Date Built: 2004
Architect: Denton Corker Marshall
The Distillery, The Quarry, Jones Street Townhouses, Refinery Apartments. Two 18-storey towers, 20 townhouses. Site of CSR distillery.
Distillery Hill faced north to the sugar refinery and south to Pyrmont quarries.
The distilling of alcohol is a common by-product of sugar production: molasses is converted into alcohol by adding yeast. In the nineteenth century, distilling mainly occurred at mills where sugar was grown. CSR distilled alcohol (for industrial spirits and rum) at Harwood Mill on the Clarence River (NSW), and at Nausori in Fiji until 1901.
That arrangement ended after Australian Federation, when it seemed likely that spirit distilled in Fiji might be excluded from Australia. To replace Nausori, CSR built a new distillery at Pyrmont, uphill from the refinery, sharing the refinery’s power and steam, and the deep water berths.
Once established, the distillery produced a widening range of industrial spirits, as well as rum. A carbon dioxide plant followed in 1905, and a char plant in 1910, while the Cooperage was purpose-built to create and repair barrels.
Through the 1930s CSR distilled on a modest scale – 6,600 tons in 1930. Petrol shortages during the Second World War made it vital to distil more alcohol to supplement Australia’s fuel supplies. By 1944, as the war came to an end, CSR chemists could consider alcohol’s other uses, such as acetic acid (produced by alcohol and oxygen): by 1955 these products amounted to 34,000 tons.
The consequences in Pyrmont were most visible on the hillside (now described as Distillery Hill) west of the distillery. Between the new caneite factory on the shore below, and the char house above, rows of specialised vats occupied the whole hillside. The public were barred from this dangerous area, visited only by CSR¹s engineers, chemists, and an endless stream of road tankers.
1910 was also Pyrmont sandstone’s golden age. New materials and architectural fashions would combine to render even the best sandstone obsolete. The industry steadily declined until 1929 when the Saunders firm left Pyrmont, and 1931 when the last stone was quarried from Paradise, leaving a steep escarpment south of the distillery.