For long-term resident Gloria Jacob, there is no better example of the contrast that is Port Hedland than the view from her home office window.
In one vista she sees an armada of iron ore ships at anchor waiting for their empty holds to be filled with iron ore — the billion-dollar industry that has shaped a State, a region and countless towns with the economic flow-on effects — and the coastal beauty that delivers turtles to the beach during nesting season.
Gloria and thousands of others who live in Port Hedland take advantage of the coastal location, the outdoor lifestyle and the sporting and cultural activities that combine to make it home.
With connections across a range of business, community, and not-for-profit organisations as a result of her 38-year association with the town, Gloria, a PHIC Community Industry Forum member is an ardent supporter of, and advocate for, Port Hedland.
Just as the town provided her with the opportunity to succeed in business, she says there are opportunities now for those who arrive with a willingness to have a go and work hard.
“The opportunities for young families and people who have a drive to create or recreate themselves, whether through business or other opportunities, are vast,” Gloria said.
“There is virtually zero unemployment. If you are not employed in Port Hedland it’s because you don’t want to work.”
Gloria arrived in Port Hedland in the 1980s as a young nurse. Her brother worked at Mt Newman Mining and Gloria took the opportunity to visit him.
Her family had immigrated from Burma and settled in Perth, but she left them behind for the harsh environment of the Pilbara.
Gloria stayed for about five years, returned to Perth and studied computer programming and then returned to help friends at Hedland Hardware and Steel Supplies.
Opportunity came knocking 18 months later when she and her uncle bought the business, which she eventually bought outright and operated until selling it in 2019.
Gloria says Port Hedland is incorrectly considered to be a mining town.
“We are not mining town, we are a harbour town, a port town,” she said. “From my home office I can see the beautiful ocean and 30-plus ships waiting to come in to be loaded with iron ore.
“The feedback you get is how welcoming the people are here. That’s because people understand what is’ like when you are new because they have gone through that same process.
“A young family here would get far more opportunities because of access to excellent sporting and outdoor activities and arts and cultural activities.”
Gloria, who has served as a Town of Port Hedland councillor and is planning to run for the position of mayor at the next election, says the challenge is to attract people to the town and retain them.
That can only be done with affordable housing, which required input from the State Government, and continued work to improve services including secondary schooling and health, and infrastructure.
With the experience of more than 30 years in business in the town, she said the local economy was not hostage to the mining industry’s cyclical nature.
“In the time I have been here, there has been growth. Every four to six years there has been an industry expansion project that improved or expanded infrastructure,” Gloria said.
“When that occurred, the change was noticeable. The growth in business was noticeable. So every four to six years there would be that growth and it would spike and then it would drop back, but the overall trend was up.
“It is not one of going up, then hitting rock bottom and then spiking (because of the boom bust cycle). It’s a growth trend that you can depend on.”
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