A good idea that’s lasted 15 years

In one of those “it-seemed-like-a-good idea at the time” moments, Morag Lowe arrived in Port Hedland 15 years ago after buying the First National Real Estate business.

New to the town but not to the real estate game, Morag set about building up the business — a task she admits took all of her energy and time for at least the first 12 months.

Port Hedland in 2006 was still suffering from the closure of a hot briquetted iron plant about two years before, but Morag saw the green shoots of recovery in the market.

Those green shoots were near the beginning of the mining construction boom that peaked around 2012.

What happened next is well known, but in 2021 the State and Federal economies are again riding on the back of iron ore royalties and all eyes are on the Pilbara.

For Morag, there is always activity in the Port Hedland real estate market with people coming and going and investors, usually from Melbourne and Sydney, looking for the next bargain.

Fifteen years after taking the plunge, Morag and First National employ 35 people across sales, rentals and property management, and the business has a presence in Newman. Morag is helped in the business by her son, Scott, who is Operations Manager.

Morag, a community member of Port Hedland Industry Council’s Community Industry Forum, has also been involved with Care for Hedland, the Port Hedland Chamber of Commerce Inc, a small business association and various other organisations.

“Over the years I’ve been involved in everything,” Morag said.

“Because whatever you want to be in life, Port Hedland will allow you to be. You can be president of anything, but you have to be involved.

“If you are a positive person, ready to have a go, you can succeed here. You have to push yourself to get out there. 

“People can be keen to bemoan the lack of amenity but compared to a lot of WA regional towns it has everything that that anyone could ever want.”

Morag should know. Before arriving in Port Hedland, she lived outside Toodyay and sold rural real estate. 

“It is a typical regional town that just happens to have mining as the main industry rather than farming,” Morag said of Port Hedland. “If you were in any of the Wheatbelt towns, you would be able to enjoy the same lifestyle, but you have a coastal advantage here as well.

“There’s social infrastructure, cafes, restaurants, probably as many as any other comparable sized area in WA.”

While accepting that a lack of childcare facilities was a problem, she said it was not an issue unique to Port Hedland.

Even Morag’s positive approach was tested early in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This time last year we didn’t know what was ahead of us,” she said. “We were heading into lockdown, but it became pretty clear within the first few weeks that mining would continue, that the State Government would do everything in its power to support mining and the FIFO workforce would predominantly become residential.

“That flowed through to the real estate market in Port Hedland and while investor interest usually comes from Sydney and Melbourne, last year there were also investment syndicates being set up in Perth with ready access to money.”

While she keeps a close eye on the price of iron ore, she admits to not predicting that the price would hit such “dizzy heights” on the back of Chinese demand.

“We don’t’ really look at what is happening in the Australian economy. We take our cues from what is happening in the Chinese economy,” she said.

“It’s far more pertinent to our market than what is happening in Perth.

“We’re often in different worlds.”

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