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Newman, WA

Modern mining town servicing the huge BHP Billiton Mt Whaleback Mine

Newman, the largest inland town in the Pilbara, is a modern, attractive mining town in the heart of the Ophthalmia Ranges. It provides accommodation for the two huge mines: Mount Whaleback and Orebody 29. The town has a population of around 5,000 people and around 4,000 miners use the town on a FIFO "fly in-fly out" basis. The Eastern Pilbara is one of the most isolated and inhospitable regions in Australia. Temperatures in summer time hover around 40°C and the hot winds blow in off the Great Sandy Desert. It is hardly surprising that the Aborigines who lived in the area didn't have to contend with the arrival of Europeans until the twentieth century.

Location

Newman is located 1195 km north of Perth on the Great Northern Highway. It is 546 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

In 1896 Aubrey Woodward Newman planned to lead a party from the gold mining town of Cue north towards Roebourne. Newman died from typhoid before the journey began but the new commander, William Rudell, honoured his departed leader by naming the highest mountain in the Ophthalmia Range, Mount Newman.

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Things to See and Do

Radio Hill Lookout
Located on Newman Drive on the road to the Mount Whaleback Iron Ore mine (continue beyond the Visitor Centre until you see a sign to the Lookout), Radio Hill offers excellent views over the town in the afternoon and over the Mt Whaleback Mine in the morning. The best views of the mine are from the lookout at the mine which is only accessible by taking the BHP Billiton Mt Whaleback Mine tour.

Martumili Artists
Located at the East Pilbara Art Centre in Newman Drive, the centre aims to showcase the diversity, integrity and strength of Martu culture. "The aboriginal artwork typical of the Martu people consists of aboriginal paintings, wood carvings, and artifacts. Martumili gives artists equitable access to national and international art markets, using accountable, best practice systems like the indigenous art code."
The centre prides itself on its integrity with all art works being the property of the creators and the website making much of their determination to pay a fair return to the artists. It is worth checking out at http://www.martumili.com.au or tel: (08) 9175 1020.

Tours of BHP Billiton Mt Whaleback Mine
Organised tours of the Mount Whaleback mine, the largest open cut mine in the world, start at the Visitor Information Centre every morning at 9.30 am. The mine is located 6 km from town and the tour lasts approximately 90 minutes. It is certainly the best way to see and experience the mine. The buses that depart from the Visitor Centre head for the Lookout over the mine (the photo from the lookout is on the top of this page - it is a stitch of six photos so it offers a very broad panorama of the mine) and then go into the mine processing area. The key to the experience is that all aspects of the mine are explained - and the statistics are mind-boggling.
The highlights:
• The railway from Newman to Port Hedland, a privately owned railway, is 426 km. Trains on the line measure 2.7 km, have four locomotives, 268 ore cars, and typically carry 33,000 tonnes of ore in a single journey.
• Tyres on trucks in the mines weigh up to 5 tonnes and cost around $40,000.
• The ore mined at Mt Whaleback is Brockman Hematite which is 68.8% pure iron.
• The Mount Whaleback seam contains approximately 1.6 billion tonnes of ore.
• Today trucks at Mount Whaleback can hold 240 tonnes. They have two way radios, air conditioning, power steering, dust suppression kits and a CD player. 
For more information and ticket prices check out http://newman.org.au/discover-newman/bhp-billiton-mt-whaleback-mine-tours or tel: (08) 9175 2888.

Tours By Helicopter
Fortescue Helicopters operate two scenic flights in the area. One specifically looks at Mt Whaleback Mine and the town. The other includes the mine and adds a tour of some of the local waterfalls and gorge pools. For more information check out http://fortescuehelicopters.com.au/scenic-tours or tel: 0427 228 262.

Information About Mount Whaleback Mine
The Mount Whaleback Iron Ore Mine is majority owned by BHP Billiton (85 percent), Itochu holds eight percent and Mitsui and Company Limited seven percent. BHP Billiton also owns two port facilities, Finucane Island and Nelson Point at Port Hedland, and more than 1,000 kilometres of private railway.
The Mount Newman mine was opened in 1968 after being developed by North American company Bechtel Pacific. It is the largest open pit mine in the world measuring 1.5 kilometres wide by five kilometres long and is expected to reach a depth of 500 metres. The project also required its own railway line to take the iron ore 426 kilometres to Port Hedland for exporting overseas. The railway line is known as the Mount Newman Railway. The first train load of iron ore left Newman for the journey to Port Hedland on January 1, 1969 and the first export shipment of Mount Newman ore left Port Hedland on April 1, 1969 on board the ship 'Osumi Maru' to be taken to Japanese steel mills. Open cut mining at Mount Newman is carried out in the traditional fashion with blasting of the rock face that allows ore to be scooped up with power shovels and placed into giant haulage trucks that carry 240 tonnes with each load. These trucks take ore to the crushers before it is loaded onto rail wagons for the trip to Port Hedland where it is further processed before being loaded onto ships. BHP Billiton Pilbara operations employ a total of over 13,000 people who have been regularly producing more than 124 million tonnes of iron ore a year that has been exported from Port Hedland ... It is estimated that the iron ore resource in the Newman Hamersley Range contains 3.3 billion tonnes. For more information check out http://mininglink.com.au/site/mount-newman.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Eagle Rock Falls
The Eagle Rock Falls and Eagle Rock Pool are worth exploring if you have 4WD and time on your hands. It is best to read a good account of the trip (all accounts are fairly dramatic as the roads are less than perfect). There is a good account at https://www.exploroz.com/Members/92954.750/5/2006/A_day_or_two_at_the_secluded_Eagle_Rock_Pool_-_The_Pilbara_Western_Australia.aspx. A quote from the blog gives an idea of the difficulty: "The turn off was well signposted some 30 km northwest of Newman but after only 500 metres on a good road, there was a sign indicating a detour to Eagle Rock falls. Here we turned off the main track and followed a narrow winding track into the hills. If it hadn’t been for the grader tracks and the occasional well-placed collapsible detour sign, I might have gotten a little worried but after 25 km of winding our way through the picturesque hills we came to a fork in the track. Someone had placed a piece of tin at the junction and hastily scribbled in marker pen – Pools 500m, Falls 5 km HARD 4X4. Pools for us then and if the track in was any indication of soft 4x4-ing, I’d shudder to think what hard is!"

Viewing Mount Newman
It is possible to see Mount Newman in the distance from the lookout at the Mt Whaleback mine. A much closer view of this mountain - it rises 1053 metres above sea level - can be had from the Great Northern Highway - the road that heads north to Karijini National Park. The car park is located 23 km north-west of Newman and there is a 3 km return walk to the summit. There is a 45 minute drive which is only suitable for 4WD vehicles.

Wonmunna
Located 75 km north west of Newman on the Great Northern Highway, Wonmunna is characterised by Aboriginal rock carvings and a permanent pool. It can be accessed by 4WD. The Newman Visitor Centre has a Newman Outback Explorer sheet with specific directions.

Karijini National Park
Located 192 km to the west of Newman is Karijini National Park, in the Hamersley Ranges, which is home to the Banyjima, Yinhawangka and Kurrama Aboriginal people. The Park, the second largest in Western Australia, covers 627,442 ha and incorporates two billion year old gorges where rain has cut 45 metre ravines forming dramatic outcrops and tiered rock formations. There are a number of worthwhile experiences in the National Park. The following capture the essence of the park. There is a very detailed brochure which can be downloaded at https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/downloads/parks/20130200%20Karijini%20National%20Park%20broch6.pdf and extensive information can be obtained at the Visitor Centres in Newman, Tom Price and Karratha. The road from Newman to the entrance to the park is now sealed. It is a modern, good quality road and you can happily zip along at 110 km/hr.

The Eastern Entrance to the Park
The Park's Visitor Centre
Drive north from the eastern entrance station on Bunjima Drive and 10 km north of the junction with Karijini Drive you will reach the Visitor Centre. The centre is designed to represent a goanna moving through the country. The centre is an ideal introduction to the park. It has interactive displays highlighting the geology, plants, animals and Aboriginal culture of the Park. The Visitor Centre can be contacted on (08) 9189 8121.

Dales Day Use Area
Drive 12 km east from the Visitor Centre (10 km from the turnoff to the Visitor Centre) and you will reach Dales Day Use and Camping Area. There are two highlights: Fortescue Falls and the Circular Pool. There is a swimming hole at Fortescue Falls. From the car park there is a one hour walk down a modern, iron staircase and along paths to the falls. There is also the refreshing, spring-fed Fern Pool or enthusiastic visitors can take the two-hour return walk to the mysterious and beautiful Circular Pool, at the other end of the gorge. This is the essential experience of the park. The walk down to the pool is easy (for every step down you will have to take a step back) and the large pool below the falls is a delightful way to wash off the red dust and cool down on a hot day. There is a more challenging walk from Three Ways Lookout which descends into the gorge on a fairly precipitous track. The safer route is via the metal boardwalk and stairs down to Fortescue Falls.

Kalamina Falls
Return 12 km to the Visitor Centre and continue westward on the Bunjima Drive for 17 km (this road can be variable - in August, 2017 it was so badly corrugated that we were advised that it would be quicker to return to Karijini Drive and drive along to the western entrance to the park - that advice was freely available at both the Newman and Tom Price Visitor Centres) and you will reach a northern turn to the Kalamina Falls. The gorge is another 8 km and it recognised as one of the prettiest gorges in the park with an easy trail and a pleasant picnic area. There is a 3 km (3 hours return) walk into the gorge.

The Western Entrance to the Park
The Western Entrance to the park is located 40 km west along Karijini Drive from the eastern entrance or 55 km from Tom Price. The road, Karijini Drive, is sealed. Before drivers turn off to the Western Entrance there is Mount Bruce looming over the flat landscape.

Climbing Mount Bruce (Punurrunha)
At the western entrance to the Park, just beyond Banjima Drive, there is a road which leads to Mt Bruce (at 1235 metres the second-highest peak in the state). It is possible to climb Mount Bruce but the track is 9.2 km up hill (it will take around 3 hours return) with the reward being that (a) you have climbed the second highest peak in Western Australia) and you will experience a superb, panoramic view over the spinifex-covered plains and the rugged Hamersley Range (b) there is a 500 metre (30 minutes return) Marandoo View walk which provides an excellent view over the Marandoo Mine site.
There is a route north along Banjima Drive. In 2017 it was partly sealed and a section was a difficult 4WD road. Continue 28 km north from the entry gate. If you continue straight ahead you will reach Karijini Eco Retreat with its Joffre lookout over the Joffre Falls.

Karijini Eco Retreat and Lookouts 
The Karijini Eco Lodge is located within walking distance of Joffre Gorge. Owned by the local Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, it has accommodation options ranging from camping sites to deluxe eco tents. There is also a very good open air restaurant. It is an idyllic location. The eco tents mimic those in African safari locations - simple and with no modern conveniences. You shower under the stars and are protected by zippers from outside insects eager to get to the lights.

Weano Day Use and Hancock Gorge
Located 13 km north of the Eco Retreat are the lookouts over the Hancock and Weano Gorges. The Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts are 800 metres from the car park and provide impressive views over the Hancock Gorge. The Oxer Lookout has views over the junction of four gorges: Weano, Red, Hancock and Joffre. Many consider the view from Oxer Lookout to be one of the most spectacular sights in Western Australia; the vantage point offers a unique perspective of the area's enormity and grandeur.

Joffre and Knox Gorges
From the Eco Lodge it is possible to inspect the Joffre and Knox Gorges by driving 3 km east on the Banjima Drive North and turning north. There are two short walks to lookouts - it is 100 metres from the car park to Joffre Lookout and steps go down to a lookout where the Joffre Falls, a spectacular curved waterfall which forms a natural amphitheatre can be viewed. The Knox Lookout is 300 metres from the car park and offers a panoramic view which is particularly impressive in the early morning or late afternoon.

Fauna and Flora in the Park
Karijini’s rugged red gorges boast abundant native vegetation such as spinifex, mulga, ghost gums and fig trees. Between June and September, colourful wildflowers including wattles, lemongrass and northern bluebells bloom across the landscape. You may also spot rock wallabies, dingoes and the abundant birdlife that call Karijini home.

Tours of the Park
Lestok Tours run full day tours to the Park which can be booked at the Tom Price Visitor Centre, tel: (08) 9188 1112. Check out http://www.lestoktours.com.au/karijinipark.html for details. The tour includes a visit to Oxers Lookout and Circular Pool Lookout, a walk through Weano Gorge and a visit to Handrail Pool, exploration of Joffre Falls and Knox Lookout and a swim at Fern Pool. It departs from Tom Price between 7.15 am and 7.30 am.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Palyku and Banjima Aborigines from the Martu group. They had lived in the area for at least 26,000 years.

* The first European into the area was Francis Gregory who explored to the north of present-day Newman in 1861 and observed the obvious iron ore deposits. 

* In 1876 the explorer Ernest Giles left Perth, travelled north to the Murchison and Ashburton Rivers and then headed east. With his second-in-command Alec Ross and four camels Giles travelled from the Ashburton River to the range of mountains which lie to the north of Newman. At the time he was suffering from temporary blindness and, as a result of his affliction, he named the range Ophthalmia. 

* In 1896 Aubrey Woodward Newman planned to lead a party from the goldmining town of Cue north towards Roebourne. Newman died from typhoid before the journey began but the new commander, William Rudell, honoured his departed leader by naming the highest mountain in the Ophthalmia Range, Mount Newman.

* The first settlers into the area were John and Daisy Bates who established Glen Garrick sheep and cattle station in 1901. 

* In the early years of the 20th century, gold prospectors, encouraged by the finds at Nullagine and Marble Bar in the north and Meekatharra and Cue in the south, scoured the area but had no success.

* The East Pilbara remained marginal pastoral land until the 1960s. 

* In 1957 the prospector Stan Hilditch discovered huge iron ore deposits at a mountain located 5 km south-east of Mt Newman which he named Mount Whaleback. At the time the export restrictions on iron ore which had been imposed during the war were still in place. 

* In 1960 the iron ore embargo was lifted and Hilditch, with his partner, A.C. Warman, pegged a claim on Mount Whaleback. 

* Between 1967 and 1969 the American company Bechtel Pacific turned this area into Australia's most productive iron ore mine. In those two years the biggest open-cut iron ore mine in Australia was dug, the town of Newman was built, the longest privately owned railway (426 km from Newman to Port Hedland) in the world was constructed, and the port facilities at Port Hedland were upgraded to handle 16,000 tonnes of iron ore per hour. 

* The first shipment of iron ore from Newman left Port Hedland in April 1969 bound for the steel mills of Japan.

* In 1975 BHP Billiton planted 60 000 trees and shrubs in order to make the town less like a desert outpost. 

* In 1981 Newman ceased to be a closed 'company town'. It changed its name from Mount Newman to Newman.

* In 2001 BHP broke a record when a train, pulled by eight engines and stretching for 7.353 km (682 cars carrying iron ore) travelled from Newman to Port Hedland.

* Today Newman is the largest inland town in the Pilbara and is administered by the East Pilbara Shire. 

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Visitor Information

Newman Visitor Centre, cnr Fortesque Avenue and Newman Drive, tel: (08) 9175 2888.

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Useful Websites

There is an official website. Check out http://newman.org.au.

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Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • What is the average wage paid to Bhp employee’s?

    KEN SMITH
    • Employees in Newman, Western Australia make an average salary of AU$100,115. The most popular occupations in Newman are Production Operator, Process Technician, and Production Supervisor which pay between AU$100,000 and AU$141,000 per year. That is in 2018.

      Bruce Elder