White Bay Power Station Complex | NSW Environment, Energy and Science
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White Bay Power Station Complex

Item details

Name of item: White Bay Power Station Complex
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Generator/Power Station - coal/gas/oil
Location: Lat: 33' 51S Long: 151' 11E
Primary address: Robert Street, Rozelle, NSW 2041
Parish: Petersham
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Inner West
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Robert StreetRozelleInner WestPetershamCumberlandPrimary Address
Victoria RoadRozelleInner West  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
UrbanGrowth NSW Development CorporationState Government 

Statement of significance:

White Bay is a significant item of industrial heritage associated with the evolving pattern of power generation in NSW and Australia. It is characteristic of coal fired power stations from the early twentieth century which serviced the expansion of Australia's major cities. None of these stations remain intact today. It predates the formation of the Electricity Commission (and Pacific Power), dating back to a time when localised and vested interest in the power industry hampered expansion of industry and commerce and, public access to a commodity (electricity) which we now take for granted. As the last remaining metropolitan power station from this era, the site must be considered rare. Given the substantial changes in industrial relations which have occurred in Australia and particularly NSW over the last 70 years, White Bay Power Station is also evidence of social and industrial practices no longer in use today. As a result, White Bay Power Station and its associated records provide a basis for a study into employer/employee relationship changes over this period.
Date significance updated: 14 Mar 00
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Railways Commissioners Department
Builder/Maker: Railways Commissioners Department
Construction years: 1912-1948
Physical description: White Bay Power Station is located approximately 4km west of the Sydney CBD. 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 White Bay Complex is composed of the following principal elements: (1) Two Steel Stacks (2) A Coal Handling Unit serviced by a spur rail line (3) Turbine Hall Building incorporating Administrative Offices, the old Laboratory and a Workshop (4) Boiler House (5) A Switch House and Substation (6) Ancillary structures including coal loading wharf and coal handling system.
STEEL STACKS: The stacks are made of plate welded steel with guy wires and vibration dampeners at top and base. Only the northern most stack remains, the other having been demolished.
COAL HANDLING UNIT: 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.
TURBINE HOUSE: 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 and 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 formwork. Later additions are in precast concrete arched sections. The main steelwork is stamped with the names of British manufacturers.
BOILER HOUSE: 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 and 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 it is now 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.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The site was been decommissioned in line with principles and recommendations of the White Bay Power Station Asset Management Plan (1995). The principal components of the generation, coal handling and associated facilities are intact.
STEEL STACKS: Northern stack was demolished for safety reasons. Southern stack has been retained. In 1994 it was regarded as retaining only minor failures at its base and top of stack guy connections appear to be in good condition. Some internal corrosion is expected.
COAL HANDLING SYSTEM: The coal handling structures were examined in 1995 (Pacific Power 1995) and found to be in generally good repair and structurally sound - replacement of some corroded sections of cladding and timber flooring was recommended and has since been carried out.
TURBINE HOUSE: The entire structure is in reasonable condition apart from localised water damage in places.
Date condition updated:14 Mar 00
Modifications and dates: STRUCTURES: First phase 1912-1917. Second phase 1923-1928. Additions 1954-1959. Third Phase 1950-58.
MACHINERY/PLANT: 1913 - Commissioned. 1916-1919 - Two new Turbo Alternators and No. 9 Turbo Alternator installed. 1919 - One 750OkW Turbo Alternator transferred to Newcastle. 1925 - Rail system proposed for electrification and White Bay is extended with the installation of two 22,000kW Alternators, change to 50 cycle frequency also achieved. 1926 - An additional 22,000kW Turbo Alternator is installed to meet increased loading supply to the Sydney City Council. 1927-1928 - Two additional 18,750kW Alternators. 1928 - 5 x 50 Cycle unit installed to meet increased demand. 1931 -7,500kW Frequency charger is transferred to Zara Street Power Station (Newcastle). 1939 -25,000kVA, charger installed to tie in the 25 and 50 cycle systems. 1948 - Two battery boilers are removed along with two 8750kW Turbo Alternators to make way for a 50,000 kW - 50 cycle Parsons Turbo Alternator.
STACKS: Both stacks were upgraded with guy wires and vibration dampers some time around 1967 probably as a result of possible cross wind vortex oscillations. Northern stack subsequently demolished for safety reasons.
Further information: This listing has been taken from the listing for the White Bay Power Station on the Pacific Power Section 170 Heritage and Conservation Register. This register listed the Steel Stacks, the Coal Handling Unit, the Turbine House and the Boiler House as separate listings. The information relating to each of these has been incorporated into this single listing. It may be appropriate at a later date to prepare separate listings for each component in the Power Station Complex, when more detailed information is to hand.

The Conservation Management Plan for the White Bay Power Station received the 2004 Energy Australia National Trust Heritage Awards: Award for Conservation Management Plans. In 2003 the Energy Australia National Trust Heritage Awards: Award for Electronic for the White Bay Power Station Oral History Video.
Current use: Unoccupied
Former use: Power Station


Historical notes: OVERVIEW: The 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.
SPECIFIC: As Sydney's tramways expanded, their power source changed from horse, to steam, to cable, and finally electrical traction (Godden 1989). Ultimo Power Station was built to supply the power for the tramways. It came into service in December 1889. 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 and 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 (ie.. sewerage services, swing bridges etc.). The Railways Commissioners 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 operation (partial) 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). Between 1916 and 1919 two new Turbo Alternators and the No. 9 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 22,000kW, 11,000volt, 50 cycle Turbo Alternators. The change to 50 cycle frequency was made because it was standard in Great Britain 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 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 (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 and 2 battery boilers were removed along with two 8750kW turbo-alternators to make way for a 50,000kW 50 cycle Parsons Turbo Alternator.

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.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
White Bay power station was originally built as a Railway Commission Power Station supply traction power to the rail and tramway systems. It predates the current state owned monopoly. The acquisition of the power station by the Electricity Commission in 1953 was a response to a major energy crisis which was crippling the states post-war industrial and commercial growth. Clearly the station represents an important or influential phase in power generation development. The station is representative of the rapid industrial growth in Sydney and the increasingly important contribution of electricity to the growth of industry and the economy of NSW and hence the country. In addition the station's original links with the period of major expansion of the railway and tramways systems associates it with major events in the interwar period in NSW. The site is clearly significant under this criteria level at a state and national level. No associations with significant historical or political figures are known to be associated-with White Bay (this may require further research). White Bay is the only station which retains evidence of its continuous use for power generation from coal handling to distribution.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The site is significant in a regional sense to heritage focus groups who stated resoundingly that the site was significant in aesthetic terms.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
White Bay is a well known industrial landmark. The regard for which it was held in the community was tested in the local area by a 1995 survey. This suggested that the site is significant at least in a local context. The site is significant in a regional sense to heritage focus groups who stated resoundingly that the site was significant in aesthetic terms.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
In terms of technology, the history of the site suggest that it was out of date and unable to meet demand by the time it was completed. In order to operate the 25 and 50 cycle plant the station utilised some interesting equipment relating to the 25/50 cycle concession required. However, this equipment has been long since removed. A review of the Electricity Commission's internal newsletter 'Network', reveals a paucity of information relating to White Bay. Clearly the station did not rate a mention on technological grounds. It is difficult to assess the research potential of this site in terms of its technology, archaeology or architecture. The inclusion guidelines point out that it includes the potential for subsurface remains and certainly experience in demolition of other metropolitan power station sites has shown that there is potential for unanticipated archaeological remains to exist be low the current surface level (eg. Pyrmont 'A' Station). However the technology in use at the power station is well documented already and it seems unlikely that much new information will be uncovered by future research.
SHR Criteria f)
White Bay as the last of the metropolitan power stations in Sydney is a rare and uncommon historic place. There are 15 known examples of power stations from this period in existence in Australia. None of these have plant remaining in situ
SHR Criteria g)
White Bay represents the period, method of construction and technology of its type. The site demonstrates the evolution of the evolution of the industry over time and is representative of generation facilities of its class.
Integrity/Intactness: Potential archaeological resource
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Various (See McIntyre 1995), Turbine House (See also Godden & Associates 1989: 20)


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerSydney Harbour Foreshore Authority    
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerPacific Power7401 Jan 95   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnon1930'An Australian Traction Plant' in The Power Engineer June 1930 edn. 'An Australian Traction Plant' in The Power Engineer June 1930 1930 edn,pp.225-230
Management PlanDesign 5 Architects2004White Bay Power Station Conservation Management Plan (on CD)
WrittenElectricty Commission of NSW1952Annual report of the Electricty Commission of NSW for the period ended June 30
WrittenGodden & Associates1989The significance of White Bay and Balmain Power Stations to Sydney's Industrial Heritage
WrittenGodden Mackay1995The Industrial Heritage of Power Generation: A Framework for Heritage Management
WrittenGodden Mackay1990White Bay to Blackwattle Bay, Central to Eveleigh Heritage Study
WrittenLeichardt Council1994Leichardt Town Plan: Public Lands Public Benefit
WrittenNSW Government1923Report of the Commissioners for the Year ended 30 June 1923. The Annual Report of the NSW Government Railways and Tramways.
WrittenO.W.Brain1918Some notes on the Metropolitan Electric Power Supply of the NSW Railway Commissioners - Paper to the Electrical Association of NSW Section
WrittenP Farnik1994White Bay Power Station: Chimney Stacks, Coal Plant, Ash Plant Assessment lant Assessment.
WrittenState Projects White Bay Power Station: A Study of Preservation Works Necessary to retain the Heritage Fabric.
WrittenSuters Architects Snell1994White Bay Power Station Plan of Management: Adaptive Re-Use Study

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4500460

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