Whyalla featured on hit documentary series Australian Story

Whyalla featured on hit documentary series Australian Story

In September 2018, the ABC’s hit documentary series Australian Story tracked the journey of our Liberty Whyalla steelworks from near closure to hope.

Two years ago, the South Australian town of Whyalla was teetering on the edge of survival as the steelworks’ previous big employer, Arrium, went bust and the jobs of 3,000 steelworkers were hanging in the balance.

Explaining the reality of the steelworks closing, Cartoonist with the Whyalla News, Stephen Stanley said: “We’re a one company town… If the steelworks sneezes, Whyalla catches a cold. Two years ago, the steelworks got a coronary.”

One our engineers at the Whyalla works, Larisa White added: “Our worst fear was that the plant was gonna shut down. That would be the end of the town. It’d be the end of life as I know it… We didn’t want to leave Whyalla. This is our home, and this is where our family and friends are, and our house is. We didn’t want to leave, and it was gonna come to that.”

Filming for Australian Story at the Whyalla Steelworks

But the workers were determined to keep the mill running by agreeing to a 10 per cent pay cut.

Speaking of the cut, Larisa said: “My dad was against the pay cuts and he would have voted no, but mum said that he decided to vote yes, because he wanted me to have a future… And because I had the understanding of why it had to happen, I supported the pay cut.”

Amid this backdrop, our Executive Chairman Sanjeev Gupta saw the opportunity presented by the sale of the business.

Speaking about Whyalla’s potential, Sanjeev said: “When Arrium got into trouble and I saw it was up for sale, I saw that as a very exciting opportunity. Australia’s always been very puzzling for me. It’s a country blessed with every natural resource you can think of, but yet it produces nothing. It exports all its raw materials. And nothing more stark an example than steel.”

The news of Sanjeev as a potential buyer for the operation reverberated throughout the works.

One of the Whyalla steel workers Stuart Monroe said: “My personal feeling was I was hoping that it was going to be him, just given his track record.”

The sale went through, reigniting hope and excitement. Sanjeev said: “When I bought that business, the town adopted me, but they really saved themselves because (the steelworks) wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for their persistence, their unwillingness to give up. They probably would have shut.”

We’re now seeing real action taken to transform the Whyalla works with major investment announced, and plans for a Next-Gen Mega Steel plant.

Larisa is hopeful for the future: “My feelings about the future of Whyalla have definitely changed. I am excited for the future.”

You can view the full Australian Story episode here.

Whyalla engineer Larisa White and Sanjeev Gupta

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