Australian Economy

What will it take to pull Australia’s powerhouse, Port Hedland, out of the cultural dust?

On the main street of Port Hedland in Western Australia’s north-west, there’s not a lot going on.

Red dust is baked into the pavement, the cafes are quiet and the footpath is devoid of people.

It’s not what you would expect from the powerhouse of the national economy; a town pumping out $300 million in exports from its port every day, generating around $120 billion annually.

A sign reading 'Hedland hotel' with agave plants in the foreground and a brick hotel building in the background.
Despite massive economic output from the port, Port Hedland’s streets are largely deserted.(ABC News: Laura Birch)

The Karratha comparison

The closest town to Port Hedland is Karratha at about 230 kilometres away — just up the road by Pilbara standards.

Both towns have a population of about 16,000, but the contrast between the two hubs is stark.

“We get upset when we travel to Karratha because that’s what Hedland should be like … they’ve got nice cafes, parks, breweries,” Port Hedland local Yarna Vujevich said.

A small park with large rocks in the foreground.
Slick new developments in the Karratha CBD.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

Why is Hedland left in the dust?

Locals and experts have pointed to myriad issues for what they see as Hedland’s failure to thrive.

Successive local governments mired in controversy, the transience of fly-in fly-out communities, youth crimechild-care deserts, and a lack of investment in the community have all been blamed.

Carl Askew, the chief executive of the Town of Port Hedland, said changing the equation would require the community’s trust as well as more funding.

“The task for us is to look at how we build those relationships with government at all levels, with industry, with business, to look at how we build up a great town.”

Next generation key to livable city

Ashley Dwyer leads Hedland Youth Voice and is committed to making his home a better place for young people.

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