Port Hedland is now a major deep water port and is supported by the satellite town of South Hedland and the industrial area of Wedgefield.
There is a large modern shopping centre and all the normal facilities available in most large towns.
In 2004-5 Port Hedland became the first port in Australia to export more than 100 million tonnes of ore. It was envisaged that this would more than double in the
following years. In 2016 the port is expected to ship over 465 million tonnes. The capacity of the port is thought to be in excess of 500 million tonnes.
South Hedland was developed as a dormitory town to house workers in an area away from the tidal mud flats. This is where the main facilities are located
but up near the port there is still a small shopping centre.
The road infrastructure in the area has been vastly improved in recent times and there are no longer long lines of heavy vehicles waiting impatiently
for their chance to continue their journey at the oild 'T' junction that became such a 'bottle-neck'.
The town near the port still has a few old buildings but the drive for modernisation has seen a gradual change in the character of this once historic
The best places to visit in close proximity to the town are Cooke Point, Pretty Pool and the port area. It is hard to miss 'snow mountain', the huge salt pile
that continues to grow by the side of Wilson St.
Hedland is still very much a working town and like its neighbour, Karratha, it has been hit hard by the downturn in mining in the past
couple of years. The downturn is more about the end of the expansion of the mining industry than about the exporting side as the quantity of ore being
shipped continues to increase.
The climate for 9 months of the year is hot and wet or hot and dry, it is only from May to July that the area becomes popular with tourists who come north
to escape the cold wet southern winter.
The coastline near Port Hedland was first explored by Europeans in the seventeenth century when a number of Dutch vessels bound for Batavia sailed
too far south and found the Australian coast instead. In 1616 Dirk Hartog passed through the area and in 1628 the Vyanen, commanded by Gerrit Frederikssoon De Witt, ran aground just west of the present site of Port Hedland.
During the 1860s a number of explorers including F.T. Gregory
explored the area.
In April 1863, Captain Peter Hedland anchored his cutter Mystery in a huge natural harbour which he named Mangrove Harbour. Captain Hedland
was searching for a place to land stock being carried by the barque Tien Tsin for the De Grey station further east. However due to severe tides and
lack of fresh water Hedland returned south to a smaller harbour which became known as Tien Tsin (later renamed Cossack.)
Peter Hedland operated his small ship along the north west coast and made frequent journeys to Fremantle to collect supplies for
the pastoralists. He was a vital lifeline for the early settlers and it is fitting that his name is now associated with one of the largest centres on the north west coast.
Mystery surrounds his death, but it is thought that he was speared to death by Aborigines near the Nichol (today it is spelled Nikol) River. His body
was never found. He was survived by his wife and 11 children. It is often claimed that he was of Dutch origin but his living relatives in Western Australia
say he was Swedish.
Three years after Peter Hedland discovered it, Mangrove Harbour was investigated as a possible town site and port but surveyor Charles Wedge concluded
that there was a difficulty of access which, when combined with a lack of good natural water, made settlement difficult.
Charles Nairn arrived in 1863 to establish the De Grey River Station after travelling 260 kilometres from Cossack.
In the late 1870s Port Hedland, like Broome further to the north east, gained a reputation as a wild frontier settlement as pearling luggers began
using it as a stopover point. At one time the port was home to over 150 luggers and their crews.
At this time the town was serving the surrounding pastoral interests. Interest in the Port Hedland area was rekindled in 1891 when exports from Nullagine
and Marble Bar goldfields (south east of Port Hedland) became too much for the Cossack port.
The Port Hedland town site was gazetted in October 1896. A jetty and an 8 Km causeway over the marshes into the town were completed by 1899. First shipment
of gold bullion was exported in 1900 and Port Hedland rapidly emerged as the Pilbara's major port.
The Aboriginal name for the areas was 'Marrapikurrinya' (place of good water). This is interesting as early explorers had a lot of trouble finding water and water shortages
persisted until 1953. Other names suggested for the town were; Mandarinah, Moorcunah and Withnell.
Transportation from Marble Bar to the coast was difficult and in 1911 the government built a railway from the coast to the gold mining town. The line operated until
October 1951 and lost over 1,144,000 pounds during its lifetime.
Hedland overshadowed its nearby neighbour at Condon (near the mouth of the De Grey River) and as Hedland expanded, so Condon dwindled. In the end Condon
ceased to exist at all.
From the end of World War 1 until the development of the region's iron ore industry in the mid1960s, Port Hedland operated as a typical remote port exporting
wool, livestock, gold, pearl shells and importing supplies for the small and isolated communities in the hinterland.
The mangrove flats cut off the town from the hinterland and at high tide it was sometimes impossible to cross even though a causeway had been constructed.
The town was bombed by the Japanese during World War II but the loss of life was much lighter than either Broome or Darwin.
Although the town site was gazetted in 1896, it wasn't until the 1960s with the discovery of iron ore that the port facility really grew rapidly.
On the 27th on May 1966 the first bulk ore carrier berthed at Port Hedland and the modern era of ore shipments had begun. It does seem a little sad though
that Australia digs up its resources, sends them overseas to be turned into product and then buys them back at ten times the price in finished goods.
If governments had been more far sighted and really did care about this country then our raw materials would be processed here instead.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
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