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Port Pirie
South Australia
Grain silos, smelter and smoke stack from across the river, Port Pirie, South Australia.jpg
The lead smelter and grain silos at the wharf of Port Pirie
Port Pirie is located in South Australia
Port Pirie
Port Pirie
Location in South Australia
Population 15,343 (2016)
Established 1845
Postcode(s) 5540
Elevation 4 m (13 ft)
Time zone ACST (UTC+9:30)
 • Summer (DST) ACDT (UTC+10:30)
Location 223 km (139 mi) from Adelaide
LGA(s) Port Pirie Regional Council
Region Mid North
State electorate(s) Stuart
Federal Division(s) Grey
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
24.4 °C
76 °F
12.7 °C
55 °F
345 mm
13.6 in

Port Pirie is a small city on the east coast of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia, 223 km (139 mi) north of the state capital, Adelaide. The city has an expansive history which dates back to 1845. Port Pirie was the first proclaimed regional city in South Australia and is currently the second most important and second busiest port in the state.

The city was founded in 1845, and at the 2016 Census had a population of 15,343. Port Pirie is the eighth most populous city in South Australia after Adelaide, Mount Gambier, Gawler, Mount Barker, Whyalla, Murray Bridge and Port Lincoln.

The city's economy is dominated by one of the world's largest lead smelters, operated by Nyrstar. in 2014 the smelter underwent a $650 million upgrade, of which $291 million was underwritten by the state government to replace some of the old existing plant and to reduce airborne lead emissions drastically. Regardless of these upgrades Blood lead levels in young children continue to rise. In 2021 a report from the South Australian Health Department found an average blood level of 7.3 mg/dL in young children, compared to a finding of 5.3 mg/dL in 2014, and an upward trend of airborne lead levels. It also produces refined silver, copper, acid, gold and Various other by-products. Port Pirie is the largest city and the main retail centre of the Mid North region of South Australia.


Prior to European settlement, the location that became Port Pirie was occupied by the indigenous tribe of Nukunu. The location was called 'Tarparrie', which is suspected to mean "Muddy Creek". The first European to see the location was Matthew Flinders in 1802 as he explored the Spencer Gulf by boat. The first land discovery by settlers of the location was by the explorer Edward Eyre who explored regions around Port Augusta. John Horrocks also discovered a pass through the Flinders Ranges to the coast, now named Horrocks Pass.

The town was originally called Samuel's Creek after the discovery of Muddy Creek by Samuel Germein. In 1846, Port Pirie Creek was named by Governor Robe after the John Pirie, the first vessel to navigate the creek when transporting sheep from Bowman's Run near Crystal Brook. In 1848, Matthew Smith and Emanuel Solomon bought 85 acres (34 ha) and subdivided it as a township to be known as Port Pirie. Little development occurred on site and by the late 1860s there were only three woolsheds on the riverfront.

The government town was surveyed in December 1871 by Charles Hope Harris. The thoroughfares and streets were named after the family of George Goyder, Surveyor General of South Australia, with the streets running parallel and at right angles to the river. In 1873 the land of Solomon and Smith was re-surveyed and named Solomontown. On 28 September 1876, Port Pirie was declared a municipality, with a population of 947.

With the discovery of rich silver-, lead- and zinc-bearing ore at Broken Hill in 1883, and the completion of a narrow gauge railway from Port Pirie to close to the Broken Hill field in 1888, the economic activities of the town shifted. In 1889 a lead smelter was built by the British Blocks company to treat Broken Hill ore. Broken Hill Proprietary initially leased the smelter from British Blocks and then began constructing their own smelter from 1892. In 1915 the smelter was taken over by a major joint venture of Broken Hill-based companies, Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS). Led by the Collins House Group, BHAS became the biggest lead smelter in the world by 1934. The smelter gradually passed to Pasminco, then Zinifex, and is now operated by Nyrstar.

By 1921 the town's population had grown to 9801 living in 2308 occupied dwellings. By this date there were also 62 boarding houses to cater for the labour demands at the smelter and on the increasingly busy waterfront. Port Pirie was declared South Australia's first provincial city in 1953, and today it is South Australia's second largest port. It is characterised by a gracious main street and some interesting and unusual historic buildings.

Heritage listings

Port Pirie has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:

  • 1 Alexander Street: Barrier Chambers Offices
  • 32 Ellen Street: Adelaide Steamship Company Building
  • 64-68 Ellen Street: Sampson's Butcher Shop
  • 69-71 Ellen Street: Port Pirie Customs House
  • 73-77 Ellen Street: Port Pirie (Ellen Street) railway station
  • 79-81 Ellen Street: Port Pirie Post Office
  • 85 Ellen Street: Development Board Building
  • 94 Ellen Street: Sample Rooms, rear of Portside Tavern
  • 134 Ellen Street: Family Hotel
  • 32 Florence Street: Carn Brae
  • 50-52 Florence Street: Waterside Workers' Federation Building
  • 105 Gertrude Street: Good Samaritan Catholic Convent School
  • Memorial Drive: Second World War Memorial Gates
  • 5 Norman Street: AMP Society Building, Port Pirie


According to the 2006 Census, the population of the Port Pirie census area was 13,206 people. Approximately 51.8% of the population were female, 86.9% are Australian born, over 92.7% of residents were Australian citizens. At the 2016 Census, the population had grown to 15,343 people, of whom 3.8% were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

The most popular industries for employment were Basic Non-Ferrous Metal Manufacturing (9.7%), School Education (6%), Hospitality (only including hotels) (11%), Health (5.4%) and Animal Husbandry (4%), while the unemployment rate is approx. 11%. The median weekly household income is A$608 or more per week, compared with $924 in Adelaide. 27.1% of the population identify themselves as Catholic, while 23.7% identify with no religion at all.


Port Pirie is at an elevation of 4 metres above sea level. It is approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) inland, on the Pirie River, which is a tidal saltwater inlet from Spencer Gulf. It is on the coastal plain between Spencer Gulf (to the west) and the Flinders Ranges to the east.


Port Pirie exists in a region with a semi-arid climate, outside Goyder's Line, surrounded by mallee scrub. Average daily maximum temperatures vary from a mild 16.4 °C in winter to 32.0 °C in summer. Its average annual rainfall is 345.2 millimetres, most of which falls in winter.

According to the Köppen climate classification, Port Pirie has a warm semi-arid climate, noted as BSh.

Climate data for Port Pirie
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 46.3
Average high °C (°F) 32.0
Average low °C (°F) 17.7
Record low °C (°F) 4.8
Precipitation mm (inches) 18.6
Source: Bureau of Meteorology


Port Pirie is 5 km (3 mi) off the Augusta Highway. It is serviced by Port Pirie Airport, six kilometres south of the city.


The first railway in Port Pirie opened in 1875 when the South Australian Railways 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge Port Pirie-Cockburn line opened to Gladstone, ultimately being extended to Broken Hill. The original Ellen Street station was located on the street with the track running down the middle. The station today is occupied by the Port Pirie National Trust Museum.

In 1937, it became a break-of-gauge station when the broad gauge Adelaide-Redhill line was extended to Port Pirie. At the same time the Commonwealth Railways standard gauge Trans-Australian Railway was extended south from Port Augusta to terminate at the new Port Pirie Junction station where it met the broad gauge line, in the suburb of Solomontown.

As far back as 1943, a plan existed to build a new station to remove trains from Ellen Street. As part of the gauge conversion of the Port Pirie to Broken Hill line, Mary Elie Street station was built to replace both Ellen Street and Port Pirie Junction stations.

When opened, the new station was the meeting point for the Commonwealth Railways and South Australian Railways networks with through trains changing locomotives and crews, so the disadvantages were not as notable. However, after both became part of Australian National in July 1975 and trains began to operate in and out with the same locomotives, trains began to operate via Coonamia station on the outskirts of the city.

Mary Ellie Street station was eventually closed in the 1990s and in 2009 was redeveloped as the city's library. Until 2012, a GM class locomotive and three carriages were stabled at the platform.

A freight line continues to operate into Port Pirie, feeding the metals plant with raw materials from Broken Hill, and transporting the processed material to Adelaide. This line is managed by Bowmans Rail.

Sea transport

Port Pirie's marine facilities, managed by Flinders Ports, handle up to 100 ship visits annually, up to Handymax size, for commodities such as mineral concentrates, refined lead and zinc, coal, grain, and general cargo.

Bridge to nowhere

John Pirie Bridge
John Pirie Bridge

John Pirie Bridge, locally known as 'the bridge to nowhere', was built in the 1970s to encourage development of industry on the other side of Port Pirie Creek. Construction cost $410,000 and lasted 26 weeks. It was officially named the John Pirie Bridge in 1980. The land across the bridge remains undeveloped.

Tenby10 (Lead levels)

Lead smelters contribute to several environmental problems, especially raised blood lead levels in some of the town population. The problem is particularly significant in many children who have grown up in the area. There is a government project to address this. Nyrstar plans to progressively reduce lead in blood levels such that ultimately 95% of all children meet the national goal of 10 micrograms per decilitre. This has been known as the tenby10 project. Community lead in blood levels in children are now at less than half the level that they were in the mid 1980s.

The Port Pirie smelter has a project underway to reduce lead levels in children to under 10 micrograms per decilitre by the end of 2010.

"The goal we are committed to achieving is for at least 95% of our children aged 0 to 4 to have a blood lead level below ten micrograms per decilitre of blood (the first ten in tenby10) by the end of 2010 (the second ten in tenby10)."

Higher concentrations of lead have been found in the organs of bottlenose dolphins stranded near the lead smelter, compared to dolphins stranded elsewhere in South Australia. The health impacts of these metals on dolphins has been examined and some associations between high metal concentrations and kidney toxicity were noted.

Education and culture

Port Pirie Railway Station
The former Ellen Street railway station, now a museum

Port Pirie is the main centre for the Mid North area. Many towns in the area rely on Port Pirie for shopping and employment. It also has many educational institutions such as John Pirie Secondary School (years 8-12), St Mark's College (reception - year 12), Mid North Christian College (reception - year 12), many preschools and primary schools, and a TAFE campus (adult education).

Port Pirie is home to the National Trust Historic and Folk Museum and Memorial Park. Every September and October the city hosts a country music festival. It has significant Italian and Greek communities. The Keith Michell Theatre, within the Northern Festival Centre, is named after the renowned actor Keith Michell, who grew up in Warnertown, 5 km (3 mi) from Port Pirie.

Notable residents

  • Nip Pellew (1893-1981), Australian Test cricketer and North Adelaide player
  • Mark Bickley (1969-), Adelaide Crows dual premiership captain
  • Mark Jamar (1982-), Melbourne Demons player and all-Australian
  • David Tiller (1958-), North Adelaide Roosters captain and premiership player
  • Brodie Atkinson (1972-), St. Kilda, Adelaide Crows, North Adelaide premiership player (1991), Sturt premiership player (2002) and Magarey Medal winner (1997)
  • Elijah Ware (1983-), Port Adelaide and Central Districts player and premiership player
  • Abby Bishop (1989-), Canberra Capitals player
  • Lewis Johnston (1991-), Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows
  • Sam Mayes (1994-), North Adelaide, Brisbane Lions (2013-2018), Port Adelaide (2019-)
  • Geoff Brock, State Politician
  • Ted Connelly, State Politician
  • Andrew Lacey (1887–1946), Federal and State Politician, State Leader of the ALP 1933–1938
  • Sir Hugh Cairns (1896–1952), Rhodes Scholar, Neurosurgeon and crash helmet proponent
  • Keith Michell (1928-2015), Actor
  • John Noble (1948-), Actor and director
  • Robert Stigwood (1934-2016), Music entrepreneur and impresario

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