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Kurra Village dongas dismantled

Dongas at one of the most prominent and contentious mining camps in Western Australia’s Pilbara are finally being dismantled, more than three years after one of Australia’s major miners announced it would happen.

Controversy over the Kurra Village camp, built by BHP to house 500 transient fly-in fly-out workers in Newman during the state’s mining boom, heated up as questions began to be asked about the need for temporary accommodation.

Its history has been a tug of war between a desire to facilitate ongoing mining and a need to ensure the town’s own survival.

And it was at the heart of a rift between the former state Liberal government and its National Party allies in 2016.

Nine years after it was first built, tensions began to rise when Liberal premier Colin Barnett considered an application to renew the miner’s lease for another 20 years.

Then-Nationals leader and minister for regional development Terry Redman went head-to-head with the premier over the camp in 2016, and said he vehemently opposed an additional request by BHP to expand capacity to house 1,600 beds at the facility.

Mr Redman argued workers should be put into housing where they could engage with Newman’s community.

As pressure was mounting in July 2016, together with then-Member for the Pilbara Brendon Grylls, Mr Redman was in Newman to announce a hospital redevelopment for the town.

It was there the duo met face-to-face with BHP’s newly appointed WA iron ore assets president Edgar Basto, and within days BHP announced the camp’s closure.

At the time, Mr Grylls said the pressure from the Nationals had resulted in a “very important victory” for Newman and the party.

“When the fight needs to be had, there’s only one political team that’s doing it,” The West Australian reported Mr Grylls as saying.

A BHP statement at the time said closing the camp was a “good commercial move”, as well as providing the best outcome for employees.

The closure was set to be completed by the end of 2016 with workers set to move to town accommodation and third-party facilities.

BHP also said local businesses would provide employees with meals and recreational facilities.

What took so long?

The victory was short lived as BHP continued to state that capital works were holding up the move.

A six-month delay in the closure was reported in April of 2017, and in November of the same year BHP told local media that delays could continue well into 2018.

In August of 2018, BHP again issued a statement to local media which said capital works to two sites it had purchased were ongoing and closure could not be completed until then.

In the time between the closure announcement and the final closure, a number of short-term extensions for Kurra Village were signed by the State Government.

Two Newman caravan parks, Kalgan’s Rest and Whaleback Village, were purchased by BHP to replace the village and to accommodate workers, with a set of units already owned by the miner also slated for the workers.

The Whaleback Village has short-term accommodation available to tourists.

The Shire of East Pilbara had been promised a parcel of land as part of the Kurra Village closure plan which it intended to turn into a short-stay caravan park, according to the Shire’s CEO Jeremy Edwards.

“The details of that haven’t been worked out, but I think it’s fair to say the intention of council is not to look at high costs for short-term caravans,” Mr Edwards said last year.

“What we want is people to come into Newman and to stay for two or three days … and to be seen as a bit of a gateway to Karijini and some of the north-west.”

In a statement to the ABC last month, a BHP spokeswoman said Kalgan’s Rest and Whaleback Village were now operational and housing workers, and that the dismantling of Kurra Village was finally underway.

The spokeswoman said infrastructure from Kurra would be repurposed as well as donated to community development projects.

But the saga of Kurra Village, and the tussle over housing of temporary workers, is likely to continue.

Shire president Lynne Craigie said she understood that even with the completion of the new facilities, BHP would still be very short of housing for staff.

 

Original Article by the ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-04/newman-kurra-village-dongas-finally-being-dismantled/11840168

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