18/07/2014 - 15:28

Port Hedland: you might stay another day

18/07/2014 - 15:28

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Spending a few days in Port Hedland meant we spent a few days longer than most travellers, and it also afforded an opportunity to get some insights into the town’s development.

Port Hedland: you might stay another day

Spending a few days in Port Hedland meant we spent a few days longer than most travellers, and it also afforded an opportunity to get some insights into the town’s development.

Lots of travellers pass through Port Hedland. Only a handful stay more than one night, and even fewer stay any longer. It reminded me of a trip some years ago to Hyden, home of Wave Rock and not much else. Like many travellers, we stopped there on our way to Esperance. The Hyden tourist bureau was running a campaign titled ‘Stay a second night’ but without much success.  

Port Hedland faces a similar challenge. The main attraction is watching ships in the harbour, which is actually a lot more impressive than it may sound. The scale of the iron ore carriers, the frequency of the ship movements and the proximity of viewing areas make for an impressive spectacle. The Seafarer’s Association has recently commenced harbour tours that give travellers an even closer view of the ships. The tour uses the same vessel that transfers seafarers, mostly Filipinos and Ukrainians, to and from the ships. It also affords a close-up view of the construction work underway for the Roy Hill project’s new wharf. Another tour, which some travellers enjoyed, was a bus tour of BHP Billiton’s iron ore yards.

The Silver Star café was an enjoyable surprise – Port Hedland’s very own hip, inner-city café. Well, sort of. The quality of the food – we had a lamb burger, a chicken burger and an Asian chicken wrap – the friendly, professional service and the unique setting were a treat.

The café is housed inside an historic railway carriage that was once part of the General Pershing – a luxury service that ran in the United States in the heyday of rail travel in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was gifted to Mt Newman Mining – now BHP – in the 1970’s by American company AMAX, which used to be part of the Mt Newman joint venture. The carriage was used on the Mt Newman passenger rail service, which operated for many years before the sealed road was completed in 1989.

The carriage’s installation in the Courthouse Gallery gardens was a joint initiative of BHP and FORM, the Perth-based arts and culture group led by the formidable Lynda Dorrington. When the Silver Star café opened in 2010 – alongside the Courthouse Galley, operated by FORM – the area was rather optimistically dubbed Port Hedland’s cultural precinct. The café and gallery were part of a bigger effort to revive the west end of Port Hedland – an area best known for the red dust that envelopes every building. The redevelopment of the 4.5 star Esplanade Hotel was another big step forward for this area.

However, it appears the town’s civic future lies elsewhere. BHP wants new developments focused on Port Hedland’s east end, around Cooke Point and Pretty Pool. This area is physically much more attractive and is where a lot of residential building has occurred. And it would mean the port operations – BHP’s cash cow – are at less risk of being compromised by residential encroachment. The Environmental Protection Authority has already opposed new residential developments in the west end, because of potential health risks to residents.

For its part, the state government, mainly through Royalties for Regions, has been pouring money into South Hedland. This area has few redeeming features, and injecting civic life and vitality is an ominous challenge. Former regional development minister Brendon Grylls used to talk about the development of a ‘café strip’ in South Hedland – that is even more optimistic than talking about Port Hedland’s cultural precinct.

There is one more challenge facing Port Hedland. A lot of newly built apartments still have ‘for lease’ signs out front, showing that the ‘boom bust’ cycle is hard to break in Western Australia.  

Mark Beyer’s blog can be read at http://www.businessnews.com.au/author/mark-beyer or at his blog http://markbeyerontheroad.wordpress.com/

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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