Driving into Wittenoom today is almost like driving back to the 1960’s. The place has the feel of permanent summer about it and one can imagine rows of houses with dozens of kids playing under lawn sprinklers in the heat of the midday sun.
Still populated by about eight diehards who may be outraged to hear the place called a ghost town, for all intents and purposes, Wittenoom has ceased to exist.
Wiped from the Planet
Situated at the foot of the Hamersley Ranges in Western Australia’s Pilbara region the town was degazetted in 2006 and is officially no more. Road signs showing the distance and direction to Wittenoom have been blackened out and the name has been removed from official maps.
The state government no longer supplies power to the town and a Telstra supplied solar phone booth at the towns entrance is the only physical link with the outside world.
Wittenoom sits in the mouth of Wittenoom Gorge in the Hamersley Ranges and just around the corner from one of the states biggest tourist attractions – Karijini. The gorge in Wittenoom has rock pools large enough to swim in and similar to the Karijini gorges has an individual beauty and uniqueness. A crumbling single lane road winds into the gorge for about 6km. However you won’t find any literature or touring guides encouraging you to visit the area.
History and Asbestos
Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was mined in Wittenoom from 1938 to 1966 when the mine was closed. Originally owned by Lang Hancock, the discoverer of iron ore in the Pilbara, at one stage the mine was Australia’s only asbestos supplier, mining around 160,000 tonnes.
Up to 20,000 people lived and worked in Wittenoom until research into lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma was linked to the blue fibrous dust produced at the mine. It has been suggested that mining in Wittenoom ceased due to commercial viability rather than health concerns, not impossible to believe back in 1966.
Today most of the original buildings have been removed. The main street is barren but can just be identified by road markings and signs. A few houses line the avenue entering the town and an interesting rock and gem shop opens a few hours a week or upon appointment. Some of the remaining houses are intact and it may be possible to rent one from the shop while many of the others are shells and have suffered vandalism.
Old cars, fencing and signs are scattered around the half dozen or so streets still able to be driven on.
The drive into the gorge is scenic and interesting, the road reasonable in most places. The tailings from the mine are visible as you pass and asbestos can be found if you look.
The road ends at the old mine managers house which is virtually only a rock retaining wall and slab these days. The road used to continue on into Karijini but has been made impassable.
This article is part of a project to record the history of ghost towns in Australia. If you can contribute any information about any of Australia's abandoned towns please use the 'CONTACTUS' link at the top of the page to send us an email.
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