When Remote Australia and Mining Australia meet

Most living costs are more expensive in remote areas. Houses cost more to build, food and fuel are far more expensive for starters. When mining companies move in and bring no money for community infrastructure with them then life really gets tough for the non-mine workers.

From The Australian today: THE cost of renting a house in the Pilbara now exceeds the income of a $40,000-a-year social worker, forcing non-government agencies to resort to fly-in, fly-out welfare services or slash welfare programs by a third.

What about those workers on lower incomes who might work at the bar or newsagents or the local shire. They can’t afford to live in decent accommodation on the wages they earn and so either move to mine work or move away and the community suffers. We rightly condemn mining companies for fly-in and fly-out operations which bring nothing to the local communities. But the mining companies only other option seems to be to pump money into renting houses without any community infrastructure.

Lets compare a couple of examples in South Australia.

Roxby Downs
Roxby Downs

Places like Roxby Downs which started life as a company mining town and now has privately owned housing and a thriving community seem to be in the minority. It still suffers from high prices.

Leigh Creek South
Leigh Creek South

And then you get places like Leigh Creek South built by the mining company. It has a few shops, pub, police, bitumen roads, good services. Oh – and it is six kilometres south of Copley a small community which has been around since 1881. The pub is the “Leigh Creek Hotel”. Funny enough, the original mining community of Leigh Creek was moved south in 1982 to make way for the expansion of the coal mine. Rather than build in and expand Copley they decided to build a brand new mining town of Leigh Creek South (now usually called Leigh Creek). You only have to visit the two to see the extremes in infrastructure.


The substantial drop in population in Leigh Creek from about 2500 to 700 with a change in mining practices only reinforces in my mind that an expanded Copley would have been the better option. Copley has a population of close to 100 people, most of whom are indigenous. 15 are on CDEP programs. One wonders what real work has gone on to to train them for working in the mine. The Copley Development Plan identifies the lack of a health service and training amongst others as hindering the development of Copley.

The National Party of Western Australia has found themselves as king-maker and have allowed the Liberal Party to form a minority government. They won most rural seats with a promise to “The Nationals WA will use the balance of power in State Parliament to ensure the equivalent of 25 per cent of all royalty payments to the State over and above current budgeted expenditure are reinvested in regional projects.”

Without commenting on the politics – I think this shows how pissed off those from the bush really are after being continually neglected for basic infrastructure upgrades.

An update on the topic can be found here

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Robbo is a pharmacist working with a very remote Aboriginal Health Service in the deserts of Western Australia. + Andrew Robbo Roberts

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