Industry News

Lest we forget: Wartime lessons for quarrying

Australia recently commemorated the centenary of the Anzac campaign, which is considered by historians as the beginning of our “national consciousness”. Gallipoli could also be described as a pivotal event in Australia’s development from an agrarian to an industrialised society.

In Australia, quarrying played a part in that industrialisation whose flow-on effects would be felt for decades. In 1914, industrialist Essington Lewis was entrusted with expanding the ironstone output at BHP’s Iron Knob quarry in South Australia. Lewis was also influential in the rise of the Australian steel industry in the 1920s and he became director of the Commonwealth Department of Munitions in the Second World War. In the late 1940s, he returned to BHP to oversee the mechanisation of coal mines, the opening of new ironstone quarries and the development of a tinplate industry.

Indeed, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate that by 1939-40, mine and quarry exports made a significant contribution to GDP (up 24 per cent on 1913 stats). This wave of industrialisation was driven ironically by innovations from the Great War – just as many technologies we enjoy today (eg the internet) have origins in military applications.

The Australian quarry industry’s contribution to the Anzac spirit continues today – through the provision of building materials for the memorials that honour our soldiers. Quarry has in recent months reported on two such examples – the ongoing maintenance of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and the Anzac centennial memorial project in Livingstone, in central Queensland. It’s a poignant reminder that no matter how “old” and “clichéd” the quarrying industry’s maxim is – that aggregates underpin every aspect of society –  it holds true, even in wartime. It also underlines quarrying’s resilience over time.

Of course, quarrying has been acquiescent in wartime – and the lessons shouldn’t be ignored. During the Great War, Australia interned thousands of naturalised and native Australians of German and Austro-Hungarian descent. The largest internment camp was at Holsworthy, in New South Wales, which detained up to 7000 people. A large percentage of the detainees were from mines, as companies and unions alike unscrupulously exploited the War Precautions Act 1914 to rid themselves of non-British labour.

The former miners eventually performed hard labour in the Holsworthy internment camp’s quarry for the duration of the war. Hopefully, in this more enlightened age, in which quarrying is a mature industry and lacks skilled workers, we will never again blatantly disregard the human rights and talents of actual and potential employees!

The regulation of aggregates during Germany’s restoration after the Great War also offers a lesson for quarrying worldwide today. The Nazis believed architecture was integral to the populace’s mood. To that end Albert Speer was commissioned by Hitler to design infrastructure that would overawe and intimidate.

As Germany geared for war, the Gestapo established quarries where detainees from concentration camps quarried stone for Berlin’s grandiose infrastructure projects. Even Germany’s private quarry sector was pressured for the procurement of granite and increasingly became more centralised under Speer’s control. It’s a perfect example of how an industry can be subverted by a state’s political and ideological goals – and why the quarry sector in the Western world should today take a lead in promoting safe, ethical and altruistic quarrying practices in third world nations.

As we commemorate the Anzac spirit 100 years on, we should acknowledge that quarrying never exists in a bubble. It’s an age-old trade that pre-dated industrialisation and has literally survived the attacks of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – pestilence, war, famine and death. It’s also not immune from the “fifth Horseman” – politics. The question going forward is what the industry does to maintain relevance and independence and achieve positive awareness of its role in burgeoning societies.

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