Liddell was a stimulating, stressful, worthwhile, fun place to work, says Dr Ken Thornton

THE current debate on Liddell’s future is focused on some seemingly conflicting aspects.

Reliability of supply and the affordability of electricity are at the forefront of Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that Liddell should continue operating past its announced closure in 2022.

On the other hand, AGL’s Andy Vesey cites the company’s intention to decarbonise its electricity generation portfolio.  

Forgotten in the debate is the history of the station and its contribution to the prosperity of New South Wales and south-east Australia. 

Equally overlooked is the involvement of the hundreds of people who worked at the station over 50 years.

In planning Liddell in the 1960s, one of the many issues to be resolved was how to maintain the trend of declining production costs. 

Fuelling the station from open-cut coal mines was the obvious solution. 

However, at the time the New South Wales Miners’ Federation had a ban on new open-cut coal mines in New South Wales. 

Recognising that there was high unemployment on the South Maitland coalfields at the time, Electricity Commission chairman Aubrey Coady negotiated with the Miners’ Federation to lift their ban on open-cut mines in return for a government guarantee that a new aluminium smelter would be located in the Lower Hunter. 

Alcan subsequently commissioned their Kurri smelter in 1969. 

This agreement enabled the ECNSW to later develop the open-cut fuelled Bayswater Power Station in the same area.

In Liddell’s 50 years, many hundreds of people have worked there. 

Each person will have a Liddell story. 

Whether it was the operator who bogged the station Land Rover near the station’s Ash Dam, then borrowed a coal plant dozer to pull it out and proceeded to bog the dozer as well. 

Or the operator, who on a request to close a particular valve, closed the correct valve but on the wrong unit.

There have been the incidents such as the generator failures of 1981, the hydrogen tanker fire in 1988, and operators and wages staff involvement in the sometimes acrimonious 35-hour week campaign of the 1970s.

These snippets from the station’s early history are included to illustrate that some, but not all, of the stories from Liddell’s early days have been recorded, nor have the stories from the MacGen or AGL days. 

For many people, Liddell was a stimulating, stressful, worthwhile, fun place to work and often remembered with fondness or otherwise years later.  

It is important to acknowledge that the history of Liddell is about ordinary men and women, performing routine work often with little recognition.  

Do you have a Liddell story?

Your contribution to a history that is being written will ensure that your story is recorded and will be greatly appreciated. 

* Contact former Liddell employee Dr Ken Thornton at kenneth.thornton@uon.edu.au or on 0458 662 096.