Groundbreakers toast milestone
It has been 50 years since Rio Tinto, then Hamersley Iron, laid the first bricks on the red dirt plains of what would become Tom Price and Dampier, and this month the two Pilbara towns are paying tribute to that history.
Though iron ore was discovered in Tom Price, Rio’s first Pilbara iron ore mine, in 1962, and rail network and port infrastructure in Dampier soon followed, it took until 1966 for the towns to be built in earnest.
That work culminated in the first fully-loaded train travelling from Tom Price to Dampier in July, 1966 and the first ore shipment leaving Dampier for the Japanese Yawata Iron and Steel Company on August 22, 1966, and in many ways the West Pilbara has never looked back since.
The crux of the Rio Tinto 50th celebrations has been a Pilbara tour of its historical exhibition Groundbreakers, which chronicles the company’s legacy in each town over the past five decades.
Tom Price hosted the exhibition on July 13-30, and after trips to Pannawonica and Wickham, it opened in Dampier on Thursday night.
Rio Tinto Pilbara supply chain managing director Clayton Walker said Dampier had come a long way since the first industrial and residential infrastructure saw newspapers refer to “suburbia ... coming to the outback” in the 1960s.
“Dampier is where it all started,” he said. “Our first shipment went out from here, and from then we’ve grown to be one of the largest mining houses in the world. It all started here. “I think it is a claim to fame. “There are not a lot of mining companies, or towns, that have been around for 50 years.
“A lot go through the boom and bust and Dampier I think, is thriving and I think it’s got another 50 years-plus ahead of it.”
Rio Tinto Dampier ports general manager Jess Farrell said the company was proud to have laid the foundations for the strong, enduring communities of Dampier and Tom Price today.
“Tom Price was around making sure that we were building the mine and making sure we had iron ore to go on that first ship,” she said.
“We created a sense of community that’s still a really vibrant well-established community and (as with Dampier) good foundations have built what it is today.”
The Dampier Community Association also held a series of back-to-back events over the weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary milestone.
Chief among them was a soldout gala ball on Hampton Oval on Saturday that had guests dressed to the nines and acknowledged the town’s history with displays of historical photos.
The DCA also held Twilight Tunes on Friday night, featuring local acts and food stalls, and the always-popular Beachside Markets on Sunday, which this time included a performance by Little Belle and a pop-up Groundbreakers installation.
DCA president Sharon Vertigan said Rio’s immense influence on the town made it important to acknowledge this occasion.
“Dampier as we know it would not be here today if it wasn’t for Rio (then Hamersley Iron) establishing port and rail operations in the town to support its nearby mining activity,” she said. “This was the catalyst for the creation of the town 50 years ago and Rio’s operations have continued to grow and sustain Dampier in a range of ways since then.
“As evidenced by the response to celebrations and activities hosted by the DCA and by Rio Tinto in the past few days and in the lead up to the 50th anniversary, it is clear there is a genuine excitement and sense of pride among community members around this milestone.”
For more information, visit riotintogroundbreakers.com/.
Erin Shaylor, Shane Moore and Wendy Van Dongen.
David Yakas, Angie Ayers and Jason Masters.
Dampier Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service Brigade secretary Mandy Quince and Captain Ron Quince.
Rio Tinto Dampier management Finlayson, Robyn Sermon, Clayton with the company's original