The iron ore beneath the surface of WA is key to creating the most important metal of the modern age – steel. It’s this metal that has shaped our modern society more than any other.

Thanks largely to the emergence of steel, the Industrial Revolution (from 1760 to 1840) ushered in many new manufacturing processes – including steam power, water power and mechanisation. And the impact was extraordinary. For the first time, rural societies started to become industrialised and urbanised – and these leaps in technology sped up Australia’s early development.

Steel in Australia

The industrial revolution marked a major turning point in Australia’s history. Arriving in the early days of European settlement, the revolution brought in major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transport and technology. Due to the tyranny of distance, the change was not as rapid as in Europe.  However, once these changes took hold, it transformed our society from a convict colony to an urbanised country.

Most aspects of Australian life were influenced by steel, boosting our small population and providing greater income growth all round.

Revolutionising industry

What was industry like before steel? The iron and textile industries – along with the steam engine – played central roles in Australia’s Industrial Revolution.

Before the revolution
Originally, manufacturing was done in people’s homes, using rudimentary hand tools or basic machines. This process was labour-intensive, tedious and expensive. Because of this, most tools were made of wood.

After the revolution
Industrialisation brought in new manufacturing processes that helped urbanise the country. This included chemical manufacturing and iron production, water power, steam power, machinery and tools – leading up to the rise of the factory system.

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Revolutionising society

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in history – almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way, and society changed rapidly.

Before the revolution
Most people lived in small, rural communities that revolved around farming. Life for the average Australian was rather challenging, with low income and widespread disease. People lived by making their own food, clothing, furniture and tools.

After the revolution
The new factory-produced goods boosted the average income in Australia. The standard of living began to increase consistently and the average life expectancy became longer too.

Revolutionising infrastructure

With the growth of factories, Australian workers began to move from farms to cities. These industrialised cities needed new infrastructure and transport to sustain them.

Before the revolution
Traditionally, people lived their whole lives in their hometowns. Goods were difficult to transport from town to town – especially in Australia – so production focused on local needs, with no eye on expanding into neighbouring markets.

After the revolution
The rise of steel introduced improved roadways, waterways and railways. Raw materials and finished products could now be moved cheaply and quickly. Improved transportation also meant as people moved to new places, ideas and information spread. This was the beginning of globalisation.