager John (‘‘Jack’’) Risby, who told how the need to train apprentices gave rise to Newcastle Technical College, which in turn ‘‘contributed’’ to the successful push for the University of Newcastle.
With a piper, Shaun Manning playing The Lament, the Dean of Newcastle, Stephen Williams, blessed and dedicated the memorial as most of the crowd gathered around and took up the invitation to each throw a pebble of iron ore onto the base of the sculpture.
It was an emotional interlude.
Former boilermaker Jack Parsons, 90, of Wallsend, said life at the steelworks was always ‘‘more than a job’’. Former typist Rosalyn Burns of Kotara recalled three periods of employment at BHP, starting in 1958 and finishing in 1997. Her friend Julie Cowan of Greta did two stints, the first from 1951 to 1961 when ‘‘there were only three of us girls out on the plant’’. ‘‘I loved every minute of it,’’ she said.
● Newcastle Museum is having a 100 Years of Steel family fun day on Saturday from 10am to 1pm. Richmond Vale Railway Museum will feature BHP talks and steel-themed displays on Sunday and Monday.