Melanie Kembrey, 21 February 2016

It was supposed to take just a few blasts and half a minute to bring down the chimney stacks that have been a wayfinder for Sydneysiders for nearly five decades.

But while four of the 1000-ton stacks, once part of the Shell oil refinery in Clyde, were razed on Sunday, one stack remained unexpectedly standing on the skyline.

The controlled explosion of the stacks, which range in height from 80 to 100 metres, was the final major step in the dismantling of what was the longest operating refinery in Australia.

The refinery, which inspired David Ireland’s Miles Franklin Award-winning The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, was opened in 1926 and switched off in 2012 to be converted into a fuel storage terminal.

Four of the stacks toppled into a large cleared zone within seconds just after 10am. The fifth tower, which had been expected to fall at the same time as the others, was still intact several hours later.

Viva Energy, which now owns the terminal, said on Sunday evening that it expected to detonate more explosives to bring down the final stack and exclusions zones remained in place.

“The remaining stack is stubborn – it was built in the 1960s so obviously it was built to last,” engineering manager Vince Neville said.

Police patrolled the M4 Motorway to stop curious motorists slowing down or stopping to watch the demolition, but there were no incidents reported.

The chimney stacks were not only a visible monument of the refinery but a symbol of greater western Sydney’s manufacturing past.

Industrialisation in the region peaked in the 1950s as manufacturers shifted west from Sydney’s CBD, but over the past decade the industry has experienced accelerated job-losses.

Professor Phillip O’Neill, the director of the Centre for Western Sydney at Western Sydney University, said about 10,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost in the past 10 years in western Sydney.

“The net effect is western Sydney is losing a large number of jobs in its biggest employment sector, manufacturing, but the growth sectors that are driving the Australian economy aren’t yet producing growth in western Sydney,” Professor O’Neill said.

But the closing of the refinery also presents a new opportunity for the region. The conversion of the facility to a storage terminal is expected to free up more than 40 hectares of land on the doorstep of Parramatta.

Parramatta Council has a vision of using the land to a create a new eco industrial precinct, specialising in the sustainable building and energy fields.

Plans are already in the pipeline to transform the nearby industrial wasteland of Camellia into a waterfront suburb with a new town centre and thousands of apartments.

Viva Energy, which now owns the terminal, says the land will be surplus to its operational needs but its future use has not yet been determined.

Sydney Business Chamber’s western Sydney director David Borger​ said the area offered new opportunities to boost employment in western Sydney.

“For the local community those stacks have been there for their entire lives and we will be sad to see a  big or the history of the area ago but hopefully it can be replaced with something that’s going to make a bigger and better contribution to the area,” Mr Borger said.

The stacks:

– Four were built in the 1960s, one was built in the 1990s
– Two of the stacks were 80 metres tall and three 100 metres high
– The average weight of each stack is 1000 tons
– The stacks were connected to now demolished refinery processing units

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.