Row of terrace houses in Newcastle East, Australia

Terrace houses in Newcastle East, Australia. Photo: Dallas Stribley / Getty Images .

In 1914, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company established a major steel
manufacturing facility in the city of Newcastle, Australia north of Sydney. Heavy industries, including coal mining, steel production, electricity generation (from coal) and shipping, came to dominate the economy of Newcastle and the surrounding Hunter region.

In the early 1980s, global steel demand collapsed, competition from Asian steel producers grew and the profitability of the Newcastle steelworks suffered as a result. The closure of steelworks in 1999 was thought to be Australia’s “largest deindustrialization event” at the time.

This brief examines the transition pre- and post-closure, including the major efforts undertaken by the steelworks, the city and the broader Hunter region. The case illustrates how mining closure may be the last step in a decades-long process of progressive decline.

In such a scenario, there is time to reskill workers, explore economic diversification opportunities and build collaboration and trust between the main actors involved. This paves the way for planning and implementing further transition measures when the announcement of closure takes place.

Moreover, this case suggests that an approach combining direct tailored support to workers with regional economic development measures is beneficial.