May, 22 2010
Radio Hill, near Newman
William L Fox

Our first task upon arrival is to drive up Radio Hill with its small antennae farm and get oriented. Newman is one of the hottest towns in Australia, at time ratcheting clear up to 47ºC, but today it's merely warm and swarming with flies. Out come the cameras, everyone scattering to the edges of the hill to document the 360º view. Newman was constructed in two years from 1967-1969 to house workers for the Mount Newman Mining Company, the sole purpose of its residents to take apart nearby Mount Whaleback, which used to rise 457 metres above the desert, but is now a hole more than 300 metres deep. Whaleback is the largest single-pit open-cut iron ore mine in the world and measures more than five kilometres long by two kilometres wide. The world's longest private railroad was built to get the ore from here to Port Hedland, and the trains ever since have been bearing away ore for Asian steelmills, first Japan and now China.

So it's only natural that the homes of Newman are constructed around steel frames, versus wood, the pre-fabricated buildings surrounded by the survivors of the 60,000 trees and shrubs planted in 1975 by the mining company to soften the landscape for the sake of the workers. An improbably green golf course frames the far end of town, while the pit itself off to our left is invisible, surrounded by enormous terraced berms of overburden taller than most of the surrounding hills. Palm trees and powerlines cohabit the skyline along with a tank farm on another hill. The mining company is now 85 per cent owned by BHP Billiton, the town has become an open community, and our hotel offers pools with goldfish out front, an ibis on the lawn, and a flock of white corellas. Newman is a hardship post, and the amenities designed to compensate the arid isolation reflect that.

Back to Top