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The Town of Port Hedland is located on the north-west coast of Western Australia in the Pilbara region, about 1,700km from Perth. With its natural deep anchorage harbour, Port Hedland plays a nationally and internationally significant role as an export centre for iron ore extracted from resource deposits inland from the town. The LGA was originally named the Pilbara Road District, changed name to the Port Hedland Road District in 1904, became a Shire in 1961 and a Town of Port Hedland in 1989. Port Hedland is known by the Indigenous Kariyarra and Nyamal people as Marapikurrinya, which is said to mean "place of good water". Swedish-born mariner Peter Hedland was the first European to note the harbour’s existence and the possibility of using it as a port.
Port Hedland was initially settled as a port for the Pilbara’s pastoral industry in 1896, however it is the emergence of mining that has had the greatest influence on development patterns in the Town. The discovery of iron ore mining, marked by the opening of the Goldsworthy mine in 1962, triggered a period of rapid housing and population growth. The community grew from around 900 inhabitants in 1961 to almost 7,300 in 1971. The Town’s harbour was quickly developed as the Pilbara’s key port, and several railway lines were constructed to transport commodities from the expanding mine sites. It was at this time that South Hedland was first developed as a satellite community specifically catering for the growing population. Located 23km south of the initial settlement at the port, South Hedland remains one of two main population centres in the LGA.
A more recent mineral boom took place in the early 21st Century, with a significant impact on the local economy, with development activity comparable to the period of growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Increases in global demand drove up the value of commodities mined in the Pilbara, leading to a dramatic rise in the population of Port Hedland between 2008 and 2013. New housing estates and short-term accommodation facilities were developed to support this growth, which consisted mainly of mining and construction workers and their families.
Despite the end of the ‘boom’, ongoing investment in industrial infrastructure and transport facilities suggests mining will continue to prosper in Port Hedland.
The main employing industries in the Town of Port Hedland are Mining, Construction and Transport, accounting for almost half of all jobs in Port Hedland in 2016. Fluctuations in these sectors underpin much of the migration flows to and from the Town. Between 2011 and 2016, with a notable decline in population at the end of the mining boom, Port Hedland experienced significant out-migration to Perth, Darwin, as well as other regional cities in Western Australia, including the neighbouring City of Karratha. The Town recorded a net gain of people from overseas, although this was substantially reduced from at the peak of Pilbara mining activity. Given the importance of employment as the central driver of population change, movement to Port Hedland is dominated by young workers and those at the homebuilder stage of life (aged 20-34 years, some with children).
A distinctive feature of the workforce in the mining and construction industries is the existence of a "fly in fly out" (FIFO) component. These workers only live in the Town on a temporary basis and hence are not counted in official population statistics. The accommodation of FIFO workers is varied, with some being housed at the site of the mining operations, such as Mount Dove, and others being housed in and around Port Hedland and South Hedland. However, they do create additional demand for a range of other services and this in itself stimulates population and economic growth.
Note: The migration flows depicted above are historical and do not represent future or forecast migration flows or subsequent council boundary changes. The arrows represent migration flows to the area as a whole and do not indicate an origin or destination for any specific localities within the area. Overseas flow shows overseas arrivals based on answers to the census question "where did the person usually live 5-years ago" and .id estimates of international out-migration.
Future levels of population growth in Port Hedland are largely dependent on the performance of the mining sector, new projects and the size of the FIFO workforce component. Despite the recent stagnation in population growth following the end of the Western Australian mining boom, sustained global demand for iron ore as well as lithium will again provide the impetus for positive demographic and housing change in the coming years.
As one of the key economic centres on the north west coastline, the Town of Port Hedland plays a housing market role catering to young couples and emerging families as well as attracting a large number of young adult lone person households. This is reflected in a net migration profile that presents significant gains of persons aged 20-34 and 0-9 years around the Port of Hedland area and in South Hedland. Net losses in population of early retirement age indicate that employment, rather than lifestyle, is the dominant factor driving population growth in Port Hedland.
The type and distribution of demographic change in the Town of Port Hedland is principally determined by the supply of available land, which varies significantly across the LGA. Pilbara’s Port City Growth Plan outlines plans for a predominance of future residential development in South Hedland. Over the period to 2041, Around two-thirds of future dwellings in the Town of Port Hedland are expected be constructed in South Hedland. Development opportunities are identified in the Western Edge Structure Plan, the South-East Quadrant expansion areas, as well the Osprey Estate and Village, while a number of higher density projects around the Forrest Circle and the South Hedland Centre are also identified. Opportunities have also been identified around the Port of Hedland itself, including Athol Street Structure Plan and The Stables Development. However, the prevalence of low-lying tidal flats limits the availability of suitable land for extensive residential development alongside the port.
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