Disclaimer: For various reasons, I have sat on publishing this post for over two years. Shortly after the closure of Penrice Soda, I was invited by a fellow photographer to take some exterior images of the Penrice Soda site under a full moon. I was intrigued at this huge industrial juggernaut standing quiet and empty. Soon after that, a local auction firm held a massive two-day on site auction. This provided me the opportunity to move beyond the cordoned-off areas and capture some daytime images. At the time the site presented numerous hazards and was relatively unsecured and soon became a target for vandalism. To protect the integrity of the site and the health and wellbeing of others, I have kept the majority of images from Penrice unpublished until now. The site is now mostly demolished and has active 24/7 security onsite. I caution against attempting access. The images here are over two years old and present a record of the site at that point in time.
Penrice Soda Products was founded by ICI in 1935. Named after it’s quarry near the small town of Penrice, Penrice Holdings operated for nearly 80 years and was Australia’s only producer of soda ash and sodium bicarbonate for products such as wine bottles and stockfeed.
The sprawling 14.7 hectare Soda Ash plant at Osborne used salt from Dry Creek, South Australia which was normally harvested in autumn and piped as a saturated brine solution across the Port River to the plant. Lime came from the company’s mine at Angaston and was shipped to Osborne by rail (Penrice Soda Products was the last company in South Australia to use the broad gauge rail network in South Australia with Genesee & Wyoming operating the Penrice Stone Train from the Penrice Quarry to the Osborne soda ash factory. It ceased operating in June 2014 when the Osborne factory closed).
A combination of rising debt, attempted restructures and a difficult couple of years following the GFC pushed the company to the edge. The high dollar, rising costs and uncertainty from the carbon tax eventually forced the closure of the plant. In August 2013 Penrice’s full year financial results showed a statutory net loss after tax of $50.1 million. It also showed net debt had increased to $112.1 million. An auditor’s report released in February 2014 stated that the company’s liabilities exceeded its assets by $58.7 million. There was little option but for the company to be placed into liquidation in August 2014. At the time, Penrice was the fifth largest producer of soda ash in the world.
A substantial clean-up of the site and its surrounds is currently underway with future use options still being explored.