A History of Western Australia’s Pilbara Region

The Pilbara region has been gaining a lot of attention in the last few decades. Here’s a quick rundown of its history and what’s going on now.

As exploration continues to ramp up throughout the country, the state of Western Australia has been gaining extra exposure through its coveted Pilbara region.

Spanning over 500,000 square kilometers with a population of less than 100,000 people, the Pilbara has proven to be an undervalued, underexplored region in the last few decades. Many major miners have gotten in on the area's resources in recent years with ton(ne)s to show for it.

With so much activity in the area lately, it begs some questions: Why did it take so long to be discovered in the first place? How did the hype begin?

The beginning

While there is evidence indicating that Aboriginal populations have occupied the Pilbara for thousands of years, some suggesting over 40,000 years, European explorers didn't arrive in the region until the mid-1800s. It is believed that Francis Thomas Gregory, who documented an 1861 expedition through the region, was the first European to explore the area.

The potential for mining in the Pilbara did not become apparent until almost a century later, when government surveyors examined Mount Goldsworthy in 1938 and discovered an iron content of 65.66 percent with estimated reserves of more than 6 million tonnes. It was that same year, however, that Australia's federal government prohibited the export of iron ore with World War II on the horizon.

Fast forward to 1957, when prospector Stan Hilditch discovered a major iron ore deposit at Mount Whaleback while searching for manganese, according to BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT). Hilditch kept the discovery hidden until the early 1960s when the iron ore export ban was lifted, and, with business partner Charles Warman, began investing in the area.

Mount Goldsworthy was successfully obtained in a 1962 joint venture by Consolidated Goldfields Australia, Cyprus Mines Corporation of Los Angeles and the Utah Construction and Mining Company of San Francisco, together called the Mount Goldsworthy Mining Associates. Four years later, the trio would open the Goldsworthy mine, with the mine's first ore shipment taking place in August of that year.

The years that followed saw BHP obtain majority ownership of what later became the Mount Whaleback mine, and another major investor make its way into the area, Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO), which opened its first Pilbara iron ore mine, Mount Tom Price, in 1966.

Ongoing projects in the Pilbara

The Pilbara is a vast area that hosts several different commodities, especially base metals, but the region is still heavily known for its abundance of iron ore, petroleum and natural gas.

Iron ore is known as one of Australia's most prominent exports on a national scale, and, according to a 2014 report from Regional Development Australia, approximately 95 percent of it is produced in the Pilbara. Similarly, 70 percent of the country's natural gas is produced in the region.

With numbers like those, it's not surprising that international mining hotshots like Rio Tinto and BHP have made long term investments in the area. BHP prides itself on having been involved with Pilbara's iron ore deposits for over 65 years, referring to the commodity as a “constant pillar" in its operations.

Meanwhile, Rio has been slowly but surely building up its presence in the area with 17 iron ore mines, four port terminals, a 1,700 kilometer rail network and related infrastructure. The most recent addition to the company's Pilbara repertoire came early last October, when Rio, in conjunction with Hancock Prospecting, opened the Baby Hope mine as part of its Hope Downs iron ore operation.

Other companies with significant stakes in the area include Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG,OTCQX:FSUMF), which owns three mine sites, a heavy haul railway and the five berth Herb Elliott Port in Port Hedland, and Atlas Iron (ASX:AGO), which currently operates its Mount Webber and Abydos mines in the Pilbara.

Also worth noting in the region is the abundance of junior mining companies trying to make a name for themselves. According to John Kaiser of Kaiser Research, the two biggest juniors worth watching are Novo Resources (TSXV:NVO,OTCQX:NSRPF) and Pacton Gold (TSXV:PAC,OTC Pink:PACXF).

“There's Novo; it has the highest valuation. [But] until they solve that problem of measuring the gold in the conglomerate, the valuation is way too high," Kaiser told the Investing News Network.

Last November, Kaiser Research released a report explaining how Novo was struggling to measure gold resources within its Comet Well conglomerate, part of the company's Karratha gold project. According to the report, the company needs to do bulk sampling to obtain a proper resource estimate; however, bulk sampling requires a mining license and the conglomerate only has exploration licenses right now, leaving Comet Well at a standstill for the time being.

On the flipside, Kaiser recommended Pacton on the basis of its land acquisitions over the last year.

“The only other junior that's made any sort of meaningful effort to assemble lands during the past year is Pacton Gold," Kaiser said. “They've also picked up land in the Egina region so they can piggyback on what Novo is doing but with considerably smaller valuation, so that if there is success in this arena, there's greater upside for Pacton than there is for Novo in the short to medium term."

The Pilbara's future

While a lot of the hype surrounding the Pilbara is focused on its mining and resource sector, both the region and the state of Western Australia are taking on initiatives to help the area grow beyond this.

From 2007 to 2013, the Pilbara's population grew by almost 10,000, peaking at just over 53,000 and establishing a need for more supported social and economic infrastructure. Accordingly, the Western Australian government created the Pilbara Cities program in 2009 with a AU$1.7 billion commitment designed to help revitalize the area and make it more suitable for long term growth and sustainability.

Helping ensure the delivery of over 100 projects funded under Pilbara Cities is the Pilbara Development Commission (PDC), whose main role is to coordinate and promote economic development within the region. Terry Hill, CEO of the PDC, described the commission's goal for the region in a statement.

“The vision is to transform Karratha and Port Hedland into cities of 50,000 each by 2035, with other towns in the Pilbara such as Newman, Tom Price and Onslow growing into more attractive and sustainable communities," he said.

The program is intended to focus investment on four main areas: community projects and engagement, land availability and development, economic diversification and infrastructure coordination. One of the goals of the program is to transform “Pilbara mining communities into modern cities and towns."

Another initiative under the program is the Pilbara Hinterland, a $12.5 million agricultural development initiative. Three separate projects were developed under this particular initiative, two of which revolve around establishing new sites near old mines to use surplus mine dewater for possible cropping options like fodder production.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Olivia Da Silva, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.

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Australia took a stand against Facebook and Google earlier this year, and the move could have long-term implications for tech investors.

It was a ban that sent Australians wild and had the whole world watching.

Back in February, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) stopped users in Australia from posting news in a week-long blackout, reacting to proposed legislation that would have forced the social media behemoth to pay publishers for content.

What prompted Facebook to "friend" Australia again, and what are the potential long-term implications of the squabble? Read on to learn what tech-focused investors in Australia should know about the situation.


Australia squares off against Facebook

On February 25 of this year, Australia's federal government passed the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. It was developed after extensive analysis by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and is aimed at ensuring that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for their content.

It stipulates that digital platforms such as Facebook and Google (both named in the documentation) must pay news outlets whose content they feature — for example, if content is shared on Facebook or shows up in Google search results. The idea is that this will help to sustain journalism in Australia.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook and Google didn't react well to the code, which was first introduced in 2020.

Google didn't make any moves after it passed, but Facebook quickly made it impossible for Australian users to share news content, and pages for both local and international news organisations went blank — a major concern given the COVID-19 and wildfire concerns that were circulating at the time.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scathing about Facebook's decision — which he ironically shared in a Facebook post — declaring the tech giant's actions "as arrogant as they were disappointing." He added, "These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them."

Despite strong feelings from both Australia and Facebook, the dispute was resolved fairly quickly, with the country agreeing to make four amendments to the legislation and Facebook restoring Australian's access to news.

Implications for Big Tech and news organisations

Both Australia and Facebook have claimed victory in the dispute, with a Facebook representative saying the company will be able to decide if news appears on the platform — meaning it won't automatically have to negotiate with any news businesses. Changes were also made to the arbitration process.

Tech experts have pointed out that larger news companies may ultimately benefit from the changes, but smaller ones could be pushed to the side. Major publishers that have struck agreements with tech giants, such as News Corp, Nine Entertainment (ASX:NEC,OTC Pink:NNMTF), Seven West Media (ASX:SWM) and Guardian Australia, may be able to increase their market share while smaller independent players lose out.

A business that is in full support of the laws is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). During the conflict, President Brad Smith came out loudly in favour of Australia's law, and advised that his company is willing to step up with search engine Bing should Google and/or Facebook pull out of the Australian market.

"In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed forward with legislation two years in the making to redress the competitive imbalance between the tech sector and an independent press. The ideas are straightforward. Dominant tech properties like Facebook and Google will need to invest in transparency, including by explaining how they display news content," he said in a blog post.

"The United States should not object to a creative Australian proposal that strengthens democracy by requiring tech companies to support a free press. It should copy it instead."

Global reach and tech investor impact

Six months down the road from Australia's landmark legislation, it's tough to say what the long-term impact may be.

That said, market watchers do believe the country is part of a new precedent of forcing Big Tech into paying for journalism — something giants Facebook and Google are not used to.

Countries looking to pursue similar legislation include Canada, where Facebook agreed in May to pay 14 publishers to link to their articles on its COVID-19 and climate science pages, as well as other unspecified use cases. Canada is pursuing other avenues too. Meanwhile, in France, Google said it will pay publishers for news content after the country took up new EU copyright laws that make digital platforms liable for infringements.

For investors, the takeaway is perhaps that while companies like Facebook and Google may seem too big too fail, they too can fall subject to new regulations that can change how they do business. As nations around the world look to take back control from these mega companies, it's important to be aware of possible effects on their bottom lines.

Don't forget to follow @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Ronelle Richards, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Queensland is the 16th most attractive jurisdiction in the world, sneaking in above BC and the Yukon in Canada, and just behind New Mexico in the US.

Queensland is one of the top three Australian jurisdictions for copper.

While it's well behind South Australia, a behemoth in the country for resources and production, Queensland hosts some 12 percent of all known Australian copper deposits, level with its southern neighbour New South Wales.

A premier mining jurisdiction globally, Queensland is ranked third out of all Australian jurisdictions for mining investment attractiveness, according to the Fraser Institute. Globally, it's ranked as the 16th most attractive jurisdiction, sneaking in above BC and the Yukon in Canada, and just behind New Mexico in the US.


The state is renowned for its mining prowess in Australia, and is known as one of the resource states, with a large chunk of its economic heft coming from the mining industry and its operations across the vast state.

Overall, mining accounts for 11.7 percent of Queensland's economy, with coal and liquefied natural gas being the primary focus of output. Together, coal, gas and mineral exports account for over 80 percent of Queensland's exports, according to the state government.

Having said that, copper plays a large role, and Queensland is home to the second biggest producer of copper in Australia in the form of Glencore's (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) Mount Isa mining complex in the northwest of the state. There, Glencore owns and operates the Enterprise and X41 mines.

Aside from Mount Isa, Glencore owns the nearby Ernest Henry copper mine. Combined, Glencore's Queensland operations produced 138,800 tonnes of copper in 2020 — accounting for a little over 10 percent of the company's global copper production. Glencore isn't listed on the ASX, but can be found on the LSE.

Besides the Mount Isa complex itself, there's also a handful of other operational mines in the northwestern portion of the state, although most of them are privately owned, such as the Capricorn copper project, which is a joint venture between EMR Capital and Lighthouse Minerals; it secured itself "prescribed project" status in 2017.

Other privately owned projects include Round Oak's Barbara project (in care and maintenance), Chinese-backed CuDECO's Rockland copper project (mothballed, CuDECO in liquidation) and Chinova's Osborne mine — which was originally set up by Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN,OTCQX:IVPAF). There's also the Balcooma mine, which Royal Gold (NASDAQ:RGLD) has copper royalties on, and the privately owned Mount Cuthbert mine.

Many of the mentioned projects ran into trouble in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting company operations.

All in all, Queensland has 13 operational copper mines, but as can be seen many are in private hands, making investment opportunities somewhat slim. Aside from previously mentioned Glencore operations, there's Red River Resources (ASX:RVR,OTC Pink:RRRDF), which owns the Thalanga operations near Charters Towers. Red River acquired Thalanga in 2014, and has been working to develop the legacy site back into a viable investment.

From the beginning of production in 2017, the operations have a lifespan of some 10 years, according to Red River, with further development and exploration options on the table. In its most recent quarterly report, Thalanga reported output of 3,086 tonnes of copper concentrate.

The remainder of the options on the table for investors are exploration focused, such as Copper Mountain Mining (ASX:C6C,OTC Pink:CPPMF) with interests in the Eva copper project, which is — unsurprisingly — in the northwest of the state, near the town of Cloncurry. Eva is in the development phase, with a feasibility study completed in early 2020 envisaging a 15 year mine life with an annual expected output of 106 million pounds of copper equivalent.

There's also Global Energy Metals (TSXV:GEMC,OTCQB:GBLEF), which like Glencore isn't on the ASX, but has interests in the Millenium cobalt-copper-gold project and others near Mount Isa — all in the exploration stage.

Aside from that, Strategic Energy Resources (ASX:SER) acquired exploration licences from Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF) in May 2021 for licences around Mount Isa, and Zenith Minerals (ASX:ZNC) is exploring the Develin Creek copper-zinc project. Zenith recently divested from another copper project, Flannagans, in June 2021 by selling its interests to a private company for $450,000.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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