Highlights

August 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of Rio Tinto's first contracted shipment of iron ore

The infrastructure created as part of the Pilbara’s development has been likened to a miniature state

50,000 people who played a part in the region’s development over the past 50 years

When geologists first set out across the Hamersley ranges in Western Australia to assess the iron ore prospects in 1961, they started with little more than a field table and a hammer.

There were no towns, railway, water supply, power or other basic services.

By the time Rio Tinto’s first contracted shipment of iron ore left Dampier Port for Japan in August 1966, several thousand contractors and suppliers had created infrastructure on a scale that has been likened to a miniature state.


Celebrating 50 years
of Iron Ore

Celebrating
50 years of
Iron Ore

People always have been, and always will be, the backbone of Rio Tinto’s business.

People always have been, and always will be, the backbone of Rio Tinto’s business.

Rio Tinto Groundbreakers pays tribute to the employees and stakeholders who have helped build the company’s Iron Ore business in Western Australia over the past 50 years, and marks key milestones in its history.

“Groundbreakers” is a theme that captures much of what the past 50 years has been about – significant achievements, remarkable effort, big change and thinking very differently from one year to the next. The anniversary activities acknowledge the many thousands of people who have helped the Iron Ore business be the success that it is – employees, government and community partners, customers and investors – each playing their part to enable Rio Tinto to contribute to Western Australia and beyond.


In just 20 months they had laid almost 300 kilometres of railway stretching from Dampier to Tom Price; moved 12 million cubic metres of earth and rock; and installed 300,000 tonnes of plant and equipment. The port had to be dredged to accept the largest ore carriers of the day, and a ship loading facility established. Much of the work was undertaken in challenging conditions – over vast distances, through difficult terrain and in fierce heat.

The development of the Pilbara iron ore deposits underpinned the economic prosperity of modern Australia, and helped our key customer countries of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan to build nations.

Meet Australia's groundbreakers Meet Australia's groundbreakers

It has also delivered engineering feats – from the Pilbara railway, which influenced the development of heavy-haul railway around the world, to the industry’s first driverless haul truck.

These groundbreaking achievements are due to the grit, ingenuity and passion of the 50,000 people who played a part in the region’s development over the past 50 years.

Here are some of their stories:

Dr Bruno Campana

Dr Bruno Campana, geologist sent to assess the Pilbara iron ore prospects

“We established our headquarters near Lang Hancock’s homestead in the Hamersleys – a tent, a fireplace, a little field table and also a ‘geochemical laboratory’ consisting of a steel plate on which we could hammer the ore and pulverise it, before heating the solutions in the flame of mulga logs … The joy of our work and the creative freedom we enjoyed more than compensated for the want of technical means …”

John Hohnen

John Hohnen, former Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd (CRA) director of Operations, WA

“Eventually we flew to Perth and David Brand (Premier of Western Australia 1959-1971), true to his promise, convened a meeting of a representative Cabinet sub-committee for possibly the first time ever on a Sunday morning … Haddon King lost no time in spreading his maps out on the table – it was later necessary to put them on the floor as they were so large – and Tom [Price] talked about the iron-ore potential of the Hamersleys … He painted then and there the canvas that was to become the Pilbara and he won the day.” [Excerpt from “Adventure in Iron”, Alan Trengove, 1976]

Sam Khouri

Sam Khouri, operator, Cape Lambert

“I was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1953 and came to Australia at the age of 21 at the instigation of my brother. He was here working for Cliffs Robe River and had been telling me that there were better opportunities to be had here. So I gave it a go. Look at what we can produce and what the industry’s done, not just for the people living here but for the Australian people as a whole.”

Timena Pilot

Timena Pilot, operator, Tom Price

“My grandfather was one of four men that were foremen on the railway and he moved to Tom Price to help construct the railway line to Dampier. He also helped construct the railways from the other mine sites, such as Yandicoogina, West Angelas, and all around the Pilbara. My grandfather used to tell us how all our family, our father and uncles, all used to work for him and that he was really good at his job. My grandfather used to build the switches for the railway line and was known for completing his work really efficiently.”

Mark Castano

Mark Castano, maintenance superintendent, Cape Lambert

“I finished school at 15 and in 1985 started with Hamersley as an apprentice in the mobile equipment workshop. It was my dad’s dream to have his sons do an apprenticeship and go that one step better, because he never had that opportunity to do a trade. My parents came along for my apprenticeship interview. They had to make the commitment that they would stay for my four years as there was no accommodation given to apprentices.”

Millie Hagan

Millie Hagan, train driver

“I’d like to be driving trains forever. I’ve been driving on the mainline since 2008, when I became Rio Tinto’s first Indigenous female train driver. I’ve been around this company all my life and have seen it go from Hamersley Iron to Pilbara Rail to Pilbara Iron to Rio Tinto. I grew up in Paraburdoo after my father got a job there as a shovel operator. We lived there for about 20 years. Every Christmas Day, they would shut the mine so everybody could spend Christmas with their families.”

Extraordinary scale

Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations today:

  • 15 mines
  • 12,000 employees
  • 1,700km of rail
  • 5 towns
  • 4 port terminals
  • 3 power stations
  • 360 trucks
  • 39 production drills
  • 190 locomotives

Groundbreaking engineering

Groundbreaking
engineering

In August 2016, Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Railway (Mt Tom Price-Dampier) and the Robe River Railway (Pannawonica-Cape Lambert) were awarded an Engineering Heritage International Marker by Engineers Australia.

In August 2016, Rio Tinto’s Hamersley Railway (Mt Tom Price-Dampier) and the Robe River Railway (Pannawonica-Cape Lambert) were awarded an Engineering Heritage International Marker by Engineers Australia.

The marker recognises the contribution of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara heavy-haul railways to Australia as a nation and the practice of engineering.