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Port Hedland, WA

Major port for the BHP Billiton's Pilbara iron ore and Rio Tinto's salt industries.

Port Hedland is one of the three major iron ore ports in the Pilbara. It is an industrial city committed to the extraction, processing and exporting of iron ore. The city is defined by a huge port at Nelson Point with its gigantic iron ore carriers; and the seemingly endless iron ore trains (as long as three kilometres and with up to 300 wagons) which move backwards and forwards from the mines at Mount Newman. It is also the major port for Rio Tinto's salt export business. Beyond being a vital link in the export of iron ore and salt, the city does offer excellent fishing, whale watching, mangrove crabbing, bird watching and turtle nesting. It has a new and attractive town park and it also makes a convenient base for tours of adjacent towns and national parks. The satellite town of South Hedland (18 km inland) was established due to a shortage of land above cyclonic storm surge levels adjacent to the original town site. When it was completed South Hedland had the state's largest shopping complex outside the Perth metropolitan area. 


Port Hedland is located 1755 km north of Perth via the North West Coastal Highway or 1646 km via the Great Northern Highway and Newman.


Origin of Name

The town is named after Captain Peter Hedland who, in April 1863, anchored his cutter Mystery in a natural harbour which he named Mangrove Harbour. At the time Hedland was searching for a suitable place to land stock his vessel was carrying. The area is known as Marapikurrinya by the local First Nation peoples.


Things to See and Do

Port Hedland Discoverers Guide
There is a very detailed trail which includes 43 places of interest (many are now sites of places that have long since been removed) around Port Hedland. It describes the experience superbly with the observation: "A portside desert town, a mining hub, a cyclone magnet…Port Hedland is many things but for those who look closer, this town, perched obstinately between the dove green of the Indian Ocean and great swathes of desert country, yields many more intriguing stories about people, places, events, and even a few local mysteries. This guide maps a trail intended for anyone interested in gathering the threads of Port Hedland’s history and drawing them together into a larger-than-life story about the town’s bright personality. A Catholic church that was once a brewery, a train that carried bombs across the outback, exotic trees seeded from foreign lands, and a ship that mysteriously and completely vanished – discover these stories, hidden between the pages of Port Hedland. It can be accessed and downloaded at http://www.form.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Historical-Guide-Port-Hedland-web.pdf.

The places of interest and importance include:

12. The Pier Hotel
It is hard not to be amused by the journalist at the Daily Telegraph in London who, back in the 1970s, declared the Pier Hotel (a rather nondescript hostelry beside the port) the "Toughest Pub in the World". Of course it isn't. Today it is rather benign building on The Esplanade. The first Pier Hotel was built in 1898. It was damaged by fire in the early 1900s and when the owners rebuilt it, they added a second storey. By the late 1920s the hotel was advertising in city newspapers for young women to work as waitresses. Contracts for employment were for three years, including return boat fares. Today it is a typical waterside pub.

13. The Esplanade Hotel
The most impressive and handsome building in Port Hedland, the Esplanade Hotel (located on The Esplanade) was built in 1904 and has distinctive exposed stonework and elegant iron work. When built it consisted of 23 large rooms including a billiard room, a dining room, fourteen bedrooms and two bathrooms. 

17. Dalgety House Museum
Dalgety and Co. an English merchant company, established an agency in Port Hedland in 1899. Dalgety House was built in 1903 and used as the manager’s quarters and a warehouse. It is a good example of late Victorian Northwest architecture with partially enclosed verandas and a dark, cool living area in the centre of the house. The Port Hedland Historical Society has used the building as a museum since 2000. The exhibits include turn-of-the-century furnishings, a collection of photographs and audiovisual displays. The museum is located on the corner of Wedge and Anderson Street, it is open from 9.00 am - 1.00 pm daily, tel: 0400 604 768. The times vary so check by phone. In 2017 it was open from 11.00 am - 2.00 pm weekdays and 11.00 am - 1.00 pm on weekends. For more information check out https://www.facebook.com/pg/DalgetyHouseMuseum/about/?ref=page_internal.

18. Leap Park and the 1946 Strike Sculpture
Over the road from the Dalgety House Museum is Leap Park where the pathway is designed in the shape of a Bungarra and the Aboriginal Strike Sculpture was designed and constructed by local artists to commemorate the strike by Pilbara Aboriginal pastoral workers. The Port Hedland area was the scene of the first Aboriginal strike in Australia when, in 1946, workers on the De Grey station refused to work under the conditions of the station. The result was that local Aborigines subsequently purchased five pastoral properties in the area which they managed as part of a nationwide movement to gain independence from white employers. 

34. Don Rhodes Mining Museum
Located in Wilson Street as the visitor enters the town, the Don Rhodes Mining Museum is named after the man who invented the modern Australian road train. Rhodes revitalised Port Hedland’s economy when, in 1953, he was contracted to transport manganese from the Woodie Woodie deposit to Port Hedland. It is located in a public park beside the road and includes three locomotives (two used at Mount Newman and one at Mount Goldsworthy) which were used to rail iron ore from Newman to Port Hedland. 

36. Fishing in Port Hedland
Cemetery Beach is an important salmon fishing spot and a place where, in season between October and February, flatback turtles come to lay their eggs.

37. The SS Koombana Lookout
Located above Cemetery Beach, the SS Koombana lookout offers excellent views of both the beach and the port activities. It provides views up to Finucane island and the many vessels moored in the harbour can be seen. On March 20, 1912 the steamship SS Koombana sailed out of Port Hedland en route to Broome, encountered a cyclone, and was lost with all 146 passengers and crew aboard.  Despite several attempts and intensive investigation the wreck of the SS Koombana has never been located. 

40. Pretty Pool Beach and Park
Pretty Pool is located west of the town centre via Cooke Point Road and Styles Road. It is one of the best swimming spots in town. The Pretty Pool area has a huge tidal range of up to 7.7m and is a perfect place to view the Stairway to the Moon. See below for details. 

Murals Around The Town Centre 
The Visitor Centre has a two A4 sheet Pocket Guide to Hedland's Urban Art which lists a total of 11 wall murals around the town which are on walls including the Police Station and a car park on Wedge Street. The artists, mostly street artists, include Amok Island from Amsterdam, Andrew Frazer from Perth, Saner from Mexico City, Ryan Boserio and Tim Rollin from Perth, Hayley Welsh - a WA artist living in the UK, The Yok and Sheryo from New York, Phibs from Australia and Kyle Hughes-Odgers from Perth. 


Other Attractions in the Area

Spinifex Hill Studio
This is a rare opportunity to see local Aboriginal artist from the Noongar, Yamaji, Banjima, Nyiparli, Innawongka and Karimarra communities working on art works many of which can be purchased. The artists who work at Spinifex Hill are known for their diverse styles. The studio attracts beginner, mid-career and established Aboriginal artists and provides them with materials, creative and professional training. Visitors can watch the artists at work and talk to them about their art. For more information check out http://www.form.net.au/project/spinifex-hill-studios. Located at 18 Heddich Street, South Hedland, the Spinifex Hill Studio was opened in 2014. The gallery is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Tuesday to Friday and 10.00 am - 2.00 pm on Saturday.

Seeing Flatback Sea Turtles
There is a turtle interpretative loop from Cemetery Beach Park which will allow visitors to experience the turtles by walking along the high tide line to look for Port Hedland's rare and threatened flatback sea turtles as they nest and their young hatch. Nesting season is between October and January and hatchling season from December to March. It is possible to view the hatchlings between 6.00 am and 9.00 am most mornings with the guidance of the Care for Hedland Environmental Association, tel: 0488 907 260 or check out http://www.careforhedland.org.au.

Port Hedland Salt
In 2001 Dampier Salt Ltd purchased over 9000 ha of operational salt pans on the outskirts of Port Hedland. The excellent and downloadable Dampier Salt Limited: Facts at a Glance (see http://www.riotinto.com/documents/Dampier_Salt_Facts_at_a_glance.pdf) explains that "salt is produced by evaporation of seawater, by means of energy from the sun and assisted by the wind. Seawater flows through a series of concentration ponds in which the salinity is progressively increased. When this brine is saturated with sodium chloride, it is pumped into crystallising ponds where the sodium chloride will crystallise as a pure solid deposit. The solid material is then recovered, processed and shipped to customers. It takes about 50 million tonnes of seawater to produce one million tonnes of salt."

Staircase to the Moon at Point Samson
Between March and October, on an average of three times a month, the remarkably beautiful natural phenomenon named "Staircase to the Moon" occurs along the coast. The phenomenon is created when a full moon shines on the exposed mudflats at very low tide. The result is an illusion which looks like stairs reaching to the moon. It can be observed at Onslow, Dampier, Point Samson, Hearson Cove, Cossack, Port Hedland and Broome. Check out http://www.visitbroome.com.au/discover/facts-figures/staircase-to-the-moon for dates and times. The best place in Port Hedland to see the phenomenon is between Cooke Point and Pretty Pool with the coast off Goode Street being particularly impressive.



*  Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area had been home to the Kariyarra First Nations people for at least 30,000 years.

* In 1616 Dirk Hartog passed along the coast near Port Hedland. 

* in 1628 the Vyanen, commanded by Gerrit Frederikssoon De Witt, ran aground just west of the present site of Port Hedland.

* In 1862 the surveyor and explorer Francis Thomas Gregory visited the area and declared there were 3 million acres of land suitable for grazing. 

* Walter Padbury established De Grey station in 1863.

* 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 suitable place to land stock being carried by the barque Tien Tsin for the De Grey station. 

* In 1866 Mangrove Harbour was investigated as a possible townsite 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. 

* By the late 1870s Port Hedland had 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.

* By 1891 exports from the Nullagine and Marble Bar goldfields were being shipped out of the port. 

* The Port Hedland townsite was surveyed and gazetted in October 1896.

* The Pier Hotel opened for business in 1898.

* A jetty and an 8-km causeway over the marshes into the town were completed by 1899. 

* The first shipment of gold bullion was exported in 1900 and Port Hedland rapidly emerged as the Pilbara's major port.

* In 1901 the town got its first policeman.

* Dalgety House was built in 1903 as a warehouse

* In 1904 The Esplanade Hotel opened for business.

* In 1905 the local Court House was built.

* The town's first primary school opened in 1906

* In 1907 the town's first brewery opened for business promising cold beer and ice through the summer months. It closed down in 1908 due to a lack of fresh water.

* In 1908 St Matthew's Church, a simple weatherboard building, was consecrated. It burnt down in 1917.

* A sandstone post office was opened for business in 1910.

* In 1911 a railway was built between Port Hedland and Marble Bar.

* In 1912 baths were constructed at the end of Wedge Street for "women bathers".

* By 1918, Port Hedland was a typical isolated port exporting wool, livestock, gold, pearl shells and importing supplies for the small and isolated communities in the hinterland.

* By 1921 the town became part of the air route from Geraldton to Derby. The total flight took a day and a half and cost £13.

* In 1925 the town's first Catholic Church was consecrated.

* In 1935 the Royal Flying Doctor Base opened in Port Hedland.

* In 1936 the Port Hedland Picture Gardens, an outside cinema, was opened.

* In 1939 a cyclone decimated most of Port Hedland.

* The first Catholic school was opened by the Presentation Sisters in 1942.

* Port Hedland was bombed twice during World War II. Once on 30 July, 1942 and once on 17 August, 1942.

* In 1946 the local Aboriginal station workers began a three year strike for better wages and conditions in the Pilbara.

* In the 1970s London's Daily Telegraph described the Pier Hotel as the 'Toughest Pub in the World'?

* In 2016 Port Hedland was the largest bulk tonnage export port in the world. It exported 372.3 million tonnes.


Visitor Information

Port Hedland Visitor Centre, 13 Wedge Street, tel: (08) 9173 1711.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website with information about upcoming events, accommodation and eating. Check out https://www.visitporthedland.com.au.

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