Commemorative event for employees past and present
27 October 2023
The Whyalla Steelworks coke ovens were given their final farewell and an appropriate send-off with a commemorative event involving past and the most recent employees.
More than 200 turned out to the Westland Hotel in Whyalla in what turned into a coke ovens reunion for past employees and an emotional walk down memory lane.
Hosted by LIBERTY Primary Steel Managing Director Tony Swiericzuk, those present were taken on a fascinating journey with a feature video and another featuring historical photos set to the No.1 hit when the first push occurred in 1968, Angel of the Morning by Merrilee Rush.
“It was very emotional, even I got a bit teary and I’ve only been here a short time,” Tony said.
“Simply put, it was an awesome day and appropriate way to pay our respects to what was an integral part of the steelworks and the magnificent people that worked so hard and passionately on the ovens over the years.
“This was reflected in the multi-generational crowd, lots of old faces and some of them that had not seen each other for ten or twenty years … it was like a massive reunion.”
Many of those old faces included former managers John Baggs, Bob Pitts and Trevor Pickett who helped present coking coal trophies and commemorative medallions to every former coke oven employee. There was also a “barrel session chat” which involved many former employees including Richard Insall and Brian Moodie who were on duty for the first push 55 years ago.
The theme of the day was, perhaps, best summed up by Danna Wallace during the barrel talk when she thanked Trevor Picket for employing her and building the first women’s toilet (just for her) before she gazed around the room and declared that “the coke ovens is a family”.
The night was wrapped up with a speech by current coke ovens manager Joel Varcin who reflected on the life of the ovens and how they had worked well past their life in reality.
“I won’t, however, miss the late-night phone calls,” Joel joked.
“Thank you to all past employees for your amazing service.
“For those still with us and moving into new roles, I encourage you to do so with your heads held high and take to those new roles with the same passion and commitment you showed to the coke ovens.”
Main picture: Coke Ovens employees William “Willy” Harris and David Bishop with their commemorative medallions. Picture: Whyalla News
Watch the Coke Ovens Tribute videos
Videos: Hugh Brown