September, 30 2012
Port Hedland
John Elliott


I came to Port Hedland on February 23rd, 1962. I was born in Cottesloe, educated at Subiaco Convent and then passed my degree in accounting. I first worked in a very small town at the base of Mount Tom Price, which was one of the original deposits of iron ore found in the Hamersley Ranges. When my contract finished, I had to drive over to Hedland to catch an aeroplane back to Perth. The next flight was eight hours away, and I was waiting in the hotel when I was approached by an American geologist, from Goldsworthy Mining Proprietary Limited about a job. I said, ‘oh, no I’m going back to Perth’ but when I went back, I looked around and said, ‘I can’t stay in this heap’ so I called him back. I worked with them for 14 years.

For the first two years we were still doing exploration, we used to do all the analytics of the iron ore as it was crushed. At this time, the Commonwealth had an embargo on iron ore, you could not export it because of the war, and at the time, Japan was the only buyer, China was not on the horizon. They eventually lifted it, and in 1964, Goldsworthy got its first contract, it was only for about 10 million tonnes, which they produce in about a day now.

When my time at Goldsworthy finished, I became a commercial entrepreneur. In the last 38 years, I have had 23 businesses in Port Hedland. I’ve had South Hedland Hair Dressing; I’ve had two fuel companies, a steak house, restaurant, and cafeteria. I started off with a delicatessen which I bought in 1975; it also had a bakery, and a news agency. I ran that for three years, including during the worst cyclone that the Pilbara has ever had in 1975. We didn’t have power for almost two months, the whole of the railway lines were flattened, parallel to the streets, and power could not be distributed through the streets, because it was just so unsafe. But I was fortunate, I had a power lead which was coming from the port, I thought, we can’t sit here and do nothing so I arranged for a company in Perth to supply me food by air. During those months, everyone lived mainly on barbeques, our street had a wonderful community spirit; each household took a turn, so you only had to cook one night a week.

If it hadn’t been for people, I wouldn’t be here now, it’s an advanced community, we have the second biggest Muslim population next to Katanning, they are wonderful people, their contribution is great. People here get on very well – they’d rather work together, than work against one another. The only thing I miss today is the community children; all four of my kids went to school here. In the early stages, it was really a community town; the killer was when they decided to do FIFO.

I’ve had 28 years serving in the local government; I’ve been the Shire President, Deputy Mayor, and Deputy Shire President. I’m Managing Secretary, Chamber of Commerce, Treasurer of The Port Hedland Historical Society, and Board Member of The Seafarers. I got elected to Secretary of Port Hedland Turf Club in 1964 and I stayed for 38 years. The Hedland race track has been here for over 100 years. I just love racing, we run a season here from May until August, and it’s worth over a million dollars in tourism. People bring their horses from Albany, Geraldton, Carnarvon, and Esperance. Those horses are stationed here and the jockeys fly up on the race day. They get good money if they win a race, and they spend the money here, if they have a win.
Racing in all country areas started from the pastoral industry, where horses were used for rounding up cattle. The best horse I can remember was Red Warrior, born and bred at De Grey Station, trained by the owner of the station, a chap called Billy Cane, who was a jockey at the same time. He won three Port Hedland Cups. He was one of the best horses I’ve seen in my life. He was still rounding up cattle, still doing his fence run, and still won three Port Hedland cups. Back then, the weight of the jockey was heavy; some were 60 kilograms.

I’m a life member of Port Hedland Turf Club, I’m a life member of the Marble Bar Turf Club - this club is purely social, they have one race a year and a ball that evening. People came in from the stations and met all the other station owners, the Dalgetys and all those types. Nobody should ever miss it. I won the Marble Bar Cup last year, for the second time. The horse’s name was Endearing Charms.

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