Mining in Western Australia

Mining in Western Australia, together with the petroleum industry in the state, accounted for 94% of the State's and 46% of Australia's income from total merchandise exports in 2019–20. The state of Western Australia hosted 123 predominantly higher value and export-oriented mining projects and hundreds of smaller quarries and mines. The principal projects produced more than 99 per cent of the industry's total sales value.[2][3]

Mining in Western Australia
Tigris-Australia location Western Australia.svg
Position of Western Australia within Australia highlighted
StateWestern Australia
Regulatory authority
AuthorityDepartment of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
WebsiteDepartment of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
ValueIncrease A$145 billion
EmployeesIncrease 127,096 (mining)
1,256 (onshore petroleum)
Major commodity mix, 2008–2009.

Western Australia's mineral and petroleum industry, in 2019–20, had a value of $174 billion, up from $145 billion in 2018–19. The value of the mineral and petroleum industry in 2005–06 was $43 billion.[4][1]

Iron ore was, in 2019–20, the most important commodity in Western Australia, accounting for 60 percent of sales in the state's mineral and petroleum industry. The petroleum sector, consisting of oil and gas, followed in second place with 22 percent of the overall value. The third most important commodity in the state was gold, at $16 billion, 9.2 percent of the overall value. Alumina, nickel, and base metals (copper, lead and zinc) followed in order of importance, each achieving a value in excess of A$1 billion. Other major commodities included lithium, mineral sands, salt, coal, cobalt, rare earths, and diamonds.[2]

Employment in the Western Australian mining and petroleum industry has sharply increased over the last decade, from 85,163 in 2010, directly employing an average of 135,001 people during 2019–20. The largest employers were the iron ore (48.5%) and gold (23.4%) sectors.[2][5]

The industry's regulating authority in Western Australia is the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, renamed from the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) on 1 July 2017, which in turn replaced the Department of Industry and Resources (DOIR) on 1 January 2009. The department also produces the annual Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistic Digest and operates the MINDEX website, which is aimed at listing all current and former mining operations in the state.[6]


Mining transformed the Western Australian economy. Gold finds in the 1890s brought unprecedented numbers of people and amounts of capital to the state.

Gold mining declined after 1904, and Western Australia went through a painful period of structural adjustment over the course of the following three decades during which time two world wars, an international depression and a major drought complicated the state's economic development. Mining began to take off again in the 1930s, however at the time the state governments' focus was on agricultural expansion and manufacturing initiatives. The primary sector would experience strong growth until the early 1970s, after which it levelled off. More than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of marginal agricultural land was abandoned, and the government turned to mining as the state's main economic priority.

The period after 1945 has been characterised by the development of the state's mining sector into a world-scale industry and Western Australia's increasing access to the rest of the world. Communication and transport advances brought Western Australia much closer to the rest of the world, providing opportunities for local producers to access markets in other countries much more easily. On the other hand, overseas producers could access the Western Australian market relatively more readily. The outcome has been a highly specialised and trade-dependent Western Australian economy (with mining and mineral processing the dominant industries), using income derived to import many other goods and services.

The state's second major resource boom was stimulated when, in 1960, the Commonwealth Government lifted the iron ore export embargo that had been in place since 1938.[7] Demand was fuelled by the buoyant Japanese economy and Japanese, American and British investment flowed into the state. While Asia had previously been a market for Western Australian products (notably sandalwood and wool), the export of iron ore to Japan marked a fundamental shift in Western Australia's trade dynamic and paved the way for the development of Asia as the state's most important trading region.

Prior to the resurgence of the resource sector, economic conditions had been relatively subdued, with constant-price household income per capita roughly the same in 1960–61 as in 1948–49. However, the mining boom caused income per capita to more than double by 1973–74. Importantly, while iron ore was (and remains) a significant component of the mining industry, one important aspect of the resources boom in the 1960s that set it apart from the gold rush, was the diversity of commodities being mined. There were major discoveries of nickel, petroleum, bauxite and alumina, which all developed into significant industries in the 1960s and 1970s. There was also a major revival in the mining of gold in the 1980s, stimulated by price increases associated with the end of the gold standard in 1971, high inflation throughout the 1970s and new processing technology.


  • 1848: Lead ore was found by explorer James Perry Walcott, a member of A.C. Gregory's party, near Northampton
  • 1863: Lead and copper ores represent 14% of the colony's total annual exports, exceeded only by wool and sandalwood
  • 1877: Copper and lead ores are the colony's second largest export, still at 14% of the total, after wool
  • 1885: The colony's first gold rush at Halls Creek in the Kimberley district
  • 1887: The Yilgarn gold rush around Southern Cross
  • 1892: Arthur Bailey and William Ford discover gold at Fly Flat near Coolgardie
  • 17 June 1893: Paddy Hannan discovers gold near Kalgoorlie, sparking Western Australia's gold rush
  • 1899: Sir John Forrest, the first Premier of Western Australia, saw the importance of gold in the development of Western Australia's economy, and successfully lobbied the British Government to establish a branch of the Royal Mint in Perth
  • 1934: A lease was assigned over iron ore deposits at Koolan Island in Yampi Sound off the coast of the Kimberley to the Nippon Mining Company backed by the Japanese government.
  • 1935–39: High gold prices encourage investment
  • 1937: Public and government outcry when Nippon Mining proposed not to use Australian labour but to send its own engineers to construct the Koolan Island mine.
  • 1939–45: Labour shortages as a result of the Second World War caused many mines to cease operation, and following the war, many did not re-open.
  • 1938: Commonwealth government enacts iron ore export embargo[7] The stated reason for the embargo was doubt as to the adequacy of Australian iron ore resources for Australia's own needs.[8]
  • 1940: Extensive survey of iron ore deposits determined only two were commercially viable, one being the Yampi Sound Group.[8]
  • 1948: Bureau of Mineral Resources combined with the WA Department of Mines to carry out systematic geological and geophysical surveys in the North West, mostly seeking oil.
  • 1960: Commonwealth Government lifts iron ore export embargo
  • 1964: Oil discovered on Barrow Island.
  • 1967: Oil production on Barrow Island begins.
  • 1969–1970: Poseidon nickel boom
  • 1977: Premier Sir Charles Court agreed with Alcoa Australia to take a designated quota of the gas in return for permission to build a third alumina refinery at Wagerup.
  • 1981: The Western Australian Government negotiated an agreement to allow development of the large natural gas reserves on the North West Shelf.
  • 1987: Global stock market crash
  • 1989: First liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo exported to Japan in 1989.
  • 2008: Global financial crisis - the mining industry placed Australia in a strong economic and fiscal position ahead of the crisis, and helped accelerate the post-crisis recovery[9]
  • August 2009: Gorgon Consortium signs $50 billion contract with PetroChina for gas extraction from the fields around Barrow Island.

Major commoditiesEdit

Iron oreEdit

Iron ore mining in Western Australia, in the financial year 2018–19, accounted for 54 percent of the total value of the state's resources exports, with a value of A$78.2 billion. The overall value of the mineral and petroleum industry in Western Australia was A$145 billion in 2018–19.[1] Production of iron ore in Western Australia in 2018–19 was 794 million tonnes (1.8 trillion pounds), down on the previous year's 839 million tonnes (1.8 trillion pounds) of ore, however due to improved iron ore prices, sales of $78.2 billion were up 26 per cent on the previous year, setting a new record for iron ore sales values. The bulk of Western Australian ore went to China, which imported 82 percent of the 2018–19 production, followed by Japan with 7.9 percent.[1]

In the calendar year 2019, the Western Australian Government received A$4.9 billion in royalties from the iron ore mining industry in the state, 288% more than a decade ago in 2009.[5][1]

Iron ore mining in Western Australia is predominantly, but not exclusively, carried out in the Pilbara region, which produced ore in value of A$76.8 billion in 2018–19, 98 percent of the total for the state.[1]


Petroleum production was valued at valued at $38.4 billion in 2018–19, an increase of 45 per cent from $26.5 billion in 2017–18.[1]

LNG was the state's most valuable petroleum product, accounting for 20 per cent of all mineral and petroleum sales in 2018–19. Sales reached a record 37.9 million tonnes (84 billion pounds), with values rising from A$18.9 billion in 2017–18 to A$29 billion in 2018–19 (A$6.3 billion in 2009). In 2018–19 crude oil production was down 34 percent to 3.2 gigalitres (20 million barrels), while condensate increased 60 percent to 11.4 gigalitres (3.0 billion US gallons) over the previous year.[1]


The history of gold mining in Western Australia dates back to the 1880s but took on some larger dimensions in the 1890s, after gold discoveries at Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893. It reached an early peak in 1903, experienced a golden era in the 1930s and a revival in the mid-1980s. In between, the industry declined a number of times, particularly during the two world wars, experiencing an absolute low point in 1976.[10]

In 2018–2019, gold production in the state was steady on the previous year, at 211 tonnes (6.8 million troy ounces), 6.4% of world production, although an improving gold price delivered a 4.6 percent increase in value, from $11.4 billion in 2017–18, to a record annual value of $11.9 billion.[1][11]


Western Australia accounts for 67 per cent of Australia’s alumina production. The Darling Range in the state's southwest contains considerable deposits of bauxite, which are mined by Alcoa and Worsley Alumina for the production of alumina.

Alcoa's first bauxite mine at Jarrahdale was opened in 1963 to service the Kwinana alumina refinery. 168 million tonnes (370 billion pounds) of bauxite was mined from Jarrahdale until its closure in 1998. The Huntly mine was established in the early 1970s to supply bauxite for both the Kwinana and Pinjarra refineries. Willowdale mine was established in 1984, near Waroona. It supplies bauxite ore to the Wagerup Alumina Refinery.[12]

Worsley Alumina constructed a bauxite mine site and refinery in the early 1980s, with the mine located near Boddington. The bauxite is transported by a 51-kilometre (32 mi) conveyor belt to the refinery at Worsley. Following an A$1 billion expansion in 2000, Worsley now export 4.4 million tonnes (9.7 billion pounds) of alumina.[1][13]

Production of alumina and bauxite was a record 15.4 million tonnes (34 billion pounds) in 2018–19. The value of the alumina and bauxite sector increased 25 per cent from $6.6 billion in 2017–18 to $8.3 billion in 2018–19. The state's largest export markets for alumina are United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, South Africa and Mozambique.[1]


The Western Australian nickel industry suffered from falling international prices in 2009. Nickel production had been reasonably steady, the value of the industry had decreased from a peak A$6.9 billion in 2007 to under 3.3 billion in 2009. Also, the number of employees fell from a peak 13,307 in 2008 to 7,561 in 2009.[5]

A large number of nickel mines in the state were placed in care and maintenance at the end of 2008 because of falling international prices.[14]

The discovery in Kambalda, Western Australia in 1966, Mount Windarra in 1969 and Agnew in 1971 coinciding with rising world nickel prices and a prolonged strike at a major nickel in Canada,[clarification needed] meant that the discoveries were rapidly developed, bringing about a "nickel boom" between 1967 and 1971.

Base metalsEdit

The value of base metals production in the state declined by 12 percent in 2009.[5] The largest base metals producing mine in Western Australia is the Golden Grove Mine near Yalgoo.[14]


Western Australian output of copper increased by ten percent in 2009, having grown from just over 34,000 tonnes (75 million pounds) per annum in 2000 to 142,490 tonnes (310 million pounds) by 2009,[5] with a brief dip in production in 2004 due to the closure of the Lennard Shelf mine.[15] In 2009 however, world copper prices fell by 26 percent, causing the industry in the state to lose 11 percent of its value.[5]


Lead mining in Western Australia experienced a boom in 2009, almost doubling its production. This was caused by the reopening of the Magellan mine, ner Wiluna. Overall, the state's lead production in the last 20 years has been varied, reaching a peak of 91,380 tonnes (200 million pounds) in 2001, falling to 1,170 tonnes (2.6 million pounds) in 2004 because of the closure of the Lennard Shelf mine,[15] before reaching another peak in 2006 and a low in 2008.[5]


Zinc experienced a drop in production and prices in 2009, output in Western Australia falling by 33 percent and the value of the industry decreasing by 35 percent.[5] Because of the close association in nature of zinc and lead ores, zinc has experienced the same variations in production as lead in recent decades.[15]


Coal in Western Australia is currently, as of 2019, mined at Collie, where two mines are operating. Ninety percent of all coal mined at Collie is used in power stations, the remainder in the mineral sands production. While a small amount of Western Australian coal has been exported to India and China in recent years, the majority goes to the coal-fired power stations, mainly located in the Collie area.[5]

Coal production in the state has been quite steady in the past decade, with the 2019 production of 6.3 million tonnes (14 billion pounds) being only four percent less than in 2009. Like production, the value of the Western Australian coal industry has remained reasonably constant, too, with a slight increase in sales to A$319 million in 2019.[5][1]


The bulk of diamonds produced in Western Australia originate from the Argyle diamond mine, located in the far north of the state. The mine produces around 20 percent of the global diamond output and commenced mining in 1985. The mine's most famous product is its pink diamonds, of which it produces around 90 percent of the world's supply, which is, however, only one percent of the mine's overall production. Apart from Argyle, there is only one other operating diamond mine in the state, the Ellendale mine, located 100 kilometres (62 mi) east of Derby, which opened in 2002. Ellendale produces the rare yellow diamonds.[5]

In 2009, sale volumes for diamonds fell by 44 percent while the value of the industry in the state decreased by 53 percent in comparison to 2008.[5]


In 2019-2020 over 90% of all salt produced in Australia came from Western Australia. Of the state's production, 66 percent originated from Rio Tinto's operations at Dampier, Port Hedland and Lake MacLeod in the Pilbara. Other mining locations in the state include Mitsui & Co.'s Onslow and Useless Loop (Shark Bay) mines (33% of production), with minor production from Lake Deborah near Koolyanobbing.[2]

While the overall salt production in Western Australia dropped by 4 percent in 2019-2020, to 11.2 million tonnes, the value of the industry increased by 24 percent, to A$375 million, due to increased prices.


No uranium mining currently takes place in the state.[16] Five projects are in the approval process but none of these projects are progressing to production in the short term given the low uranium price.

These five projects are as follows, with Lake Maitland, Lake Way and Yeelirrie located within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of Wiluna.[17]

  1. The Lake Maitland uranium project,
  2. Toro Energy's Lake Way uranium project,
  3. Cameco's Yeelirrie uranium project,
  4. Cameco's Kintyre uranium project, and
  5. Vimy Resources' Mulga Rocks uranium project.

Although no uranium mining is currently taking place, Western Australia is proposed for permanent disposal of nuclear waste from around the world.[18][19][20]


In the past decade, from 2001 to 2010, 42 employees have lost their lives in the state's mining industry. Of those, gold and iron ore have been the most dangerous, with 14 fatalities each, followed by nickel, with nine. Of the 42 fatalities, 29 have occurred at the surface and 13 in underground mining.[21]

Since 1943, the year the Department of Mines records date back to, to 2010, 657 work-related fatalities have occurred in the mining industry in the state.[21]


Annual statistics for the Western Australian mining industry:[5][15][22][23][24][25]


Commodities measured in million tonnes per annum:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Iron ore 158.87 162.25 171.77 194.75 215.85 244.64 250.40 264.45 305.72 341.64
Alumina 10.0 10.75 11.0 11.23 10.99 11.35 11.87 12.17 12.25 12.42
Salt 7.71 8.58 9.17 9.75 10.4 11.48 10.72 10.39 11.49 9.55
Coal 6.2 6.2 6.26 6.03 6.31 6.41 7.25 5.81 6.73 6.56

Commodities measured in tonnes per annum:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Nickel 153,510 181,170 183,000 190,210 174,700 191,710 175,180 161,010 187,790 171,970
Copper 34,040 50,240 64,290 58,780 42,680 83,880 99,960 119,410 129,530 142,490
Zinc 257,720 210,840 218,800 174,550 51,780 63,610 138,840 180,730 156,010 104,690
Lead 73,080 91,380 70,400 56,490 1,170 30,270 74,850 42,020 13,780 26,700
Cobalt 3,590 4,260 4,700 5,170 4,550 4,590 5,130 4,730 4,780 4,629

Commodities measured in million carats per annum:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Diamonds 42.3 21.68 34.37 35.48 24.23 34.31 17.07 23.54 21.24 11.9

Commodities measured in kilogram per annum:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Gold 199,500 192,200 188,860 187,500 164,420 169,830 163,840 152,690 131,824 142,519


Commodities at an annual production value of A$ billion:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Iron ore 4.365 5.245 5.064 5.061 6.173 11.308 14.751 16.165 31.896 28.085
Gold 3.08 3.24 3.46 3.37 2.94 3.15 4.24 4.07 4.39 5.66
Alumina 3.188 3.767 3.339 3.14 3.179 3.656 4.767 4.704 4.901 3.594
Nickel 2.243 2.075 2.243 2.68 3.261 3.484 5.844 6.958 4.059 3.281

Commodities at an annual production value of A$ million:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Copper 82.61 120.71 145.49 145.09 160.94 434.71 917.78 1,018.75 1,041.6 923.58
Mineral Sands 862.93 909.22 855.87 760.75 749.08 880.37 883.67 780.28 797.89 620.61
Salt 197.32 249.24 250.53 197.01 185.08 213.78 241.64 229.6 276.72 432.44
Coal 257.84 258.21 266.4 266.41 281.91 283.26 317.9 265.15 305.5 308.16
Diamonds 713.68 499.53 650.34 661.86 414.81 740.1 446.9 555.0 490.71 230.0
Zinc 290.11 208.72 173.06 139.73 57.78 118.91 607.12 695.54 329.13 213.47
Cobalt 157.66 146.27 118.95 145.04 262.18 166.95 220.43 343.08 378.71 178.9
Lead 25.76 44.90 32.69 24.32 0.31 41.17 130.61 115.57 32.61 44.33


Employment figures for the major commodities and overall figures for the complete mining industry:

Commodity 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Iron ore 8,604 9,103 9,289 11,184 12,585 13,727 16,203 18,387 23,185 26,051
Gold 10,879 11,938 12,653 12,801 13,398 12,121 12,314 13,733 14,459 16,686
Alumina 6,706 6,569 6,633 7,015 7,613 9,711 8,967 8,559 8,201 8,212
Nickel 5,038 5,160 4,699 5,714 6,704 9,423 10,583 12,736 13,307 7,561
Mineral Sands 2,243 2,338 2,170 2,224 2,435 2,789 2,914 2,840 2,670 1,934
Diamonds 940 1,009 1,101 1,094 1,397 1,479 1,614 1,863 2,218 1,602
Base Metals 1,331 1,301 1,295 1,100 888 670 912 2,241 2,242 1,456
Salt 698 699 648 658 679 853 838 865 867 778
Coal 709 677 649 641 651 716 771 808 897 725
Overall 39,028 40,870 41,288 44,392 48,385 53,598 57,053 64,608 71,225 70,063

Official reportsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2018–19" (pdf). Department of Mines and Petroleum. East Perth, WA: Government of Western Australia. 2019. Retrieved 1 April 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c d Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2019–20 (PDF). Perth, WA: Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Government of Western Australia. 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "International Merchandise Trade, Preliminary, Australia". Belconnen, ACT: Australian Bureau of Statistics. 23 February 2021. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  4. ^ Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2017–18 (PDF). Perth, WA: Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Government of Western Aus8ralia. 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistic Digest 2010 Department of Mines and Petroleum website, accessed: 5 March 2021
  6. ^ Department of Industry and Resources Restructure Archived 11 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine accessed: 27 October 2010
  7. ^ a b "EMBARGO ON IRON ORE". The Argus. Melbourne. 24 March 1938. p. 1. Retrieved 31 October 2012 – via National Library of Australia. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ a b Archived 21 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Fact check: Did the mining boom play no role in staving off a recession during the global financial crisis?". ABC News. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Mining towns of Western Australia, page: 48, accessed: 5 February 2010
  11. ^ Sheaffer, Kristin N. (20 January 2020). "Gold" (PDF). Mineral commodity summaries 2020. Reston, Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1-4113-4362-7. Retrieved 28 February 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Alcoa in Australia: Mining". Retrieved 11 December 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Worsley Alumina: About Us". Archived from the original on 15 December 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ a b Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistic Digest 2008-09 Department of Mines and Petroleum website, accessed: 26 November 2010
  15. ^ a b c d Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2004 Department of Mines and Petroleum, accessed: 9 December 2010
  16. ^ Michael Lampard. "Uranium Outlook to 2013-14". Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Archived from the original on 13 October 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2009.
  17. ^ Toro gets approval for uranium project The Sydney Morning Herald, published: 7 January 2010, accessed: 13 February 2011
  18. ^ Quaggin, Lucy (28 October 2019). "Flashpoint: The plan to dump nuclear waste in Western Australia". Seven News. Seven West Media. Retrieved 7 October 2020. Western Australia’s Goldfields region is being proposed as a potential site for dumping the world’s nuclear waste.
  19. ^ Lysaght, Gary-Jon (12 March 2019). "Outback WA council keeps hand raised for nuclear waste facility, as legal action halts progress on SA sites". Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  20. ^ Zaunmayr, Tom (30 October 2019). "Shire of Leonora deputy president says no thanks to foreign nuclear waste pitch". Kalgoorlie Miner. Retrieved 7 October 2020. The Leonora community has little interest in becoming a dumping ground for the world’s nuclear waste despite claims from industry of a multi-billion dollar economic windfall.
  21. ^ a b Western Australian mining fatalities database Archived 25 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine accessed: 19 February 2011
  22. ^ Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2008 Department of Mines and Petroleum, accessed: 9 December 2010
  23. ^ Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2006 Department of Mines and Petroleum, accessed: 9 December 2010
  24. ^ Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2002 Department of Mines and Petroleum, accessed: 10 December 2010
  25. ^ Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest 2001 Department of Mines and Petroleum, accessed: 10 December 2010

Further readingEdit

  • Prider, Rex T., ed. (1979). Mining in Western Australia. Sesquicentenary celebrations series. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 0855641533.

External linksEdit