The Sound of Silence - The
End of an Era
By Sydney S. Slaven
A Simon- Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence”, and
some recent events, unusual crashing sounds over Sydney, reminded
me of a passed era when the silence of Sydney nights was interrupted
by the sounds of industry. Investigation revealed it was loads of
scrap, the cut-up corpse of SYSCO, being dropped by a crane into
the hole of a ship at the SYSCO shipping piers.
It brought back youthful memories of when Sydney was a load nighttime
community, punctuated by the noise of a vibrant steel industry and
a progressive city. When I was a boy I would lay in bed on open
window summer nights listening to the symphony of night music that
pervaded our community.
Our home was located in the Ashby district near the coke ovens coal
bank. Shunts of coal were pushed up the bank accompanied by the
“chug chug” sound of a straining steam locomotive. Sometimes
they tried to push too many cars up the bank resulting in the whirling
sounds of rapidly spinning wheels as traction was lost. The air
was always being interrupted at intervals by the whistle of steam
locomotives, especially those of the great iron beasts of the C.N.R.
In addition there was the whine of steel company diesels locomotives
and the distinct blare of their horns. Sometimes, if I could stay
awake long enough, I would hear the almost nasal sound of the electric
motor of a tramcar making its late run from Sydney to Glace Bay,
often broken by the crack of the electric arc when the trolley shoe
temporarily left the hot line.
A load clang signified the dropping of a sling of rails at the rail-finishing
mill. On a clear night the softer sound of rails being loaded into
a ship’s hole could be heard from the distant International
Piers. The zing of the hot saw cutting a glowing rail at the rail
mill had a unique sound of its own.
At the change of shift at 12 midnight a chorus of whistles from
the plant boiler houses would sing out all over the city. At 12
noon whistles from Stephens augmented them and Chapels lumber yards.
Also the fire department would blare a load horn with a coded sequence
to direct call firemen to the designated area.
Sometimes a series of load booms would be heard, followed by a brightly
lit sky. These meant ladles of molten slag were being poured into
Muggah’s Creek. When molten metal is poured upon water a chemical
reaction takes place that results in a violent explosion. The reverse
is not true. Water can be poured onto molten metal without any reaction.
When I reached my teens I became employed at the steel plant, then
known as DOSCO. What a thrill it was to actually see where these
original night sounds emanated from. Now, outside of the siren of
an emergency response vehicle, the nights of Sydney are, please
excuse the metaphor, as silent as a cemetery.