What will it take to pull Australia’s powerhouse, Port Hedland, out of the cultural dust?
On the main street of Port Hedland in Western Australia’s north-west, there’s not a lot going on.
Red dust is baked into the pavement, the cafes are quiet and the footpath is devoid of people.
It’s not what you would expect from the powerhouse of the national economy; a town pumping out $300 million in exports from its port every day, generating around $120 billion annually.
The Karratha comparison
The closest town to Port Hedland is Karratha at about 230 kilometres away — just up the road by Pilbara standards.
Both towns have a population of about 16,000, but the contrast between the two hubs is stark.
“We get upset when we travel to Karratha because that’s what Hedland should be like … they’ve got nice cafes, parks, breweries,” Port Hedland local Yarna Vujevich said.
Why is Hedland left in the dust?
Locals and experts have pointed to myriad issues for what they see as Hedland’s failure to thrive.
Carl Askew, the chief executive of the Town of Port Hedland, said changing the equation would require the community’s trust as well as more funding.
“The task for us is to look at how we build those relationships with government at all levels, with industry, with business, to look at how we build up a great town.”
Next generation key to livable city
Ashley Dwyer leads Hedland Youth Voice and is committed to making his home a better place for young people.
The 17-year-old is also completing Year 12, studying construction at TAFE, and hopes to be a youth mentor when he graduates.
He said there were ample opportunities for young people in Hedland — but not diverse ones.
“Because we don’t have a uni here, it makes it tough for kids who want to go away and study, because having that separation from family can really take a burden on some kids.”
For Ashley, youth facilities are key to making Hedland a more vibrant, livable town.
“[We need] more places where youth can go.”
Focusing on young people would curb the crime rate too, he said.
“Having facilities where youth can go to actually live life and be free, to steer them away from any trouble [is key].”
It’s a view shared by newly elected Port Hedland councillor Jason Keller.
Local theatre invests in future
On weekday afternoons in Port Hedland, something “for the kids” is in full swing.
The Matt Dann Theatre and Cinema near the high school is alive with the noise of 60 children and adults singing and dancing.
They are rehearsing as part of HATch, Hedland’s amateur all-ages theatre group, newly formed and a first for the town.
Artistic director Elise Batchelor said initiatives such as HATch bolstered community spirit and ultimately made Hedland a better place to live.
“There are a group of people here who up until two years ago would have had nowhere to go on a Wednesday afternoon, no spot for them in the town.
But even in the theatre, the Karratha comparison could not be ignored — Hedland thespians envied the neighbouring town’s huge new arts precinct.
“We would love a brand new arts complex; in terms of the cultural things, that would be the number-one ticket for us,” Ms Batchelor said.
“Something new and big and exciting would breathe a massive amount of life into this community.”
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