Port Kembla pub fills as copper stack falls

 People gathered at the Port Kembla Steelworks Hotel as they waited for the stack’s demolition. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

People gathered at the Port Kembla Steelworks Hotel as they waited for the stack’s demolition. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

The Steelworks Hotel is a microcosm of the Port Kembla community. 

With a clear view of the stack from the top of Wentworth Street and its rival Commercial Hotel closed off inside the demolition exclusion zone,  the pub was arguably the liveliest joint in town yesterday as hundreds of locals, ex-residents and stickybeaks sank a schooner or two as the chimney fell.

The Mercury arrived at the pub at 8am. It was an early hour for a beer by any standard, but even with some regulars already well lubricated after an early start – or, for some, still kicking on the morning after the night before – it was not a surprise for manager Adam Rogers.

‘‘We open at 6am every day for the shift workers,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s a community event, we’re celebrating the stack. Most of our regulars have worked there.’’

Officials had said the stack was due for demolition anywhere between 8.45am and 11am, and as the countdown to the knockdown began ticking, so too did the punters begin trickling into the hotel. As a meeting place, a forum for telling tall stories and sharing old memories, the pub is unmatched in a community like Port Kembla, and people of all ages and backgrounds wandered in to spin or hear a yarn or two. The $2.50 schooners probably helped. 

‘‘I took the day off work to be here,’’ said ex-Port resident Adam Moxon, now of Unanderra.

‘‘I’m here reminiscing with my old mates, remembering the days when the glitter would fall from the stack in the playground at school. You can take the boy out of Port, you can’t take Port out of the boy.’’

TVs and radios were tuned to coverage of the demolition, as beers flowed and special ‘‘stack shots’’ – a shot glass layered with different coloured spirits – became the hot ticket on the menu. An enterprising fellow on the path outside sold face masks for a dollar. The anticipated 9.30am detonation came and went, as did the next 10.15am guesstimate, and the one after. Each time, expectant punters swilled their drinks and rushed outside to watch, only to give up again and head back for a refill.

And at the  point anticipation threatened to turn into boredom, a great thunderous boom clapped through town and the stack – just a year short of its half-century – tumbled down to a wave of cheers.