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Looking back on 2023

A lot can happen in the space of a year – especially in a region as big as the Pilbara! 

In a twist on our usual weekly blog, this week’s edition is a wrap of some of the news that has caught our eye over the past 12 months. From local community events to the halls of Parliament House in Canberra and a lot of spots in between, this is RDA Pilbara’s take on 2023. 

A growing role in the Pilbara  While 2023 has been extremely busy for RDA Pilbara, it’s also been very rewarding. There seems to be a nearly endless stream of events and projects in the pipeline for the Pilbara, which is a great pointer to the vast community and economic development that lies ahead. We’re very appreciative of the diverse range of organisations which are choosing to engage with RDA Pilbara as they embark on initiatives that will help shape our region’s future.  

The past year has delivered a number of milestones for RDA Pilbara. The first skilled worker arrived in Karratha in January under the Pilbara Direct Area Migration Agreement (and there is now consideration to expanding the program to the Shire of Ashburton – see more below). The second half of the year brought completion of the groundbreaking water management project we managed at Bullara Station as part of the Pilbara Drought Node. Meanwhile, the RDA Pilbara Grant Hub, a one-stop online shop for a wide range of government grants launched on our website in August. We also continued to deliver the very important West Pilbara Communities for Children Initiative, which is aimed at creating child-friendly communities and healthy young families, supporting families and parents, early learning, and school transition and engagement. 

RDA Pilbara travelled widely in 2023 to engage with communities and other key stakeholders. And while the majority of this travel was within our wonderful region, there was occasionally a need to venture further afield – with participation at Showcase WA and the Regions Rising Nation Summit in Canberra being particular highlights. The opportunity to promote the Pilbara on the national stage was extremely valuable and we were delighted to be able to support a great local business in Ngurrangga Tours with their participation in Showcase WA. 

Over the past two months we have been thrilled to add two new members to the RDA Pilbara Committee: Sean-Paul Stephens and Ryley Heap. Sean-Paul is the CEO of Traditional Owner organisation, the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation Ltd (NYFL) Group, while Ryley is the Senior Economic Development Officer at the Town of Port Hedland. Both are already bringing a lot to their new-ish roles on our Committee. 

2023, year of the plane? 

Well, perhaps not quite – but the past year does seem to have featured quite a bit of aviation-related news in the Pilbara. 

This included the first ever commercial passenger jet to land in Marble Bar and the very popular opening of Port Hedland’s newly upgraded airport facilities (already an award-winner). 

Speaking of award-winners, July saw Nexus Airlines land in Karratha for the first time as part of a Geraldton-Karratha-Port Hedland-Broome flight network that is improving connectivity through WA's North West. Nexus went on to be judged as Best New Tourism Business at the WA Tourism Awards. 

And who could forget the day in November when two F-35A fighter jets from the RAF staged a flyover of Dampier, Karratha, Robebourne and Wickham? A real thrill for the kids...big and little!  

Pilbara businesses up in lights  There’s been no shortage of Pilbara businesses recognised with prestigious awards in 2023. 


We’ve already directly referenced two and mentioned a third: Port Hedland International Airport (Australia Airports Association National Industry Awards, Best Regional Airport), Nexus Airlines and Ngurrangga Tours. 


Ngurrangga Tours was one of the stars of the WA Tourism Awards, not only winning A Gold Medal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Experiences but also receiving the biggest award of the night, the David Brand Award (for which all winners were eligible). Congratulations to Clinton Walker and his team. A third Pilbara business, Summerstar Tourist Parks Tom Price won a Gold Medal for Caravan & Holiday Parks. 


The Pilbara featured prominently in the WA Tidy Town Awards, with the Ieramugadu Store Maya in Roebourne (run by the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation Ltd) recognised as the winner for Community Action and Wellbeing. Meanwhile, Paraburdoo took out the General Appearance award for its treelined entry, multipurpose courts facility, Red Dog Puppy Sculpture and commitment to removing invasive weeds. 


Last but not least, the Pilbara was judged to have the State’s best steak sandwich in the State for the second year in a row following the victory of North West Brewing Co at the Australian Hotels Association WA Awards. 


 Pilbara’s 'dinosaur' wombat gets international attention 

It’s hard to think of a more fascinating story to emerge in the Pilbara this year than the major paleontology dig at Du Boulay Creek, north-east of Mardie. 


The focus of the excavation was several skeletons of Diprotodon, a supersized relative of the wombat and koala, which is the largest marsupial known to have lived and believed to have grown to lengths of up to 3.8m while weighing nearly three tonnes. 


The globally significant fossils were thought to have been in place for tens of thousands of years and were first discovered in 1991. However, the increasing risk of damage from flooding made their immediate removal critical. 


The Pilbara is no stranger to international attention but the global spotlight from fossil fans on the excavation efforts of WA Museum, Murdoch University and CITIC Pacific Mining was something else. 

Pilbara plays host to big events  There were plenty of big events on the Pilbara calendar this year, with the 4th OECD Meeting of Mining Regions and Cities being held in Karratha in June and being followed less than two months later by the National Economic Development Conference. 

The annual Pilbara Summit in October was again sold out, attracting more than 600 delegates to the Red Earth Arts Precinct. 

The Summit is always an intriguing look into what’s happening in our region now and where it’s headed in the future and this year’s edition was no different: with growing investment in clean energy and associated partnership opportunities with Traditional Owners emerging as major themes. 

The 2024 Summit is set to be held in late June and it will be interesting to track progress on these themes and the projects that were highlighted at the 2023 event between now and then. 

A year of big political developments  Life in politics is rarely boring and 2023 delivered some significant change at a State level. 

The most high-profile development, of course, was the mid-year exit from politics of Mark McGowan, with Roger Cook becoming the 31st Premier of Western Australia. 

December brought another re-shuffle in the WA Cabinet, this time with direct Ministerial touchpoints to the Pilbara.   

The departure of long-term Minister Bill Johnston saw the Mines portfolio passed along to David Michael, who was already the Minister for Ports and Road Safety. 

Reece Whitby assumed the role of Minister for Energy, which he will combine with his Climate Change and Environment Portfolios. 

Meanwhile, Premier Cook has added to his positions as Minister for State and Industry Development, Jobs and Trade by becoming Minister for Hydrogen. The Premier has long had an interest in the development of a hydrogen hub in the Pilbara and we look forward to continuing to engage with him in his new role. 

The Guy who won't stop running!  One of the stories we most enjoyed following in 2023 was that of Guy Schweitzer, who left Port Hedland in late May bound for Brisbane. 

Nothing unusual in that, you might think, except for the fact Guy was running...the whole way! 

In an epic feat of endurance, he reached Brisbane in mid-August, nearly three months after he departed Spoilbank Marina, where his company MGN Civil had been undertaking contracting work. 

After some minor hiccups – including a short stop for medical attention and a detour owing to bad weather in Central Australia – Guy completed his nearly 5000km adventure at the Brisbane brewery that he and his wife Sonia operate. We imagine the beer tasted pretty good! 

Sporting dreams comes true  It’s always good to see youngsters from the Pilbara achieving on the national stage and there were some high-profile examples in 2023. 

Dampier-raised fast bowlers Josh Vernon and Mahli Beardman signed rookie contracts with the WA cricket team, while one-time Pilbara resident Chelsea Randall played her 50th AFLW game for the Adelaide Crows. 

One of the biggest sporting moments arrived late in the year, when Wickham Wolves product Lawson Humphries was drafted with the 63rd pick of the AFL National Draft by Geelong. Lawson had missed out in previous drafts and he was the second-last selection, so there was quite a bit of emotion attached to the moment. 

One last favour for 2023?  One final request for the year for a group of our valued stakeholders – the business community of the Shire of Ashburton. 

RDA Pilbara is seeking to find out if the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) for the Pilbara should be extended into Ashburton.   The DAMA currently provides businesses in the City of Karratha and the Town of Port Hedland with a mechanism to access overseas workers in prescribed occupations, who can address existing workforce shortages and support future workforce planning.   We're interested to hear the thoughts of businesses in the Shire of Ashburton about whether they would like to access the DAMA. Please give some thought to filling out the survey at the link below.   Access the survey:  More about the DAMA: 




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