Foundations

Wool Bay’s last remaining kiln is reminiscent of Adelaide’s limestone foundations

By Chrissie Goldrick

June 10, 2022


Adelaide’s building boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries created a demand for the raw materials needed to build the civic, religious and commercial buildings that define its elegant city centre. One such material was lime, a key component of high quality mortar and plaster for thousands of years.

Lime, or “quicklime”, is produced by burning limestone or similar calcium-rich substances like shells or coral, in open pits or kilns. Simply put, the calcium carbonate in limestone breaks down into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide, and the resulting white powdery residue can be mixed with water and sand to form a type of solid mortar and sustainable.

Lime also has applications in other industries, including agriculture. During colonial times, lime kilns and pits sprang up wherever a new settlement was established, and much of the early lime production came from the burning of shells. Remnants of ancient lime burning activities can be found at many coastal sites around Australia.

Looking out to sea from Wool Bay’s last lime kiln, Wool Bay, South Australia. Photo credit: Adam Meyer

The extensive karst geology of Australia’s south coast has provided an abundance of high quality limestone, which has led to industrial scale lime production on the Yorke Peninsula. The township of Wool Bay on the east coast was the heart of the industry, where limestone harvested by farmers removing rocks and boulders from enclosures was transported to lime kilns for processing. Wool Bay was founded as Pickering in 1876, but a pier built in the bay under the settlement in 1882 was often referred to as Wool Bay Pier by locals, and the name was officially adopted by the town in 1940.

By 1908 local firm David Miller & Sons operated three kilns on the cliff and in 1910 opened three more, along with a blacksmith’s forge and other infrastructure.

Then and now.
Photo credits: State Library of South Australia (L), Adam Meyer (R).

According to a report published in the Adelaide Advertiser when the three kilns opened in 1910, they were state of the art: “Having been in contact with the leading authorities on Flare kilns in America and England, in regard to the latest methods and of lime production, combined with the experience of over 20 years, they had decided to erect the type of dome kiln which produced one of the highest grades of lime in the state, at 70% , being chemically pure, with virtually no waste.

The kilns were each capable of producing 280 sacks of high quality lime per week, which were transported to the jetty along a small tram before being loaded onto ketches bound for Adelaide. Other products such as wool and wheat were also exported from there, and the town became a prosperous port. Wool Bay lime has been used in the Empire Theatre, Adelaide Treasury and Public Library, among other fine buildings.

The development of Portland cement in the 1920s overtook the use of lime in construction, leading to the decline of the lime industry and Wool Bay. By the 1970s most of the infrastructure of the old lime industry was gone, except for a major domed brick kiln on the cliff and the pier below.

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