Brief Timeline of South Fremantle Power Station
* References will be uploaded shortly
** Comprehensive timeline coming soon
September - The South Fremantle Power Station is decommissioned and closed after 34 years’ service. Approximately 60 jobs are lost, although some workers are provided with employment elsewhere within SECWA.
Exiting below to the control rooms to the north of the building and continuing in that direction, the tunnel located here bore the electrical output from the power station to the switchyard to the north, which is still extant and operational. It is back filled and sealed during the process of decommissioning.
24 October – In a section titled ‘Engine Drivers (State Energy Commission) Award No.15 of 1977 before the Western Australian Industrial Commission (No.664 of 1984):
(5) (a) A worker under the direct control of the Station Engineer Bunbury, Kwinana, Muja or South Fremantle Power Station, being operating thermal power stations with installed capacity in excess of 12.5 megawatts, shall, where employed on the maintenance or operation of such power station be paid $21.10 per week.
The East Perth Power Station closes.
By the 1980s, production of electricity at South Fremantle had become uneconomical.
June 22 – Corporal Lawrence Mealin, who was with the 3 Squadron SASR (1st Special Air Service Squadron), dies aged 27 when he falls down a coal chute/coal storage pit at the power station, whilst participating in a night raiding exercise. Born in Burma, he had enlisted on 17 May 1967 and served in the Vietnam War between 8 September 1969 – 13 August 1970 (Special Air Service Historical Foundation, Special Forces Roll of Honour and Virtual War Memorial Australia).
A worker goes to the second floor of the office building and jumps out the window to his death (unsubstantiated).
“McMahon conducted a study of PCB concentrations in fish from Cockburn Sound with no detections” (Environment Australia).
March – The net loss of four million barrels per day ends.
December – The nominal price of oil quadruples to more than $12.00.
The South Fremantle plant converts back to using coal for fuel, which fuels the station until its closure in 1985.
October 5 – Syria and Egypt launch an attack on Israel, which starts the Yom Kippur War. The United States and many western countries show their support for Israel. In reaction, several Arab crude oil-exporting nations impose an embargo on the countries supporting Israel. They curtail production by five million barrels per day, despite other countries being able to increase production by a million barrels. The loss of four million barrels per day extends through to March 1974.
Oil prices soar, increasing 400% in six months.
Workers walk off the job over a wage dispute (Reid).
The Kwinana power plant is constructed.
The Muja power plant is constructed, 22km east of Collie on the coalfields.
A decision is made to construct the second stage of the Muja Power Station.
The State Electrical Commission begins the state’s first local credit union, which is founded by electrical engineer Arthur Carter (The West Australian, 2020), to provide assistance to workers experiencing financial difficulties (Reid).
Construction of stage A of the new Muja Power Station begins, consists of two 60 MW coal fired generating units.
End of 1950's
With B station completed and coming on full load, the plant employed over 200 people, mostly men.
May - The Bunbury Power Station commences operation. The power station consists of a 30 MW turbine and two 15 MW boilers (Register of Heritage Places).
The Bunbury, Collie, East Perth and South Fremantle power stations link up to form the interconnected grid (Register of Heritage Places).
The Wellington Dam Hydro-electric Generating Station is commissioned in Worsley near Collie, interconnecting the Collie Power Station with both East Perth and South Fremantle. This forms the start of the development of the South West Power Scheme, which requires an interconnected power grid as a necessity (Register of Heritage Places).
January - The No.3 turbo alternator comes online.
December – The No.4 turbo alternator comes online. The power station is now complete with a total capacity of 100 MW.
October 19 – The basin for the power station provides for the condensing water intake, which requires five million gallons an hour when the station is at full load. The condensing water outlet for the warm water is on the right of the basin (The West Australian).
December 11 – 48 year old linesman William Ralph Thomas Vowles is burnt and crippled by power lines carrying 22,000 volts, after working on a pole near the power station. He is badly burnt on the scalp, the left forearm and the toes of his left foot. Later in the Fremantle Hospital, his forearm and two toes are amputated. Only his safety belt prevented a serious fall after he touched the wires. Other linesmen working nearby, lower him to the ground and give him artificial respiration, using a ladder as a rocking stretcher across a truck until a St John ambulance arrives (The West Australian).
A major fire in the coal conveyor from the crusher house causes structural damage that is so severe, it forces the plant to switch to oil fuel for the boilers.
November 26 – The ‘B’ section of the power station is expected to be completed for winter next year with the full capacity of the four turbo-alternators in operation. Plans are underway for a new power station to be built in Bunbury, with its first machine on load in five years (West Australian).
January 22 – A power station for Bunbury is being planned twice as big as South Fremantle with 200,00kw. Combining the East Perth and South Fremantle power stations supply of more than 150,000kw to the metropolitan area (Daily News).
February 4 – The Australasian Society of Engineers propose a 24-hour work meeting tomorrow, which would see unionists at the power station stopping work (The West Australian).
February 5 – Chairman of International Combustion Ltd London Mr G Taylor, whose company is supplying the boilers and combustion engines, stated that whilst he’d visited many power stations around the world, the South Fremantle power station “was one of the modern he had seen and the State Electricity Commission was to be congratulated on its planning and foresight because such power stations were an essential to the establishment of new industries.” Four of the eight boilers had already been installed, with the remaining four expected to be in operation within the next two years. His company had supplied the last boilers fitted to the East Perth power station before World War II. He continued to say, “Western Australia and Queensland had the brightest futures and would lead in development” (The West Australian).
February 17 – Mechanical trouble occurred with the No.2 25-000kw machine when it was running early yesterday morning.
February 20 – A replacement spindle for the No.2 25,000kw turbo-alternator, which broke down on Saturday (four days earlier) is being flown from England to Perth immediately. It means the machine will be back on load in approximately 3.5 weeks, instead of the expected five weeks. Power cuts in the meantime continue. The high-pressure spindle became distorted, with the same failure occurring with the No.1 machine last May (The West Australian).
February 26 – A 24-hour work strike seems likely to take place at the power station, unless their demands for doubled margins are met by tomorrow.
February 27 – Approximately 400 workers, including those in the metal trade, stop for 24 hours at the power station, following a State campaign by the committee representing the boilermakers and AEU.
February 29 - 25 year old rigger Martin Hill dies after falling 30 feet from steel framework within the building. He dies in the Fremantle Hospital the next day, after receiving a fractured left thigh, a compound fracture of the jaw and a fractured collarbone in the fall (Sunday Times).
March 6 – A trial run of the No.2 25-000 kW turbo-alternator proves to be successful, which means consumers can now return to their normal use of electricity.
May 4 – William James Smith, 38, is hit by a piece of falling timber whilst working on a steel. He is taken to Fremantle Hospital with concussion and a suspected fractured jaw.
July 18 - Tuart trees said to be as old as 1,000 years, are felled to make way for the power station’s power lines in Spearwood.
August 8 – Work is starting to supply Fremantle consumers with 5-cycle electricity from the power station. Approximately 1,400 consumers have already received the change-over from 40 cycles (The West Australian).
October 11 – Army officers on the reserve list of Western Command are set for a hypothetical battle when the enemy, a force known as the ‘Fantasians’ who have landed in Bunbury. They are hell bent on capturing the South Fremantle power station and nearby harbour. Despite being some 20 miles away from the battleground, the 30 or so officers taking part in Exercise Uproar will be split into a number of headquarters in rooms throughout the Swan Barracks and will attempt to counter the battle through telephone over internal signal networks (Daily News).
October 28 - Engineers believe they have solved the problem of ‘spontaneous combustion’ tendencies, which occur under long-term storage conditions. To counter this problem, a 10ft high retaining wall to block winds to the sides of the stockpile has been built. The coal, which is stacked by a bulldozer, is thoroughly compacted and together with the wall, prevents air circulation in the interior of the pile which in turn, stops the outbreak of a fire. Vertical pipes leading to the interior of the stockpile, enables thermometers to be lowered for temperature observation.
Four transmission lines will connect the South Fremantle power station with East Perth, following two routes.
Construction of the South Fremantle power station involves “the placing of 20,000 yards of concrete and the running of 320 core miles of cable. About 7,000 tons of steel sections have been fabricated into buildings, steelworks, bunkers, chutes and chimneys.” Shipping delays and uncertainties, in addition to the difficulty of obtaining vital resources materials and equipment are proving to be a challenge.
Eight water tube boilers in South Fremantle are designed to maximise evaporation levels with alternative firing either from pulverised coal or oil fuel (The West Australian).
November 13 – Percy Samuels, a 51 year old fitter working at the power station, is struck by a sheet of iron which fell from a block and table yesterday. He was taken to Fremantle Hospital for observation of a suspected back injury (The West Australian).
January - The South Fremantle Power Station opens. It takes six years to obtain the necessary pipes and valves for the new station. Cement for the walls were in such short supply that it was padded out with fly-ash, a waste product from the East Perth Power Station. The main building was designed specified and SECWA oversee the construction, who also designed the foundation, which was constructed by Structural Engineering Co Ltd in Welshpool. The concrete was constructed by W. Fairweather & Son in Perth.
The opening plaque records W. H. Taylor (MIEE., MIE. Aust.) as the General Manager of the WA Government Electricity Supply (1914-1946) and General Manager of the Metropolitan Systems of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) (1946 to 1948) (Bodycoat).
The four boilers of ‘A’ station are fired up.
Particularly due to “lingering wartime shortages of material,” construction of the plant’s budget, which was initially estimated to cost £7m, ends up blowing out to a final of cost £17m (Western Prospects).
March 21 – Electricity Minister Mr Brand speaks out on the difficulties they experienced in bringing the power station into operation. Valves for the two condensers for the first unit had not yet arrived, despite the contract being given in 1945, which resulted in them having to be made locally at various works and departments. Obtaining steel was a challenge in itself and was only obtained through special continuous approaches through Premier Mr McLarty to Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd. Despite all sections of the work being conducted using the greatest amount of overtime possible permitted by the unions and government as well as the most skilled employees they could employ, the station would still not be ready for another 12 months.
The switchgear, ancillary equipment and grinders had since been completed. The coal tippler, crushers, elevators and conveyors for feeding coal to the boilers were almost complete. The 66,000-volt high-tension transmission main connecting the South Fremantle power station with the East Perth power station had been completed and the frequency-changer for converting 50-cycle current to 40-cycle current at East Perth has been installed” (Kalgoorlie Miner).
March 24 – A fire broke out on the first floor of the main building early yesterday morning. It was confined to a small section of the building and was soon under control, thanks to the quick work of engineers, watchmen and firemen.
May 2 – The No.1 25,000kw generating set was given a trial run for a few hours last week, which causes two minor plant ‘blow-outs’ and some necessary adjustments to be made.
May 27 – Rumours are circulating that the power station has experienced a serious power break over the past week (Sunday Times).
May – The No.1 25 MW turbo-alternator comes online.
June 12 – Persistent rumours are spreading of the extensive damage that has been done to electrical equipment at the South Fremantle power station.
June 27 – The Honourable David Brand, Minister for Electricity, officially opens the power station.
Station A houses two Metropolitan Vickers steam turbines powering the two 25 MW direct coupling alternators.
An overhead crane services the full length of the Turbine Room with a 70 ton load capacity and 10 ton auxiliary and was designed and constructed by Perry Overhead Engineering Crane Co (Adelaide).
The turbo alternators, 22kV switchgear, 66 kV switchgear and main transformers was designed and produced by Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Export Co (Manchester).
The 3000V switchgear was designed and constructed by Ferguson Pailin Ltd (Manchester).
The 440 V switchgear was designed and constructed by Australian General Electric Pty Ltd.
The condensing plant was designed and constructed by CA Parsons (England) and Morts Dock and Engineering Pty (Sydney).
Both A and B stations houses four 125/150,000 lb per hour coal-fired boilers, which were designed and constructed by International Combustion Ltd (London and Derby). Combustion gases are released through two chimneys on the roof of the Boiler House, with the dust being cleared by the four electro static precipitators, which are also housed on the roof.
The power station operates by burning coal in a boiler to produce steam, which under high pressure, then flows into a turbine which spins a generator to create electricity. The steam is then cooled, condensed back into water before returning to the boiler to start the process all over again (Bodycoat).
The transmission line running between the South Fremantle Power Station and O’Connor substations comes into operation.
June 27 – Whilst working on construction work at the power station yesterday afternoon, Gerald Roberts fell 20ft on to a concrete floor. He was taken to the Fremantle Hospital and admitted for observation of concussion. The cause of his fall is unknown (The West Australian).
September – The No.2 25 MW turbo alternator comes online.
December 4 – A fault developed early yesterday morning at the East Perth power station, causing Perth to plunge into darkness during an electrical storm.
December 23 – The steel framework for ‘B’ section is almost complete. Pouring of the concrete foundations has started and assembly of plant equipment will begin shortly (Sunday Times).
March 9 - “Reliable information indicates that there would be no relief from power cuts this winter.” Power from the new power station isn’t expected until after winter, at the earliest. “Traders were entitled to know the true position so that they could order lamps and candles to meet public demands.” It comes after the previous year when the supply of lamps and candles ran out and people were left in the dark (Daily News).
May 28 – Fire severely damaged the electric motor of the 7-ton crane on the 80ft staging early last night. Using a 400ft hose, the Fremantle Fire Brigade were able to bring the outbreak under control, which was limited to the electrical gear.
June 7 – Alfred Black, 41, was struck on the head by the crank handle of the diesel motor he was cranking, which backfired. The motor drives a compressor at the power station. He was taken to the Fremantle Hospital with a fractured skull and abrasions to his face (West Australian).
July 27 – No date for the completion of the power station can be given but progress is said to be excellent, Minister for Electricity Mr Brand said. An essential plant equipment, being the portion of the condenser plant for the turbines had been delayed, caused by numerous strikes in the engineering workshops and the lack of materials caused by other strikes in the Eastern States.
Construction has already begun on section ‘B’ with foundations being complete. The station switch house and control-room building are also complete and the installation of switchgear is well advanced. All the panels have been set up in the control room and the wiring work has already begun (The West Australian).
July 30 – “Tippler pit concrete work is finished and the steelwork for the building has been erected. Above the tippler pit, the primary crushers will crush the coal, and from there it will be conveyed to the power station boiler house." Bunkers, the conveyor gear and the No.1 turbo alternator are close to complete. The “No.2 machine has the alternator in position and is lined up with the steam rotor.” (Sunday Times).
September 1 – A stop-work meeting of 60 building labourers was held yesterday at the power station to protest their request for more dust money, after it wasn’t granted by a board of reference.
November 24 – Completed sections of the power plant are being checked and tests.
December 4 – Calls are made to build another power station before South Fremantle is complete, particularly as a power station is almost out-of-date before it’s even built.
At its peak, 250 people are employed at the power station, mostly men. Females formed the minority and were employed in the canteen or on the switchboard (Fremantle Gazette).
The camaraderie of workers is described as excellent with a strong team spirit amongst the workers. They would play a quick game of soccer, fish or swim. There was a strong social club with special monthly events that were well attended, with the Christmas parties a social highlight. After retiring, many workers continued to meet and socialise at the Hilton Park Bowling Club the Point Water Golf Club (Reid).
January 17 – The General Manager of the State Electricity Commission, F.C Edmonson, today makes a public plea to all those involved in some way with the South Fremantle power station, to please do their utmost to complete the construction work as soon as possible.
April 1 – A meeting is held at the power station by workers voicing concern about overtime conditions, requesting that the present 2-hour overtime should be reduced to one, as darkness made work slow and dangerous.
April 5 – Unionists working at the power station, “will have their daily overtime reduced from two hours to one and continue to work on alternate Saturdays during this month and the next” (Daily News).
May 5 – The power station is being built in two sections to give a total output of 100,000 kW. The section with the two 25,000kw turbo-generators is expected to be ready by next winter, perhaps even by the end of this year (Daily News).
May 9 – Electricity Minister V Doney and members of the State Cabinet are taken on an informal tour of the power station’s construction site. The ‘A’ section steel framing is ready for concrete and foundations for the ‘B’ section are being prepared ahead of time. The cement walls of the turbine house in ‘A’ section are in the process of going up, as well as the windows. The turbine blocks holds 1,000t of cement and steel. Foundations for the cooling system, which will pump five million gallons of sea water, are in place (Daily News).
May 12 – Winter power cuts are expected to be more extensive this year than the previous year, now extending to shop lighting, which wasn’t restricted in the previous year, in order to ease the strain placed on the East Perth power station (Daily News).
May 29 – Delegates to the Australian engineering conference are told, upon visiting the partly-constructed power station, that the eight boilers “will be fired with pulverised Collie coal with provision for maximum evaporation under oil firing.”
June 3 – The State Electricity Commission’s General Manager F.C. Edmondson makes a plea for the public to, “strictly observe restrictions and use electricity sparingly for lighting and other purposes.” An overload in supply would see it necessary to switch off sections for short periods (Daily News).
February 22 – Negotiations have been entered into with Structural Engineering Co, contractors for the South Fremantle Power Station, to work overtime in order to expedite completion of the work.
February 27 – An early start with constructing the second section of the power station is proposed at a recent meeting of the State Cabinet authority. The amount involved is £2,354,000.
The State Electricity Commission begins a housing development in Hilton, to house workers installing the new equipment and operating the power station, once construction is complete (Western Prospects).
July 7 – The steel frame work for the building is ahead of schedule and foundations for the boiler drums are complete. “The winch for lifting the drums into position had arrived at Fremantle and would be installed within a few days.” Installation of the boilers and alternators are expected to take place shortly (The West Australian).
November 20 – Two-third of workers at a mass meeting yesterday, agreed to work two hours overtime to speed up the completion of the power station.
June 6 – “The rate of increase in the demand for electricity was so great that it was anticipated that after the completion of the station, it would be necessary to install one additional 25,000kw unit every three or four years” (The West Australian).
July 31 – Fremantle Harbour’s 2,000-ton floating crane is used for the first time to remove three heavy pieces of cargo from the Kaipaki freighter at the North Wharf. They consist of machinery for the State Electricity Commission, weighing tons of 60, 31 and 30, that will be part of the frequency changer of 25,00kw for converting the 50-cycle supply from the South Fremantle Power Station to 40 cycles for use in the metropolitan area.
January - Construction begins on the South Fremantle Power Station. Post war shortages slows the rate of construction, requiring creative solutions to supplement the lack of materials (inHerit).
Most of the plant is designed and constructed in England, with skilled contractors sent out from England to assemble the plant on site. Many of them would remain in Western Australia and become employed by the State Electricity Commission.
Other workers employed at the power station were men previously from the Goldfields, who’d worked with steam equipment on the mines and who were seeking post-war employment (Western Prospects).
The South Fremantle site is chosen for its proximity to the metropolitan population, the nearby railway facilities for the delivery of coal and the access to sea water which would be used for the cooling system (Reid).
The State Electricity Commission (SEC) is formed “following the sharp increase of customers’ electricity demands after World War II. Its mission is to create a high-voltage transmission grid with the ability to carry power over long distances. They will be responsible for connecting independent power stations to the main electricity grid through a program known as the South West Power Scheme (Western Power).
Planning of a new power station begins.
A Royal Commission investigates a proposal for a South West Power Scheme but this is rejected (Inherit).