Fallout from the ‘The Stack’

Post written by Jenny Atchison

If you have ever lived in or visited Wollongong, you’re probably familiar with ‘The Stack’. The 198m high Port Kembla Copper Stack has structured the Illawarra skyline since it was built in the 1960s, between the escarpment and the sea. It’s hard to miss – or is it?

Port Kembla Copper Stack

Port Kembla Copper Stack.
Photo credit: Illawarra Mercury

Today ‘The Stack’ will be demolished, finalising plans for re-use of the industrial site and very tangibly altering our local landscape. The plans for demolition have been almost as controversial as its original industrial use in the process of copper smelting, galvanising a concerned public like we might wish other environmental issues only could. Plans amongst the local community range from picnicking at local vantage points, to cake baking. ‘The Stack’ clearly means different things to different people; an eyesore, a painful reminder of ongoing health concerns within the community, part of our cultural industrial heritage, an impediment to future business and development.

For me, the Port Kembla stack is a visual reminder of the environmental legacy of our industrial heritage. I came to Wollongong in 1990 as a first year environmental science undergraduate student, from the rainforest and dairying country of the mid north coast. My induction into environmental impacts and pollution studies was hand coring and collecting the sludgy black sediments along the north eastern coastline of Lake Illawarra. Under the guidance of Brian Chenhall and Brian Jones, we looked within these sediments for the trace metal and other evidence of heavy industry pollution entering the lake. Later, I took subjects in environmental impacts with Ann Young and Ted Bryant which included examining soil and blood lead levels amongst Illawarra children. Attributing particular health and environmental effects to the stack in the mix of wider industrial facilities and increasing urbanisation is a complex science and remains controversial for local residents. The full effects of this environmental legacy may take many years to come to light but while the stack has remained standing, it has provided an important structuring device and symbol for debate.

The demolition of the stack takes place with government assurance that the health and safety requirements of the demolition have been assessed and fulfilled but also with mixed community responses from fear to celebration. My hope is that the demolition of this visual reminder of our industrial heritage will not erase the need for the ongoing tasks of monitoring the fallout of the stack (including the effects of demolition), as well as continuing to care for local residents, human and nonhuman alike.

There are diverse opinions about ‘The Stack’, what does its demolition mean to you?

Jenny Atchison is a researcher in AUSCCER. Jenny’s interests are contemporary and long term human relationships with plants. She is currently working with Lesley Head on research project ‘The Social Life of Invasive Plants’. Ingrained A human bio-geography of wheat, co-written by Lesley Head, Jennifer Atchison and Alison Gates was published with Ashgate in July 2012. Her last post was ‘Sound track: Listening to fish tales of environmental flows‘.

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