In 1936, ALCAN (Aluminium Company of Canada), BACO (British Aluminium Company and Electrolytic Zinc Company) established the Australian Aluminium Company Pty. Ltd. (Australuco).
Australuco was a fabrication company sourcing its aluminium from Comalco, Alcoa and Alcan. Comalco (Commonwealth Aluminium Company) acquired the Government owned Bell Bay Smelter in Tasmania and Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) commissioned a smelter at Point Henry NSW. Thus, Alcoa and Comalco became local fully integrated aluminium companies (bauxite to semi-fab aluminium).
In April 1963, the Australian Government imposed a complete embargo on metal imports. This embargo continued until the domestic smelting industry maintained supply.This meant that Australuco could no longer be an outlet for Alcan metal and dependant on its local integrated competitors for supply.
In 1965, Australuco took the decision to build its own smelter thereby preserving Alcan’s investment in Australia. During 1967, Alcan, by buying BACO shares, increased its ownership of Australuco to 70% and changed its name to AlcanAust. The remaining 30% was owned by Australian investors.
Investigations settled on the Newcastle region as the best option with Salamander Bay and Kurri Kurri as the two possible sites. Eventually Kurri Kurri was selected with the following advantages:
- Kurri Kurri could use Kooragang Island while port facilities would have to be constructed at Salamander Bay.
- Operating costs at Salamander Bay would be slightly higher than at Kurri Kurri.
- Perceived pollution problems with the oyster industry at Salamander were unresolved.
- Kurri Kurri was closer to Newcastle and Granville (AlcanAust downstream division).
- Kurri Kurri offered better labour availability.
In 1969, the Kurri Kurri smelter started production at 2,300 M.T.P.A. reaching 45,500 M.T.P.A. with the first potline at full capacity in 1973.
The smelter was expanded with a second potline reaching capacity of 90,000 M.T.P.A. in 1980. The third potline reached full production during 1986, taking the smelter’s capacity to 150,000 M.T.P.A. Since then, modernization, technological changes and optimization brought the smelter capacity to over 180,000 metric tonnes.
In 1995, Alcan International divested its holdings in AlcanAust and the wholly Australian owned company became Capral Aluminium. Realising that it could not support the capital required to maintain a smelter, Capral decided to sell the smelter and in 2000, the smelter became part of VAW (German Aluminium Company).
Norsk Hydro bought VAW from the parent company and the smelter became part of Norsk Hydro, known as Hydro Aluminium Kurri Kurri Pty Ltd in 2002.
In November 2009, the smelter celebrated its 40th anniversary with an open day where employees and their families were taken on guided tours of the plant and attended a video presentation of the plant’s business and history.
Hot metal production in the potlines ceased on September 7, 2012.
For a range of historical images of the site, please visit Newcastle Herald.
An interesting video from 1992 is available here.