This blog features a selection of my Very Small paintings: White Bay Power Station and the Rooftops of Balmain & Rozelle.
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The White Bay Story

Sometimes images of urban abandonment appeal to us for reasons we can’t explain.
I have been painting this crumbling but awesome structure for almost four years.

(I have collected this information from various articles since 2008 so I hope it's accurate.
It may be a bit dry, but it tells of how important White Bay was in it's day)

Soon to under go major change, White Bay Power Station is the last remaining example of a coal-dependent, harbour side industrial complex. Its original purpose has long expired but this power station once marked the gateway to Balmain’s bustling industrial waterfront. It’s gigantic physical presence ensured it became a landmark — a quality it still retains. 

One of inner Sydney’s oldest and most significant industrial sites, White Bay is often wrongly referred to as Balmain power station (which was located at Iron Cove) now replaced by apartments bordered by Terry Street. Bordered by traffic-choked Victoria Road to the west, and the defunct Rozelle rail yards, and the ports of White Bay shore to the east, this power station remains the last of five that once serviced the energy needs of Sydney. 

Abandoned since 1983, White Bay stands silent in decay, wearing rusting corrugated iron and red brick, broken windows and tufts of grass, while it waits to see what the future will bring.

A spokesman for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which owns the site, said White Bay's zoning meant it could not be used for housing. One architect was quoted referring to it as an "ugly toad which could be transformed to a thing of beauty".
But... we aren't going to turn it into something like The Substation in Melbourne 
are we? What a pity... that's a great use of space, and looks fabulous!   click for more 

Another example is the Tate Modern in London. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the former Bankside Power Station served London for less than 40 years before being closed down. It was built in two stages between 1947 and 1963 and was closed in 1981. Tate Modern has changed London and revitalized the South Bank of the Thames. Tate Modern has transformed a previously underdeveloped area of London and has helped give the city a new image as a leading centre of contemporary culture. It has become a key landmark for London, while its program and architecture have won international acclaim.   click for more

As a worker on the coal loaders at White Bay Power Station, Peter Flaherty would arrive home with blackened clothes, dust in his ears and eyes and hair, the clangour of tonnes of coal falling on steel twenty four hours a day audible still from his house in Lilyfield, almost three kilometres away. What he mostly thought about was having gloves, or masks, or ear protection, none of which were provided...
from a cassette kept at the Leichhardt Library of an interview with Peter Flaherty,
one of the last workers at White Bay.
(quoted from Champ de Foin-Henar Perales Feb 2100)

A quick history

The power station was built in a number of stages. However two are of major importance. The first comprising the first half of the turbine hall, the switch house and one boiler house, was built between 1912 and 1917, by the Department of Railways to supply power to the Sydney railway and tramway system. The second phase, constructed between 1923 and 1928, was built of steel framing and reinforced concrete rather than brick as stage one had been. In 1953 the power station was transferred to the Electricity Commission of NSW. A new steel framed boiler house replaced the 1920s block no.1 between 1950 and 1958. The station remained in service until 1984 when it was finally decommissioned. 

White Bay Power Station was the longest serving power station in Sydney, with a maximum output of 186MW. As Sydney's tramways expanded, their power source changed from horse, to steam, to cable, and finally electrical traction. 

Ultimo power station came into service in December 1889 and was built to supply the power for the tramways. Soon after, in 1904 the Sydney municipal council's Pyrmont power station was commissioned. Pyrmont supplied street lighting to an expanding private clientele. Balmain power station commenced operation in 1909. This was built by a private company, the Balmain Electric Light & Power Supply Corporation. 

Construction of White Bay commenced in 1912. At this time the Railway Commissioners metropolitan electric power supply provided the traction current for Sydney's tramways, the railway and tramway workshops, part of the city's lighting load and supplied other government departments (sewerage services, swing bridges etc). The railway commissioner's station at Ultimo, by this time comprised seven turbo alternators (36,000kW) and six water tube boilers (total evaporative capacity 580,000lbs). The station was performing to its limits.
The tramway system in Sydney at the time was much more extensive than that in Melbourne and was challenged by steeper gradients. By 1918 the need for a new larger, more flexible power station had been identified. White Bay Power Station was to fulfill this role and came into partial operation in 1913. At this stage the buildings had been completed but most of the plant had yet to be installed. It commenced operation with one 7500kW, 6600 volt, 25 cycle turbo alternator and associated boiler equipment on temporary foundations (the unit was later transferred to Newcastle). 

Unprecidented growth

Between 1916 and 1919 two new turbo alternators and the No9 alternator were installed at White Bay. These units were rated at 8750M 6600 volts, 25 cycles. In 1925 the proposed electrification of the suburban rail system heralded a further increase in demand. White Bay was as a result again extended through the installation of two (22,00OkW, 11,000volt, 50 cycle) turbo alternators. The change to 50 cycle frequency was made because it was now standard in the UK and it was anticipated that it would soon become the standard for Australia. The department had also now committed to providing bulk power to the general public. 

Favourable reports had been received regarding the operation of rotary converters on high frequencies under heavy traction conditions, so 1926 an additional (22,000kW, 11,000 volt, 50 cycle) turbo alternator and a 7,500kW frequency changer were installed to meet increased loading and bulk supply to the Sydney municipal council. Between 1927 and 1928 another two additional (18,750kW, 6600 volt, 25 cycle) turbo alternators manufactured locally by the English Electric Company, were installed at White Bay to meet anticipated load growth on the 25 cycle system. In 1928 another 50 cycle unit was installed to meet increased loading arising from railway and bulk supply increases. In 1931 the 7,500kW frequency charger was transferred to Zarra Street power station, in Newcastle, where urgent relief was required. This machine was no longer suitable to operate on the systems at White Bay which had grown substantially since original installation. It was not until 1939 (again due to load growth), that a 25,000kVA frequency changer was installed to tie the 25 and 50 cycle systems together. This increased the effective capacity of each system by reducing the amount of stand-by plant required. 

During the war years the system suffered as capital was diverted to the conflict. As a result, post war, load demand quickly outstripped capacity. New plant was urgently required to upgrade the system. Therefore in 1948 the 1 & 2 battery boilers were removed along with two 8750kW turbo alternators to make way for a 50,000kW 50 cycle Parsons turbo alternator.

The power station

Located approximately 4km west of the Sydney CBD and constructed in typical Federation Anglo-Dutch architectural style (I wrongly thought that some of the lovely brickwork was Art Deco), the site is bounded to the south by Victoria Road and to the west by Robert Street, Rozelle. It is situated adjacent to a small inlet of Sydney Harbour. 

The complex is composed of the following principal elements: 
(1) Two steel stacks (each rising to a height of 81 metres)
(2) A coal handling unit serviced by a spur rail line
(3) Turbine hall building incorporating administrative offices, a laboratory
      and the workshop
(4) Boiler house
(5) A switch house and substation
(6) Ancillary structures including coal loading wharf and coal handling system.

The stacks
are made of plate welded steel with guy wires and vibration dampeners at the top and base.

The coal handling unit
has a dumping shed immediately behind the stacks where the rail coal trucks deposited their load. Here it was crushed and sized in jaw crushers and then conveyed by belt and bucket to overhead coal hoppers in the station boiler house. The whole of the conveyor line is in steel section sheathed in corrugated steel. The whole of the coal handling system is of considerable heritage significance and of high industrial archaeological significance.

The turbine house (or Hall)
was built in two stages as demand for power increased. The massive rendered brick and reinforced concrete building housed not only the generating equipment but also extensive administrative offices and a laboratory at the southern end. Electrical and mechanical workshops and some of the station circuit breakers were located here. This structure contains the most significant system in the precinct. The power generating system consists of the headers, gauges, condensers, steam feed water pumps, electric feed water pumps, the two 50MW Parsons turbo alternators and their salt water steam condensers. 

The system is the oldest complete system in NSW

The hall also has a viewing platform in the annex, a large overhead crane and the engine beds of a smaller turbo alternator which was removed and scrapped some time ago. The turbines and their associated artefacts have high significance as a system. The turbo alternators, gauges and valves have high significance in their own right. This building is an example of confident industrial architecture, with overtones of the Arts & Crafts Design movement in the continuous vertical piers of the northern facade. The original prominence of the facade had been somewhat reduced by the 1950s boiler house attached to the left, as well as the infill between the facade of the switch house to the right. However, the full impact would be restored if the later structures were removed.

The volume of the turbine hall is an extremely impressive space. It is considerably longer, though narrower, than the turbine hall at Ultimo power house. The construction of the first (southern) half is brickwork. It was always intended to extend the building, but by the 1920s concrete had replaced brick as the preferred material for buildings of this scale. The external walls of the northern part are of poured concrete. The machinery bases, and what were the internal walls to the second boiler house (since demolished), are in unusual coke breeze blocks, of similar size to sandstone masonry. The lower galleries in the first stage are concrete over permanent corrugated steel form work. Later additions are in precast concrete arched sections. The main steelwork is stamped with the names of British manufacturers. 

The boiler house
is a massive brick and reinforced concrete structure. It is the third and final boiler house constructed at the station and stands on the site of the first. The second, formerly located to the south, has been demolished. The boiler house is in fair condition considering the time it has been 'mothballed' (Godden 1989: 19). This structure once contained four Babcock & Wilcox pulverised fuel boilers, the boiler control room, twelve massive ball mills for pulverising coal and coal and ash handling equipment. Very few of the relics in the boiler house date from the first phase of development. The building itself is a brick and reinforced concrete masonry structure in reasonably good condition although by 2008 is showing the inevitable signs of age. The boiler control room, which dates from the early 1950s is of high significance and is the most important item in the boiler house. All relics within the boiler house have high industrial archaeological importance.

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