27 January 2015
The Northern Territory’s last operating iron ore mine has ground to a halt, wrapping up what has been a disastrous six months for the sector in the Top End.
After months of speculation, the Frances Creek mine near Pine Creek has now stopped production, joining Sherwin Iron and Western Desert Resources which went into voluntary administration last year.
Terry O’Connor, from the Darwin Port Corporation, said the collapse of the Territory’s iron ore sector was a big blow for the port.
“The iron ore trade was our biggest customer in terms of return to the port and its [collapse, has left] a significant hole in our budget,” he said.
“Our understanding, at this stage, is that the plan is to finish up the operation at Frances Creek, [but] they still believe there’s a chance they may recommence [mining] at some stage in 12 months or so.
“[However] our feeling is, it’ll take a significant amount of time to remobilise and get everything to happen, so we certainly don’t expect to see any new exports of iron ore out of Frances Creek before this time next year or even 18 months at the earliest.
“We’d like to think they’ll come back. But it’s demand driven, we understand that. There’s always peaks and troughs and this is a trough at the moment.”
Mr O’Connor said the last loads of iron ore from Frances Creek were delivered to the port in late December.
He said there were about 250,000 tonnes stockpiled at the port, to be exported over the coming months.
From a workforce of over 300, it is understood there are now just 20 workers left at the Frances Creek project and that number will be reduced again in the coming weeks.
The plunging iron ore price, which sparked problems for all three Top End iron mines, has dipped below $US65 a tonne, its lowest point since 2009.
Mining town of Pine Creek suffering
Ray Wooldridge has lived in the mining town of Pine Creek since 1991 and has seen plenty of ups and downs.
He said the mothballing of Territory Iron’s Frances Creek project has hit the town hard.
“If you take a workforce of 300 people out of a town of about 600, it has a dramatic effect,” he said.
“Most of the people [who worked at the mine] have gone, there’s been fire sales and those who had housing or were renting have sold up and moved on.
“There’s quite a few empty houses in town now.”
The opening hours of many businesses in Pine Creek have been reduced and one of the licensed premises has decided to close for the wet season because there are so few people in town.
ABC Rural visited one bar at 6 o’clock on a Saturday, which was serving eight patrons.
“It’s getting very, very quiet” said the barmaid.
The planned shutdown of the Frances Creek iron ore mine was first reported by ABC Rural in July 2014.
The mining company, Territory Iron, has still not offered up anyone for a comment.