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James Gillies

The calcium carbide plant at Electrona in 1920 (AOT, PH30/1/2133)

James Hyndes Gillies (1861–1942), metallurgist, inventor, entrepreneur and industrialist, invented an electrolytic process capable of producing metallic zinc from mine tailings. In 1908 the Tasmanian parliament gave his company the right to produce hydro-electric power in the central highlands as energy for his zinc process. When design changes, adverse weather conditions, boardroom brawls and insufficient capital threatened the scheme, it was purchased by the Tasmanian government and completed by its Hydro-Electric Department.

Gillies established a calcium carbide works at Electrona, but (due to shipping problems, war-time materials shortages, debt and competition from cheap imports) it enjoyed only two years' production before, in 1923, going into receivership and being taken over by the Tasmanian government. Exhausted and virtually broke, Gillies moved to Sydney, and unsuccessfully sought backing for further inventions. In 1935 the Tasmanian government belatedly granted him a state pension.

Further reading: ADB 9; I McAulay Jr, ' Kanna Leena', AOT; A Gillies, Tasmania's struggle for power, Burnie, 1984; R Lupton, Lifeblood, Sydney, 2000.

Roger Lupton