Red dirt and Iron Mountains – Living in the Pilbara

Marble Bar, Western Australia

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In 1988 I met and married a man from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. He worked as a driller for Mt Newman Mining Co. which later became BHP Billiton, based in the township of Newman. Newman is within the East Pilbara Shire which covers an area of 378,533 square kilometres. The region is known for its rich mining and pastoral industries. It also takes in parts of the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts and the historic Canning Stock Route.

The area is populated sparsely. There are many remote Indigenous communities and the towns house the general population who staff the hospital, schools and small businesses. Most people in Newman are employed at the mine at Mt Whaleback – one of many  large iron ore deposits.

I moved from Perth with my new husband and my three young sons in December 1988. It was HOT! Fortunately we had a nice home with good air conditioning. I lived in remote communities before but this was my first experience of a mining town. The Company was moving away from providing all the infrastructure for the town (they still provided housing for their workers) and the government provided schools, hospitals etc. It was a very multicultural community with over forty nationalities represented. The demand for workers attracted people from all over the world.

Newman was a very social place. Most people knew each other as the population was about 7,000 at that time. It has fluctuated up and down depending on the needs of the mining industry. The pub was a popular place for the workers. It was pretty rough and not the sort of place to wander through without a male companion. I think I only went there twice in the seven years I lived there 🙂

It was a place of opportunity – the chance to be a big fish in a small pond, as the saying goes. I very quickly found more work and interests than there were hours in the day. I was coordinating a migrant English program, writing for the local regional newspaper, and later became involved as a Shire Councillor for the East Pilbara Shire. It was great to have input into the decisions impacting on the community and the region.

We used to fly small planes to Council meetings each month as we tried to meet in different parts of the vast shire boundaries. We normally chartered small planes to places such as Marble Bar, Nullagine, Telfer and Shay Gap. Marble Bar is known as one of the hottest places in Australia and its history as a gold mining town. During the time I was on the Shire I was the only female councillor. It was a memorable experience with many larger than life characters on the Shire and in the districts they represented.

Today a lot of the mining companies employ their staff on a fly in, fly out basis. The partners and families stay on in the cities and towns and the men do some time at the mine site and then have a week or so back home with their families. I opposed that concept as it was very bad for the towns in the region. Fewer children meant fewer teachers were allocated to the schools etc and the towns reverted to a company town with the only focus being on the mines and the pubs. Community services declined and the lives of the families in the cities live only part-time with their partners. It can be very lonely for them, however  it pays well and that is why they do it.

I have some great memories of my time up there but I don’t want to go back. I would love to visit for a holiday but my life has moved on since then. Some of my information for this blog was is from a book commissioned by the Shire when I was there – Gold Dust and Iron Mountains – Marble Bar and Beyond by Hugh Edwards for the East Pilbara Shire.

cheers for now

Lorraine

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2 thoughts on “Red dirt and Iron Mountains – Living in the Pilbara

    • Yes it was a great experience however I have lost contact with most of the folks from Newman. It was a very transient community, as most mining towns are.

      cheers
      Lorraine

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