The rich Pilbara landscape offers many scenic treasures but it’s the local characters that leave the greatest impression.

Story By Lara Jensen

A rolling bank of thunderheads swirls above the spinifex-clad ironstone hills as the last vestiges of sunlight coat the ancient Pilbara landscape in yellow, then orange, then red. It’s a continuous tug-of-war between light and colour that unfolds daily against a backdrop so breathtaking that it’s a major reason for many residents to stay for the long haul.
From the endless treacle-top ironstone ranges and red granite hills to open spinifex plains, spectacular gorges and pristine waterholes, the Pilbara offers an untamed landscape that is as rich in natural wonders as it is in human treasures – the stoic, often eccentric locals that inhabit its dusty townships. The Pilbara also has the remnants of a rich historical legacy, evident in its lonely graveyards, abandoned mine workings and the grand old buildings that have survived over time. Built mainly on mining and pastoralism, the region came to life in the latter half of the 1800s during the gold rush era, but today rides high on the new wave of Pilbara wealth – the booming iron ore industry that is fuelled by the insatiable Chinese demand for steel. Over the past decade, WA’s iron ore industry has grown by an average of 28 percent per annum. Last financial year, the Pilbara contributed the lion’s share of 49% of WA’s $71 billion in mineral and petroleum sales.
The shire of East Pilbara begins at the mining town of Newman, located 1186 kilometres north of Perth on the Great Northern Highway. Bigger than the entire state of Victoria, it’s the world’s largest shire, stretching over 371,696 square kilometres. It may be colossal in size and rich in mineral deposits, but it’s a region thinly populated with just over 10,500 people living in the smattering of towns, Aboriginal communities and pastoral properties that punctuate the rugged landscape.

This story excerpt is from Issue #77

Outback Magazine: June/July 2011