TWENTY years on, there's almost nothing left at Port Waratah to remind us of where the mighty BHP Steelworks existed for 84 years.
The site's been swept clean of buildings like an empty billard table, and the future of this huge waterfront space is still in limbo.
The only tangible reminder beside the white former administration building on BHP land is a humble house, now restored, on a nearby hill.
Almost hidden from public gaze amid trees above Industrial Highway at Mayfield East, the historic home off Ingall Street is on the only high ground that BHP owned in the area. Dating from about 1913 and called Delprat's Cottage, it's a lasting reminder of the 'unknown' man who brought the steel industry to Newcastle.
His name was Guillaume Daniel (or G.D) Delprat and the steelworks was a tribute to the foresight of the Dutch-born engineer and metallurgist with an international reputation. For it was he who also saved the young BHP company, a famous silver-lead miner from inland Broken Hill, from a slow but "certain death".
The energetic G.D Delprat was BHP's general manager from 1899 to 1921 and he who recruited American steelworks engineer David Baker to become Port Waratah's first works manager. The main traffic artery into the heart of big, now bare, industrial site is still called David Baker Road.
But what of Guillaume Delprat (1856-1937)? How is he remembered today?
Who better then to ask about this pioneer of Australia's heavy industry than his great grandson, Carl Delprat, of Newcastle.
"There's a street, Delprat Avenue (at Beresfield) and a Delprat College, but not much else," Carl Delprat told the recent annual meeting of the Heritage Hunter Group on the veranda of Delprat's now state heritage-listed home.
Delprat was the meeting's guest speaker. Introducing Delprat, the president of the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association, Bob Cook, said it was a family history with a difference.
"You'll hear a story about Newcastle and about Australia. It's an unknown story. If BHP didn't happen, we might not be all here today," Cook said.
Guillaume Delprat had advised the BHP board that, with its reserves of silver being depleted, the company's future was in manufacturing steel. So, in 1911, he took six months leave to study advances in steel making overseas, visiting 23 works around the globe.
As a result, the Newcastle Steelworks was built, opening in 1915, to make munitions, steel and rails. By 1964, the works employed more than 11,000 people. It finally closed on September 30, 1999.
Great grandson Carl Delprat said he grew up locally, knowing only that he was "somehow connected to all this (Newcastle smoke) pollution".
"But I was later surprised to discover the memory of G.D Delprat had been somehow bleached away. There was no mention I could find of him. He seemed to be almost erased from history," Carl Delprat said.
"My great grandfather was a catalyst for change in Newcastle. I remember my mother saying your relative caused all of this to happen. And yet when I finally grew up for work, to drop anchor at Comsteel, my name didn't ring a bell to anyone," he said.
"During my apprenticeship in 1960, I couldn't get over while paying euchre or dominoes with workmates there was never any mention of the co-incidence of my name. I thought 'what the hell is going on?'
"I never got to meet him. He died in 1937 (aged 81) and I was born in 1944, but I know a lot of the family history now," Carl Delprat said.
"I now know he retired in 1921, although he wanted to retire earlier, in 1919, as BHP's general manager. My great grandfather was invited back by BHP in 1935 and stayed here, in his old cottage again.
"When first visiting Newcastle, he lived at the old Great Northern Hotel. Then he had this brick cottage erected so he could watch the progress of the steelworks being built (in a swamp) from his bedroom window."
G.D Delprat was born in Delft, Holland, in 1856. From 1873-1877 he was in Scotland, as an engineering apprentice, with his brother Felix, helping build the Tay Bridge in Dundee.
"There, he wanted to be in the 'underground section'. He was a powder monkey keeping the gunpowder warm to keep it from freezing. He later said the nitroglycerin gave him headaches," Carl Delprat said.
"A relative predicted the Tay Bridge wouldn't last, and it didn't, later falling down. By the mid 1880s, G.D Delprat was a well known mining authority and came to Australia as assistant general manager of BHP. He also invented a froth floatation process to recover valuable lead and zinc from previously useless mine tailings. It was an economic bonanza. He was a man of vision.
"He's been described as an explorer with a special kind of genius. If only others were like him. Instead today, I believe we've become a third-rate nation of primary exports."
Carl Delprat said his relative was also chairman of Ryland Ltd and, in retirement, he declined an offer to become the railways commissioner. He also spoke six languages.
But the brilliant Delprat had a family secret, only hinted at in Delprat's Cottage where big Roman rings installed in his bedroom ceiling for daily exercise remain.
"G.D Delprat was extremely strong. He was of Basque descent. The motoring writer, Jeremy Clarkson, has described them as the strongest people in the world. The Basques live in an area from northern Spain to Toulouse in France.
"They were the indigenous people of the region. Even their language is peculiar, difficult to speak; strange and complex. And being a minority group they learned to be tough and resourceful," Delprat said.
"They went fishing for cod in the New World before Columbus. Salting it to bring home for sale. No one knew where their fishing grounds were. They were once Huguenots (16th century French protestants) leading to religious persecution, so some went to Holland to live instead."
The steel pioneer was succeeded as BHP general manager in 1921 by the now famous Essington Lewis, who piloted Newcastle Steelworks to greater prominence through World War II.
Carl Delprat though, while now retired, must have inherited some of his ancestor's genes to try something different. After a life in industry, he's now a prolific online novelist and makes harpsichords as a hobby.
* The 20-year reunion of the closure of the BHP Newcastle works will be held on September 28 at Carrington Bowling Club at 12.30pm.