MONDAY, September 30, marks the 20th anniversary of the day that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company closed its Newcastle steelmaking plant after 84 years of production.
The passing of time means there is now a generation of young Novocastrians - as well as the thousands of people moving here in the meantime - who have never known the smoke and noise from 300 hectares of some of Australia's heaviest industry, just a few clicks out of the CBD.
Things began improving, environmentally, from the 1960s, but for years afterwards "the BHP" and its industrial neighbours still dominated the city in ways that are almost unfathomable now.
In the States, they said that what was good for General Motors was good for America. Here, what was good for BHP, was good for Newcastle.
Well, that might have been the view from the Newcastle Club up on Newcomen Street, and on the stockmarket and in Macquarie Street and in Canberra.
But it was far from a universal view, especially in working class circles, where BHP's stridently anti-union stance played a major role - along with the surrounding coal industry - in forming the region's long and historic bonds with the Labor Party.
There's a tendency, in looking back at "the good old days", to lionise a place like the steelworks, and a company with the importance of BHP.
But you only have to look at the records of the 1920s and 1930s - when a post-WWI steel glut, and the rigours of the Great Depression, resulted in thousands of BHP Newcastle employees being retrenched out of work - to realise that the full relationship was as much love-hate as it was affection.
Back then, the arguments between the two sides of politics were as ferocious as anything in modern times.
A 1935 debate I came across had Labor's West Sydney MP John Beasley berating BHP as an "octopus" that had profited hugely out of the Newcastle steelworks and WWII and was now seeking tenders to have ships built in England - "an unpatriotic act of national desertion for which the ordinary soldier in battle would be shot".
While it meant work, and food on the table, for the men - and it was mostly men - for the housewives in nearby suburbs it meant knowing not to put the washing out on certain days.
To do so would mean the clothes and sheets coming off the lines dirtier than than when they went into the tub.
In the years before some of the more acidic processes were fitted with anti-pollution control devices, the smoke was not only filthy, it was corrosive, so much so that one former worker told me his mother never washed her curtains, she made new ones every six months or so as the old ones fell to pieces.
I thought that might have been an exaggeration, until I came saw this 1956 account by Novocastrian Jean Bailey, writing about the 1956 council elections, and describing a visit to Mayfield.
"Every home, however carefully tended, however frequently painted, is dingy with soot. Windows and doors are kept closed, and yet the greasy dirt gets in. I saw curtains up only six weeks rotted with smoky grease.
"I heard of clothes washed, hung out and blackened before they were dry; of freshly polished linos on which to walk 10 minutes later was to walk on grit. A woman told me how, when a nor'easter blows, she has to walk to the shop with a hand over her mouth."
That was outside the plant. Inside, conditions were frequently described as hellish.
In the years before modern occupational health and safety practices, news of accidents - even fatalities - was generally kept as in-house as possible: not so much for fear of the authorities, but to ensure the necessary streams of job seekers kept coming through the gates, and not scared away by the very real prospect of losing life or limb.
In the closure years, requests were made about a "fatalities book" that many believed was kept at the plant, and one worker, at least, swore that he'd seen.
Despite numerous requests, the book was either deemed to be lost, or said not to have existed.
That was until 2015 - the Newcastle works' centenary - when the company surprised almost everyone by announcing it had found a foolscap register of fatalities in its Melbourne archives.
Described at the time as "the holy grail" of BHP records, it was an incomplete account, spanning 1918 to 1964, with numbers, but no names, for the years before 1926.
Further research has taken the number of work-related fatalities to about 189 with another 90 more either natural causes on site, road accidents on the way to or from work, or unclassified.
The numbers are substantial but still far fewer than many believed would be the case.
If the steelworks has drifted from public consciousness in the years since its closure, its very existence was the thing that gave Newcastle its reputation as a dirty industrial city, a reputation that lasted a good many years after the smoke had cleared - as if by magic - the day after the furnaces were turned off.
That reputation is almost dead now, replaced by a somewhat surprised realisation - by outsiders, at least - that an historic old inner city, set beside a now-blue harbour and fringed by newly glamorous ocean beaches, was lurking undetected beneath the since washed-away grime.
That said, the steelworks will always hold a special place in the hearts of the people who worked there.
Identities such as Aubrey Brooks, a third-generation BHP employee who is organising next Saturday's 20th anniversary reunion at Carrington Bowling Club, might be more enthusiastic than most in his praise of BHP.
But I've spoken to plenty of others in the intervening 20 years, and most say they'd go back in a heartbeat, given the chance.
In its early years it was a major part of Australia's industrialisation, and a key component in the nation's military strength through both world wars.
In WWII, the steelworks was the main target of the Japanese sub that fired more than 30 shells into the city on the night of June 8, 1942.
Despite any shortcomings that might have come with the job, the people who worked there knew they were part of history.
For most of its existence the BHP was far and away the region's biggest employer, with a workforce that was generally between 4000 and 11,500, peaking between 1960 and 1975 when employment never fell below 10,000.
Even at closure, there were still 2240 employees, and an estimated 1100 or so working for on-site contractors.
It was not the first steelworks in Australia: that honour goes to the Lithgow plant operating from 1901 and later taken over by the Hoskins family.
They would go on to establish the Port Kembla steelworks in 1929. BHP took control of that works, soon after, in 1935. Whyalla was added in 1941.
Nor was it the only steelworks in Newcastle.
The Commonwealth Steel plant at Platt Street, Waratah, began in 1917 and is still operating, as an electric arc furnace, today.
And finally, it is sometimes forgotten that BHP's rod and bar mills were kept out of the 1999 closure, to be fed instead from BHP's Whyalla steelworks in South Australia and its electric arc furnace at Rooty Hill.
Now, after two changes in ownership, only the No2 Bar Mill is operating, and while its future is unclear, it has lasted a lot longer than many expected it would.
If the longevity of the OneSteel mills is a plus, the absence of any substantial development across the bulk of the steelworks site all these years later is a matter of real concern.
BHP proposed the container terminal before the steelworks shut and although it's been pushed in various forms ever since, it's also been opposed, often behind the scenes, by powerful Sydney interests.
But is it even the best use of the site? Who knows.
BHP no longer controls the land, of course, but until something significant rises in its place, the ghost of the Newcastle steelworks will haunt that flat expanse - a mangrove wetland that was sacrificed to be a birthplace of Australian heavy industry.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY: