Port Hedland

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By Nicky Way

Port Hedland is hot, really hot: winter minimum temps sit at around 25C and rise to a toasty 40C plus in summer. And it's only fair to warn you that the price of housing and rentals could well burn you, too!

Located on the coast in WA's Pilbara region, around 1300km north of Perth, Port Hedland is a busy industrial hub of around 15,000 people (ABS 2006) and dominated by the mining and port industries. And boy does the price of accommodation reflect that!

When I looked on realestate.com.au (June 2012) the cheapest rental accommodation I could find was $900 a week for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit, followed by a 1970s looking, one bed, one bath for $1400 a week. And it must be the quick and the dead who actually get the rentals, there were only 21 options available! House prices aren't any better - the median price in March 2012 was $1.1m and the average price for units was around $950K. (RP Data). With prices like these, it seems the only people who could afford to live here comfortably would be miners at the higher end of the scale or those with subsidised accommodation provided by companies like BHP and Rio Tinto.

BHP Billiton is the major employer, exporting 70 million tonnes of iron ore annually from processing and shipping facilities at Port Hedland. The iron ore comes from the company's massive Mt Whaleback mine, 400km to the south in a town called Newman.  It is the biggest single-pit, open-cut ore mine in the world.

Likewise, Rio Tinto's Dampier Salt produces more than three million tonnes of industrial salt annually for export from solar salt ponds. Other natural resources that are exported include manganese, copper, tantalum and livestock. 

Other industries supporting the minerals and resources sector include metal fabrication and welding, mechanical and electrical services, construction and general contracting, automotive services, building trades, cleaning services, freight transport, and painting and corrosion control. 

Keeping Port residents healthy is the Headland Health Complex that replaces the old Port Hedland Hospital.  It’s supported by other health services in town including disability, aged care, naturopaths, chiropractic, dental, Flying Doctor and GP medical centres. 

There are a few options for education but where your kids end up depends on where you live. Port and nearby South Hedland have five pre-primary schools, six public and a private primary school called St Cecelia’s.  There is only one high school: Hedland Senior School.  For further and vocational study there are two campuses of Pilbara TAFE. There is also a family daycare and private childcare services including Rose Nowers Childcare. 

For retail therapy, the major shopping centres are the Boulevard (Port Hedland) and the South Hedland shopping centres, with other retail businesses operating in the Wedgefield Industrial Area. 

With the temps always high in Port, you’ll welcome time at the Gratwick Aquatic and Fitness Centre or at the South Hedland Aquatic Centre (a $9m upgrade is due to be finished by late 2012).  If water's not your thing you could check out a movie or a performance at the Matt Dan Cultural Centre. And to keep the whole family happy, head to the JD Hardie Recreation Centre. This indoor and outdoor fitness centre has activities and sports for all ages, a school holiday program for kids and special events during term time. 

When you’ve got the day off, you can really get busy. There’s everything from fishing, tennis and golf to whale and turtle spotting in winter. Not to mention a full program of community events.  From markets, to musos and movies there is something on most weeks.  Check out the council events calendar for more information.

So there you have it, the low down on Port Hedland. The accommodation costs will burn you, if you or your partner doesn’t work for one of the big miners. Don’t panic though: secure your job first and it’s likely the accommodation will come with it. Then you can kick back and enjoy community life in this toasty, coastal town.

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