A Stroll Through the Pilbara

Also at a recent meeting of our Probus Club of Toondah, our guest speaker, John Florence, took us on a stroll through the Pilbara, an area we have all heard of but know little about.

Western Australia’s Pilbara Region

The Pilbara occupies an area twice the size as the State of Victoria, but with a permanent population of just 66,000 which is considerably boosted by ‘fly in fly out’ mine workers. Most of the permanent population lives in the towns on the coast with the mining towns inland.

The Pilbara is noted for its Aboriginal people who have lived in the area for tens of thousands of years and for their ancient rock carvings. 

The Pilbara has some of the largest and richest deposits of iron ore in the world, which are the lifeblood of the region. 50% of the world’s sea borne iron ore exports come from the Pilbara and in 2019/20 $101.7 billion was returned from the export of iron ore from the Pilbara – a very significant contributor to the economy of Australia.

Railways and Mines of the Pilbara

There are four companies involved:

  • Rio Tinto rail line connects its 16 iron ore mines to the seaports at Dampier and Cape Lampert (green line)
  • BHP connects its 6 mines at Mount Newman to Port Hedland (red line)
  • Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Metal Group connects his 3 mines to Port Hedland (blue Line)
  • Gina Rinehart’s Hancock’s Prospecting connects the Roy Hill Mine to Port Hedland. The Roy hill mine is the largest in the Pilbara (pink line)

TWO types of ore are mined in the Pilbara: Hematite has an iron ore content of 69-70% and magnetite 72-73% which means that in a small volume you have a very heavy weight so that the haul trucks have to be huge. The standard iron ore trains are about 2.4 km long with 240 ore cars pulled by 2 or 3 diesel electric locomotives. But the longest train there was BHP’s 7.29 km long with 682 ore cars and it carried 82,000 tonnes of iron ore and was powered by 8 GE diesel locomotives.

John also mentioned salt mining, the National Parks, migratory birds, the Wittenoom asbestos mine, the heat of Marble Bar, Red Dog, the Burrup Peninsula, and Aboriginal rock paintings.