Dampier Land Transfer Speech: 30 March 2021

Good evening everyone and thank you for coming down to take part in this very special milestone event for the City of Karratha and Rio Tinto. I’d like to pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather this evening, the Ngarluma, Yaburara, Mardudhunera, Yindjibarndi and Wong-goo-tt-oo people, and acknowledge elders past, present and emerging.

We are here tonight to celebrate a major milestone in the progress of the Dampier Land Transfer – the formal transfer of 10 parcels of land and related infrastructure from Rio Tinto to the City of Karratha.

This agreement took some work: it has been 38 years in the making! When the concept of Rio Tinto transferring its assets and responsibilities to the Shire was first raised in 1983 I’m sure that the complexity of ‘getting the deal done’ was understood but no one would have thought that it would have taken this long to get to this important milestone.

In fact, in 1983, Rio had only been exporting iron ore for 17 years. As probably the oldest one here, I can remember the excitement that occurred in the 1960s when BHP, through Mt Newman Mining, and CRA or Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia began developing mines in the Pilbara to export iron ore to the world. I am not exaggerating when I use the word “excitement” – this was a game changer for Australia which until that time “rode on the sheep’s back”. We now had a second major export to the world and the wealth it has brought to this country over the last 50 years has been incredible: the boom has never ended – we a truly a lucky country.

Over this 54 year period the Shire of Roebourne and later the City of Karratha has had a long and proud relationship with Rio Tinto. When Dampier was built there was nothing here – just a few windmills and fences on the northern boundary of Karratha Station. It is amazing what has been achieved – but then it is also amazing the wealth that has been exported out of this port.

In fact, it was only 4 years ago and just seven months after the 50th anniversary of the first Rio Tinto shipment of Pilbara iron ore in 1966, that the five billionth tonne of iron ore was carried on the bulk carrier MV Onozuru Maru to two ports in Japan. At today’s price of US$167 that is $835 billion exported!

Since the lands transfers concept was mooted in 1983, both Rio and the City have changed markedly and this is very well shown by a quick look back through the Hamersley News from that period. The March 1983 edition shows that the big news of the day for Rio and Dampier were :

  • Dampier winning the State Tidy towns award,

  • The arrival of the 5000th iron ore ship into Dampier, the MV Shin Ogishma Maru. The total quantity shipped to date at that point was 412.5 million metric tonnes. To achieve that tonnage took 17 years of shipping. That’s now done in every 14 months!

  • In 1983 Doc Criddle was Shire President and Frank Gow was Shire Clerk. Since then we’ve had 18 Shire Presidents/Mayors and 5 CEO’s.

Nowadays we have a formalised Community Infrastructure and Services Partnership between our organisations, that since its inception in 2012 has delivered some incredible facilities - such as the Karratha Leisureplex, the Red Earth Arts Precinct, the Dampier and Wickham Community Hubs and much else. In addition we have a history of fantastic events and programs, from FeNaCl (as it originally was) to the youth and aboriginal programs we participate in today.

To get to this signing ceremony has required persistence, attention to detail and recognition of what was important to the other partner by both Rio and the City. Both sides have had to trust each other and focus on resolving many issues. It required a commitment to thoroughness and accuracy - we couldn’t get the legal or the technical bits wrong - and both Rio and the City have needed to compromise to achieve a win-win solution.

With this transfer the City will now be able to take a more traditional Local Government role in the development, management and maintenance of the land. The transfer will allow the opportunity for significant improvements to community facilities in Dampier and works are already underway with repairs to cricket nets and upgrade of the sports lighting and turf at Windy Ridge Oval.

While the transfer is a great step forward towards a new future for Dampier, there is still work to be done and we look forward to working to get the best result for the community and continuing to seek Rio Tinto’s support to progress opportunities for the community. There will be a gradual transitioning of Rio Tinto leases to the City which will allow the City to better understand the needs and allow for collaborative planning moving forward. The City has been in discussions with all groups affected by the transfers since 2019 and we will continue to work closely with each stakeholder to keep them informed and ensure minimum disruption during the transition.

The agreement has taken considerable time and effort by many staff from both the City and Rio Tinto. I’d like to thank each and every staff member who’s played a part in us reaching this significant point. Well done - we should collectively be proud that we’ve achieved this outcome.