About 1800km north of Perth, South Hedland is a residential and service town for Port Hedland, 20km away. What with the iron ore flowing out at huge rates and the local salt processing works exporting one million tonnes a year, it is scant surprise that, in terms of tonnage, it is the nation’s busiest port and one of the busiest mineral ports in the world.
Port Hedland started life servicing pearl luggers and handling the provisioning of prospectors and miners who rushed to the goldfields around Marble Bar. But it was iron ore that sent the town into a frenzy of building activity in the 1960s as BHP geared up to move their product to world markets.
The sheep farming and pearl industries which gave the town its start have long gone and the character of the place has changed dramatically. The trail of middens of shells and other cooking debris presents mute evidence of how important such local seafood as cockles and whelks were to the local Aborigines' lifestyle over thousands of years.