Coalcliff Cokeworks: 99 years of history

A few months ago the Corrimal Cokeworks celebrated its 100th anniversary - a milestone the sister facility at Coalcliff will miss by just a year.

Yesterday's announcement by Illawarra Coke Company that the Coalcliff Cokeworks will close in the first half of 2013 brings to an end 99 years of coke-making there.

While the working life of the Coalcliff site started in 1878 when a colliery opened on January 11, the cokeworks was not commissioned until 1914.

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That was just two years after the commissioning of the sister site - Corrimal Cokeworks.

Opening with 50 ovens, the first coke was produced on site in December 1914.

Before the mid-1950s the cokeworks and colliery were owned by separate interests but in 1954 Kembla Coal and Coke (KCC) bought them both.

A few years later KCC added an extra eight ovens to bring the total to 58 - all of which were still in use this year.

In 1984, the Illawarra Coke Company - a subsidiary of KCC - bought the Corrimal Cokeworks, bringing it together with Coalcliff for the first time.

Twelve years later, in March 1996, ICC Holdings purchased Illawarra Coke Company, and took charge of both Coalcliff and Corrimal.

The location of the Corrimal plant has been a sore spot for some in the last 10 to 15 years, with residents complaining of pollution. A class-action lawsuit was considered but came to nothing.

However the coke company was called before the Land and Environment Court on at least one occasion over the Corrimal site and the Environment Protection Authority had cause to test emission levels on another occasion.

The Coalcliff Cokeworks has also had its issues with pollution. In 2005 the Illawarra Coke Company was fined $40,000 for a toxic spill in a Coalcliff creek two years earlier.

The company celebrated a milestone in June 2010 with the delivery of the one-millionth tonne of coke to a smelter in Japan.

The contract for deliveries began in 1986 - and continue today. To commemorate the one-million mark the Illawarra Coke Company presented two paintings by Illawarra artist Joyce Wilcock to officials from the Japanese smelter.

In February this year Illawarra Coke Company employees were directed to take indefinite leave after orders slowed before business picked up again a month or so later.

In August the impact of the carbon tax was felt by the Illawarra Coke Company.

The Mercury reported that the company's likely carbon tax bill had doubled to more than $500,000 per year.

"It takes away our ability to fund projects and do other things within our business because we have to find another quarter of a million dollars which purely comes off your bottom line," managing director Rex Wright said.

Mr Wright said while the tax on its own wasn't enough to kill the business, it came on the back of a strong Australian dollar, a highly competitive export market and a drop in steel production.

A happier occasion came a month later, with the company celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Corrimal Cokeworks, which was opened on September 5, 1912.

Yesterday a new piece of company history was added - the announcement of the closure of Coalcliff Cokeworks, forced by the European economic crisis and a falling steel market.

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