ron ore has always been an important commodity due to its application in steel, a key resource for building infrastructure, housing, and manufacturing equipment. While the Pilbara region in Western Australia is rich in the metal, the country exports nearly all of its iron ore production, due to the lack of major steel production in the nation.
Australia has been exporting iron ore for over 50 years, having started providing to Japan in the 1960s to support its post-war development and growth.
The rapid growth of China’s economy in recent years has made the country the world’s largest steel producer and a main export market for the Australian iron ore industry. Today, China accounts for around 80% of Australia’s iron ore exports by volume.
The history of Australian iron ore mining began in the Pilbara region with the first mine, the Goldsworthy, developed in 1965 by Mount Goldsworthy Mining Associates, a joint venture between the British-owned Consolidated Goldfields, the Cyprus Mines Corporation of Los Angeles, and the Utah Construction and Mining Company of San Francisco.
The Goldsworthy mine had a private railway line, along with port facilities at Finucane Island, adjacent to Port Hedland. The first shipment of iron ore from the Pilbara took place on 1 June 1966, on board the iron ore carrier Harvey S. Mudd.
While iron ore deposits in the Pilbara region, such as the Mount Whaleback deposit, were discovered as early as 1957, it wasn’t until 1960 that the Australian government lifted an embargo on iron ore exports. A primary reason for their hesitation was a lack of research and concerns that the mineral might be of short supply in the country.
By the mid-1970s, iron ore production had reached 100 million tonnes, with fluctuations in the 1980s and the 1990s. 2003, however, was to be the year that Australia’s iron ore industry really began to boom.