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Wittenoom, Western Australia

Western Australia
Population: 8
Established: 1930s
Location: 241 km (150 mi) from Newman
LGA: Shire of Ashburton
Mean Max Temp Mean Min Temp Rainfall
32.8 °C
91 °F
19.7 °C
67 °F
453.7 mm
17.9 in

Wittenoom is an area in the Pilbara region of Western Australia about 1,106 km north north east of Perth. During the 1950s, Wittenoom was the Pilbara's biggest town, but was shut down in 1966 due to health concerns from asbestos mining at the nearby Wittenoom Gorge.

Today it is a ghost town with approximately 8 residents[1], who receive no government services. In December 2006, the Government of Western Australia announced that the town would be degazetted, and in June 2007, Hon Jon Ford, as Minister for Regional Development, announced that the townsite status had officially been removed. The town's name will accordingly be removed from official maps and road signs and the Shire of Ashburton will be able to close roads that lead to contaminated areas

The Minister also released the non-technical summary of a report done in 2006 by independent geotechnical consultants into the extent and management of asbestos contamination in Wittenoom. This report, reviewed independently by the Department of Health, found that levels of asbestos fibres in Wittenoom presented an unacceptable public health risk.


Wittenoom was named by Lang Hancock after Frank Wittenoom (1855-1939) who was his partner in the nearby Mulga Downs Station. The land around Wittenoom was originally settled by Frank Wittenoom's brother, politician Sir Edward Horne Wittenoom.[2]

Hancock discovered Wittenoom Gorge in the early 1930s and in 1937 started mining blue asbestos (crocidolite) there. In 1943 the mine was sold to a CSR Limited subsidiary, Australian Blue Asbestos Pty Ltd. By the late 1940s there was a need for a nearby townsite to house the mine workers and their families, and this was gazetted in 1950. The following year CSR requested the town name be changed to Wittenoom Gorge, and in 1974 it was changed back to Wittenoom.

From 1950 until the early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia's only supplier of asbestos with 161,000 tonnes being mined. During that time 20,000 men, women and children lived and worked in Wittenoom. Since then, over 1,000 people have died from asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The National Health and Medical Research Council estimates that the final death toll will eventually rise to over 2,000.[3]

Despite ongoing risks associated with airborne asbestos fibres, a number of residents still remained in early 2006, defying the Government of Western Australia's removal of services and stated intention to demolish the town. On 30 June 2006, the Government turned off the power grid to Wittenoom. Between May 2006 and November 2006, three residents took up the government's offer to buy their houses for up to A$39,804, plus an additional solatium of 10% and $10,000 relocation costs. 

In December 2006, Minister for the Pilbara and Regional Development Jon Ford announced that Wittenoom's status as a town would be removed, and in June 2007, he announced that the townsite status was officially removed. He also encouraged the remaining residents to accept the Government's relocation offer, as a recent detailed report into asbestos contamination in Wittenoom clearly demonstrates that the risks for most categories of people who use the various sites in and around Wittenoom are classified as medium to high.

The Western Australian Department of Health examined the report and indicated that the levels of risk of exposure to contamination in Wittenoom translate into what is, from a Public Health perspective, an unacceptable level of risk.

A Steering Committee that includes several Government departments meets regularly to discuss the continuing stages of closure of the area.

Wittenoom is close to a number of spectacular gorges in the Hamersley Ranges and Karijini National Park.

The Midnight Oil song, Blue Sky Mine, was inspired by the town and its mining industry,[4] as were He Fades Away and Blue Murder by Alistair Hulett. The town and its history are also featured in the novel Dirt Music by Tim Winton.


  1. ^ Govt to remove Wittenoom's town status. ABC News Online. Retrieved on 2006-12-23.
  2. ^ History of country town names - W. Landgate, Government of Western Australia. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  3. ^ Chronology of events. Worksafe. Retrieved on 2006-05-09.
  4. ^ Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil. Songfacts. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  • Wittenoom, Western Australia is at coordinates 22°14′38″S 118°20′06″E / -22.244, 118.335Coordinates: 22°14′38″S 118°20′06″E / -22.244, 118.335
  • Wittenoom's diehard residents stay put, 7:30 Report (ABC), 2004-12-06
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wittenoom,_Western_Australia". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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