The Pilbara

From the Deserts Profits Come

By Bradon Ellem

The Pilbara, a large, thinly populated region in the north of Western Australia, has become central to the Australian economy and imagination. With millions of tons of iron ore shipped to China, the Pilbara is a media staple, through stories of mining companies' profits, the earnings of fly-in-fly-out workers, and the wealth of new entrepreneurs. For all this, what we know about a vital region such as the Pilbara remains incomplete. The boomtime stories do not reveal much about the Pilbara itself, a place completely transformed across fifty years of mining. No one has acknowledged the Pilbara's ancient history, or the men and women who worked there from the 1960s, building unions and making communities as they worked the mines. In those days, the Pilbara excited both hope and dread about its workers and their power. "From the deserts prophets come," AD Hope wrote years before in his poem, Australia. And it appeared that the Pilbara might be the site of a novel kind of unionism, with workers winning not only high wages but control of the places where they worked and the towns where they lived. But it was not to be. Starting in the 1980s, the companies fought back, defeating the unions and remaking the Pilbara. The managers were now the prophets, with new ways of organising work and managing workers. The companies reinvented the Pilbara through workplace control, fly-in-fly-out labor, and twelve-hour shifts. Their vision reshaped not just the desert but the cities, not just the work in mines and ports but in offices and shops. When the biggest boom in mining history came along, it unfolded across a Pilbara landscape very different from a generation earlier. The union prophets were gone; the companies' profits grew. This book reveals the story of fifty years of conflict over work and life in the Pilbara, and how this conflict has affected the rest of Australia. [Subject: Australian Studies, Labor History]

Publication Date: 8/17/2017
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781742589305