Urban Exploration – The Penrice Soda Factory

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the integrity of the site and the health and wellbeing of others, I have kept the majority of images from Penrice unpublished until now.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.

Torrens Island, from east side of river
Photographer : George Hutton Date of original:c1960

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.







12 thoughts on “Urban Exploration – The Penrice Soda Factory

  1. This place fascinated me as a young boy, with its ICI branding, billowing mysterious white steam. Fascinates me even more now as a silent industrial monolith. Still mysterious and foreboding.


  2. Some of your facts need to be checked, Imperial Chemical Industries Osbourne Soda Ash plant was built in 1935 It did not become Penrice Soda Products until it was sold by ICI when they quit Australia because they were losing tariff protection.


  3. Graeme is correct , ICI sold the plant in June 1989 and it then became Penrice Soda Products .Sad to see company’s , and the jobs , disappear from places like this .There isn’t much manufacturing left in this state anymore . Very good that photographic evidence remains.


  4. I nearly took an IT job there back in the early 2000s.

    The plant was also a relatively early (and rare) example of cogeneration. They used waste steam from the old Osborne Power Station, just up the road, which was piped down to provide heating.


    1. Radiation warning signs are almost certainly related to some radiometric level measurement instruments. Can’t use standard meters/gauges to take readings in such a harsh environment.

      Walked through this plant a few months before the shutdown, I was amazed they were allowed to operate given the rundown state of the place. Ammonia fumes were unbearable.


      1. In the morning I loved the soda ash getting up my nose and having 1 hour sneezing attacks with snot running down my face. I’d go breathe in the Ammonia for a while to clear it up.
        After lunch I’d blow carbon dust out of DC motors in the White Asbestos sheeted shed.
        I’d hit the Franken switches just before heading home when the generator wore out.
        Ahh the good olden days.
        Nowadays everything’s made in Chyna.


  5. Wow. I did an Electrical/Instrument apprenticeship there from 1983 to 1987. It is interesting to see these photos and to recognize most of them. The place really didn’t change all that much over the years. Stick remember hiding in the control rooms playing cards with operators rather than working, got caught a few times too.


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