Port Hedland will get a glimpse of a lesser-known aspect of the Pilbara’s mining heritage next month during celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the first bulk commodity shipment out of the port – manganese not iron ore.
The Rhodes Ridley – a trailblazing truck built in 1958 specifically to haul manganese – will be on display.
The truck was devised by earthmoving, trucking and mining contractor Don Rhodes and his workshop manager Harold Ridley.
The Northern Minerals Syndicate contracted DFD Rhodes Pty Ltd to mine and truck manganese into Port Hedland.
But in one of the quirks of history, the grand plans for a powerful road train did not materialise.
Rather than hauling manganese, it hauled a gen-set, crushing plant, and screening plant and was based at the Woodie Woodie manganese mine, where it stayed until it was retrieved in 1988, and fully restored.
The first shipment of manganese out of Port Hedland was on Saturday, November 21, 1953.
The West Australian newspaper reported at the time that the Norwegian freighter Fernbrook carried 4,750 tons of ore destined for Baltimore, with a second shipment due before Christmas.
It said the Fernbrook was the largest vessel to have entered the port and experienced no navigation difficulties.
The report noted: “The syndicate’s enterprise in making its exports through Port Hedland is expected to benefit the region.”
Terry Joyce, a former DFD Rhodes mechanic of 15 years with a love of history and Port Hedland, is behind celebration plans that will see the Rhodes Ridley in town along with a host of speakers to reminisce about the company and the glory days of manganese mining.
Terry, author of Let’s build our own – The story of the Rhodes Ridley, arrived in Port Hedland in 1971 to finish his apprenticeship.
Manganese mining ceased in 1972 and Terry subsequently left but returned in 1981 and stayed for 20 years.
“I’m a former long-term resident of Port Hedland and I love the place,” Terry said. “The first shipment was a big deal for Port Hedland, and we thought it should be commemorated, so we’ve been working hard to make sure that happens.
“The tonnages out of Port Hedland today are a classic example of from little things big things grow.
“It’s a story that needs to be told because it is pretty epic. Manganese had been mined in WA before, it started around 1922 in the Murchison, but Northern Minerals were the pioneers of Pilbara manganese mining.
“The Rhodes Ridley was the largest truck in the Southern Hemisphere at the time. The Rhodes family is bringing it up to Port Hedland to commemorate the anniversary.
“For the town it was a hell of a shot in the arm. Port Hedland at the time was a sleepy hollow and the exports were an important boost for the town’s economy.
“Other former Rhodes employees will be in Port Hedland along with Rhodes family members to be part of it.”
The 70th anniversary celebrations are part of the Spinifex Spree Carnival to be held in Port Hedland on July 28.
For further information, contact Terry at Terry.Joyce@nullbigpond.com