Mining History in Yilgarn north of Southern Cross

North of Southern Cross, in the Yilgarn Shire and Central Yilgarn (Craton), there was exploration for gold during the late 1880s and 1890s (thought to be first discovered in 1887). Some of the larger gold mines included Frasers at Southern Cross, Copperhead at Bullfinch and Marvel Loch south of Southern Cross. Prospecting for gold also occurred further north such as at Mt Jackson and Mt Manning. Gold mining in the Yilgarn Shire spand ninety years, from 1888 to 1978 with peak activity in the 1930s when gold prices increased and then in the period 1952 to 1963.

Mineral exploration for iron ore by BHP began in the 1950s at Koolyanobbing and Helena and Aurora Range. An iron ore mine was established at Koolyanobbing by BHP in the 1960s to provide iron ore for a BHP steel rolling mill at Kwinana. The Koolyanobbing town site, which serviced the Koolyanobbing mine, was gazetted in 1965. The mine at Koolyanobbing was closed down in 1983. Ten years later after the closure of the mine, in 1993/1994, the iron ore mine at Koolyanobbing was re-opened by Portman Iron Ore Limited (now Cliffs Asia Pacific Pty Ltd).

Mining north of Southern Cross since the year 2000

The Koolyanobbing mine operations were expanded in 2004 to include two new mines at Windarling and Mt Jackson, enabling the blending of their high grade ore with the lower grade ore at Koolyanobbing to meet market requirements. The ore being mined at Koolyanobbing, Mt Jackson and Windarling is haemetite.

Proposals for the new mines at Windarling, Mt Jackson in 2001, originally included Bungalbin Hill. The proposal for a mine at Bungalbin Hill was later removed from the PER (Public Environmental Review).

In more recent years (2011), an iron ore mine has been developed at Carina, by Polaris Metals Pty Ltd (Polaris Metals), located south of Helena and Aurora Range. Helena and Aurora Range (Bungalbin) is included within the Polaris Metals 'Yilgarn Iron Ore Project'.

Exports of iron ore from the Central Yilgarn north of Southern Cross

Iron ore is currently exported from the central Yilgarn (north of Southern Cross) via the Esperance Port for Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore Pty Ltd, and the Kwinana Bulk Terminal (Perth) for Polaris Metals Pty Ltd. Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore Pty Ltd (Cliffs) transports its iron ore to Esperance via the transcontinental railway line and the Leonora-Esperance standard gauge railway line. Polaris Metals Pty Ltd (Polaris Metals) transports its iron ore to Kwinana via the transcontinental railway line.

Prior to 2000, the Esperance Port had approval to export 2 million tonnes of iron ore per year. In early 2002, the Esperance Port was upgraded so that it could handle larger ships (Cape size vessels up to 200,000 tonnes and fully loaded Panamax size vessels up to 75,000 tonnes), thereby being able to export the increased tonnage of iron ore being mined by Portman Pty Ltd (now Cliffs). After the upgrade, the Esperance Port became the deepest port in southern Australia. The tonnage of iron ore exported by the Esperance Port increased such that for the 2006 financial year, iron ore exports from Esperance totalled 5,998,309 tonnes (5.9 million tonnes). During the following three financial years, 2007 to 2009 the export tonnage ranged from 7,392,929 (2009) to 7,572,075 (2007) tonnes. In 2010, there was close to a 2 million tonnes increase in iron ore exports to 9.2 million tonnes. In 2012-2013 this is expected to increase to 11.5 million tonnes. Further upgrades are planned for the railway infrastructure and the need and support for the Esperance Port to be a multi user iron ore handling facility is being researched.

These potential developments are likely to be in response to the recent strong interest of other mining companies in establishing iron ore mines in the Central Yilgarn.


  • Brooker, Lesley (2006) Explorers routes revisited: expedition eastward from Northam: by the Dempster brothers, Clarkson, Harper and Correll, July-August 1861. Hesperian Press, Carlisle, Western Australia.
  • Hunt, Lyall (1988) Yilgarn: good country for hardy people: the landscape and people of the Yilgarn Shire, Western Australia.Yilgarn Shire and Western Australian College of Advanced Education. Southern Cross, Western Australia. (available from Yilgarn Shire for purchase and located in Curtin University Library and Edith Cowan University Library)
  • Duggan, Michael and Wake, Ian (2010) Koolyanobbing Place of Large Rocks and Big Hearts. Duggan Wake, Victoria Point, Queensland.
  • Department of Industry and Resources (2008) Strategic review of an iron ore inductry in the Yilgarn Region (with focus on the Midwest). Regional setting and benefits, Mineral prospectivity, Economic benefits, Social benefits and impact. In, Government of Western Australia (2008) Strategic review of the conservation and resource values of the banded iron formation of the Yilgarn Craton. 28 August 2008.
  • Shire of Yilgarn website, viewed January 2012;
  • Wikipedia, viewed October 2011;
  • Australia For Everyone website, viewed January 2012.
  • Esperance Ports Sea and Land website; December 2011.
  • The Esperance Port is overseen by the Esperance Ports Sea and Land, a corporate body that operates under the Port Authorities Act 1999.
  • Esperance Port Authority Environmental Referral Document (2005) Revised Proposal to increase iron ore exports to 8 million tonnes per year. Document no. 04-08.
Upload Images: 

Share Your Experiences

Help Conserve Helena & Aurora Range

Subscribe Join our mailing list