History of Steel in Australia

By superadmin on November 14, 2018 in Blog

Australia has a long history of working with steel, but success didn’t happen overnight. In this blog post we’ll be providing a brief overview of the history of steel in Australia, from early discovery of iron through to the booming industry of today responsible for job growth and economic prosperity. Mascot Steel are proud to play a part in this story, and we hope you find this article informative.

Brief Timeline


Prior to European settlement in Australia, trepangers (sea cucumber collectors/fishers) from Makassar were engaged in trade with the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The Yolngu people are known to have travelled as far as Singapore and the Philippines aboard their boats. Products such as tobacco, alcohol, fabric and steel were exchanged for trepangers/sea cucumbers.[1]

1788 and Beyond – European Settlement

The early settlers brought with them various tools and belongings made from steel.

1840 – Discovery of Iron

The discovery of iron ore at Iron Knob, South Australia in 1840 signalled the beginning of the steel manufacturing industry. At this time Australia lacked dedicated facilities for steel manufacturing, and most settlers lacked technical understanding of how to manufacture it. They were able to create pig iron, but the quality of the local product paled in comparison to that produced by Great Britain. Consequently, the industry never really took off and all ironworks in Australia were abandoned by the late 1870’s.

The Turn of the 20th Century – 1915 and Beyond

The turn of the century saw the introduction of the blast furnace, as well as strong demand for steel used in the construction of railways and infrastructure. From 1915, steelworks began to be opened around the country. The BHP owned steelworks in Newcastle made use of iron ore from South Australia, as well as coke from the local coal mining operations.

1978 – Mascot Steel Founded in Sydney

The Australian steel industry was in full swing at this stage, and in an effort to improve steel supply in Sydney a man called Stephen Wright found Mascot Steel. The business has been proudly servicing the needs of businesses located in the South and South Eastern suburbs for more than 40 years.

Present Day

The steel industry is essential to the economic growth and prosperity of Australia, and it contributes around $11 billion to Australia’s GDP. More than 100,000 people are employed in the steel industry, with around 5m tonnes of steel produced per year.[2] [3]

Uses of Steel[4]

Steel is one of the most widely used and recycled materials in the world. Steel is remarkably strong and relatively cheap to produce, and it can be formed to suit the needs of almost any project. This makes it ideal for a range of uses including:

  • Construction – steel is widely used in the construction of buildings of all sizes, bridges, schools and hospitals.
  • Transportation – used extensively in the manufacture of vehicles as well as planes, jet engines, ships and more. Steel contributes to more than half the weight of an average car, being used for body panels, transmissions, wheels and engines.[5]
  • Energy Production – steel is used to create pipelines, gas wells, wind turbines in addition to heavy machinery for resource extraction such as cranes, earth movers and forklifts.
  • Packaging/Appliances – steel is used to create highly durable storage containers, bottle caps, aerosols as well as home appliances such as fridges, dishwashers, ovens and much more.

Australian Landmark buildings made from steel

The Sydney Harbour BridgeThink of Sydney and the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. Affectionately referred to as “The Coathanger”, this heritage listed structure was built over a period of 8 years at a cost of 6.25 million Australian pounds. A total of 52,800 tonnes of steel was used in its creation, with 39,000 being used in the arch. It is the worlds tallest steel arch bridge, with a height of 134m.

The Sydney Opera House The Sydney Opera House takes pride of place within Sydney Harbour. Its construction would not have been possible without steel, and there is 350km of tensioned steel cable as well as steel tendon supporting the pre-cast concrete roof of this Sydney icon.[6]

The Melbourne Cricket GroundThe MCG was built in 1853 and holds major Australian football games as well as test cricket and one-day international cricket matches. It is Australia’s largest sporting stadium, and in 2006 it underwent a $434 million-dollar facelift. Orrcon Steel were involved in the project, and claim that the cable stay roof of the stadium contains “1,000 tonnes of structural steel and 5,300 lineal meters of steel cable”.[7] Steel was also used for the new seating.

Famous Australian’s who have worked with steel

Paul Hogan – before finding fame, Paul Hogan worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a rigger. He was tasked with riveting as well as painting the ungalvanized steel to stop corrosion. [8][9]

Jorn Utzon – Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. His design was notable for being drastically different from the norm, and the Sydney Opera House is now considered by many to be one of the finest examples of architectural innovation in the world.

Steel is an incredible material that is used extensively around the world, and its manufacture, fabrication and casting is essential to the Australian economy. Mascot Steel are proud to play a key role in the history of steel in Australia, and we hope you found this blog post informative. If you have any questions about steel, please get in touch with us today.



[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-16/aboriginal-people-asians-trade-before-european-settlement-darwin/9320452

[2] https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=0a0cfc3f-1de6-4b4b-bd6b-3bfa2d66f17d&subId=409465 + (Australian Bureau of Statistics 8155, Australian Industry, 2015–2016).

[3] https://www.steel.org.au/about-us/our-industry/

[4] http://www.steelforce.com.au/Things-You-Never-Knew-Steel-Was-Used-For-pg29761.html

[5] https://www.designnews.com/materials-assembly/metals-vs-plastics-and-winner/208207275639641

[6] http://rosteelroofing.com.au/why-the-roof-of-the-sydney-opera-house-is-so-amazing/

[7] http://www.orrconsteel.com.au/news/orrcon-steel-news/orrcon-steel%E2%80%99s-mcg-project

[8] https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/ag-blog/2013/11/painting-the-sydney-harbour-bridge/

[9] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2668877/Paul-Hogan-used-experiences-Sydney-Harbour-Bridge-rigger-tried-stop-people-jumping-deaths-THAT-famous-ledge-scene-Crocodile-Dundee-director-reveals.html