South Australia's FIRST provincial city, Port Pirie, began in 1845 as a caretaker's cottage and three woolsheds on the banks of what was first known as Tarparrie or Darparree (Local Nunkunu Aboriginal for "Dingo Headband") on the eastern side of Spencer Gulf. a much quoted alternative translation of "Muddy Waterhole" seems to have no basis in fact, and appears to be of later, and intentionally derogatory origin.
The inlet was discovered by Captain John Germein, master of the 25 ton (OM) government cutter Waterwitch (built at Hobart 1835) in early July 1840, whilst returning from a provisioning journey to Edward John Eyre's expedition campsite near Port Augusta. Although the entrance was charted, the Waterwitch did not attempt to enter the inlet, but continued on her journey south. She was to sink at her moorings in the River Murray, at the Police wharf of Moorunde or Moorundie (later Portee) Station, (about 3 miles (5km) South of Blanchetown) on the 5th of December 1842. The name initially given to the inlet by the European settlers was Samuel's Creek, either after Captain Germein's younger brother, a pilot, who had also explored South Australian waters, or one Samuel Wills, a young nephew, who may have been a member of the Waterwitch's crew. According to one account, it was he who actually discovered Germein Bay.
The inlet was first entered by the 105 ton (OM) schooner John Pirie on the 5th of March 1846, to take on a cargo of sheep bound for Port Lincoln. The shallow approaches meant that the vessel had to enter at high tide. A village was founded in 1848, this quickly grew and a government approved township was surveyed in 1871. The name Port Pirie was bestowed by Governor Robe on the occasion of the first entry into the inlet by a seagoing vessel, (the John Pirie).
The town's streets were given the names of the family of Surveyor General W.S. Goyder, of Goyders Line fame. The original village site was renamed Solomontown after one of the first landowners there, and as the government town grew, the village site was absorbed.
The area is now an inner suburb, still called Solomontown. The municipality was incorporated in 1876, and proclaimed a city, the first one outside of the Adelaide metropolitan area, in 1953. Over the years, the port has grown from the swampy village, often partly submerged at high tide, to one of the state's finest rural, industrial and commercial centres.
The city forms the south east point of an industrial triangle, (The so called "Iron Triangle" with Whyalla on the west coast of the gulf and Port Augusta at the head.) It has rail connections to all points of the compass and was a servicing point for Australia's luxury passenger expresses - The Indian Pacific, the Transcontinental and The Ghan. Each year, close to one million tonnes of concentrates from mines at Broken Hill are railed to Port Pirie for export to other parts of the world, or for treatment at the Pasminco Port Pirie Smelter, the world's biggest lead refinery, producing lead, silver, gold, copper, zinc and other valuable metals. This has been the major industry of the city since it was first built in 1897. Tours of the facility are available.
Although Port Pirie is primarily an industrial city, visitors will find much of interest. The National Trust Museum buildings at the northern end of Ellen Street include the old Ellen Street Railway Station, the city's former Customs House and Police Station, where a fine collection of railway equipment, local history and photographs is on display. A comprehensive Tourism and Arts Centre, incorporating an art gallery, kiosks and an Interstate Bus Terminal is at the site of the other former railway station at the northern end of Mary-Elie Street (passenger trains no longer come into the city itself, but stop at a terminal on the outskirts of the city). The Junction Express Cafe situated in refurbished railway carriages alongside the former stations platform (one of the longest in the nation) is a unique spot for refreshments. For kids of all ages, or if you are just in a hurry, a newly opened McDonalds Restaurant is adjacent.
One of Port Pirie's oldest residences, historic Carn Brae in Florence Street, is to reopen shortly as bed & breakfast accommodation. Memorial Park in Norman Street has picnic and free electric barbecue facilities and is a popular area with tourists. An anchor from the schooner John Pirie, after which the city was named, is located in the park. The anchor was recovered from the sea near Aldinga in May, 1967, where it was lost from the vessel during a storm on the 22nd of September 1841. A plaque on the base records the events. The original tidal creek (extensively dredged) is now named the Pirie River, after this same vessel. The John Pirie herself was named after one of the directors of the South Australian Company, John (later Sir John) Pirie, who resigned after becoming Lord Mayor of London. The 105 ton (OM), 93 foot schooner was built in Aberdeen, Scotland at the yards of Alexander Hall & Coy. in 1827 and was purchased by the South Australian Company on January 22nd, 1836 from Mr George F Angus. She sailed from London to Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island on 16 August 1836 with 28 passengers, one of the first three ships to carry immigrants to the new colony in South Australia. She made numerous trips around S.A. coastal waters,as well as to Hobart, Sydney and Mauritius during her time in the region. She was sold to Hagen, Hart & Baker (Whaling Company) in December of 1844, and was used to establish a whaling station, possibly at Trial Bay, in 1845, then operated as a whaler, and coastal trader, visiting Port Pirie (The Nob), Port Lincoln, Yankalilla, Rapid Bay, Streaky Bay and Port Adelaide until she sailed to Sydney and was sold to a J. Cook in October of 1846. She was finally wrecked near Goose Island in Bass Strait in September, 1850.
The Port Pirie Waterfront is open to visitors and provides great interest with overseas and Australian ships loading or discharging a variety of cargoes. Zinc rich concentrate as well as finished metals are loaded on to vessels for export or further processing. Ore trains from the Broken Hill mines wend their way across the main street and along the waterfront to the Smelting Plant. The fishing industry is also an attraction, with various types of fish caught in Spencer Gulf, including the gulf's famous schnapper and prawns, being offloaded from fishing boats at Fishermans Jetty to big semitrailers. The recently upgraded Solomontown Beach area also has free electric barbecue and picnicing facilities. A City Council operated Caravan Park with all amenities and camping facilities is adjacent to the beach.
Solomontown Beach and the small beach resort of Port Germein, some 24km to the north along Highway One, provide areas for swimming. Port Germein has what was once the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, (shortened by storms over the years) the extreme length was necessary to accomodate vessels despite the enormous tides that are a feature of the region.
Port Germein is justly famous for its crabs, easily caught by netters off the 100 year old jetty, and holds a Festival of the Crab celebration each year.
Port Pirie lies not far from the southern slopes of the magnificent Flinders Ranges and makes a good base for visitors intending to explore this beautiful scenic area.