The Zinc Works
Producing zinc at Risdon, 1916–1991
When I was writing the history of the Zinc Works Community Council, the general manager, Paul Salmon, said, ‘You might as well write the history of the whole works’. So I did.
One problem was my lack of knowledge of metallurgy, but fortunately my father-in-law Ross, who had worked there, explained the zinc-making process and two retired employees, Jack Hooper and Don xxx, explained everything clearly, and corrected everything I wrote. They were wonderful, long-term employees who knew the place inside out and were really interested in the history. I was extremely grateful to them.
When I started at the Zinc Works it was embroiled in controversy about pollution, and I was quite scared the day I entered this bastion of evil. But everyone was terrific, and I really enjoyed my time there. As well, they told me that first day, ‘When you work here, you’ll never get a cold. It’s the smell of sulphur’. And I didn’t, for years.
It was a huge job, and I interviewed at least two hundred people, but it was extremely interesting. Many of the men could remember back to the 1920s, a couple to the start of the plant in 1916. Some told me how wonderful it was: they’d only ever been able to get bits of casual work here and there, and then they started at the Zinc Works with a permanent job, a secure wage, and they could support their families and plan for the future. No wonder they were so loyal.
These men too called a spade a spade. They knew exactly what the bosses meant when they pretended about the reason they did things, really cutting through the cackle. For example, in the Second World War the powers that be had a plan for covering the Zinc Works with smoke, to hide it from Japanese bombers. ‘Just showing the Japanese where to bomb!’ But the men knew the plan would fail anyway, that the prevailing wind from the west would blow the smoke away. On the one trial run, this happened. It was fabulous, listening to them talking.