Ravensthorpe’s silver lining

By Geoff Vivian | posted on August 17, 2017

BUSINESSES in the Shire of Ravensthorpe remain optimistic as the local economy braces for the impact of the mothballing of First Quantum Minerals’ nickel mine, saying it will not be as catastrophic as the 2008 closure, when former owner BHP closed the mine and sacked 1800 workers.

First Quantum Minerals (FQM) bought the mine in 2009 and employed 405 people last year.

Although the mine could keep producing nickel for another 31 years, the owners say depressed prices have forced it into care and maintenance.

Galaxy Resources’ lithium mine, 2km north of Ravensthorpe, reopened in March last year and looks to provide something of a silver lining for some workers.

The increased lithium prices allowed it to reopen last year, and it is now seeking more employees.

Ray White Rural South Coast licensee Terri Pens said FQM’s decision would not harm her sales or rentals in Hopetoun or Ravensthorpe.

Ms Pens said only about 60 of the mine’s workers lived in Hopetoun, and the rest lived at the minesite and had no impact on the town.

“Sales declined significantly after BHP closed the mine, and they have slowly been coming back. In the last six months they have picked up quite well and we are moving quite a lot of property,” she said.

Ms Pens said unlike FQM, Galaxy Resources encouraged its workforce to live in town, and she could see no problem in finding tenants for houses in Hopetoun.

“We are short of rentals in Ravensthorpe, so we are getting the overflow into Hopetoun because we simply can’t get enough good houses in Ravensthorpe,” she said.

Wavecrest Bar and Bistro manager Aaron Besso said he had lost some customers from the mine closure, as fewer workers were coming for a meal and drink.

However, he expected to retain all of his staff this year.

“Over the next four to six weeks nothing’s going to change,” he said.

“The rosters will stay the same and the hours will be the same.”

Mr Besso said the National Park, which closed after Christmas, would reopen this month, bringing back the tourist trade for the wildflower season, and the Tourist Park was almost fully booked for September.

“Until the end of Easter I’m not really concerned. It won’t be until winter next year that I guess we see the real impact of the loss of people.”

Ravensthorpe Shire President Keith Dunlop said he was more worried about the effect the mine closure would have on Hopetoun than Ravensthorpe, particularly for the primary school.

He said school enrolments had already fallen from 101 children at the end of last year to 82 this year.

The school was likely to be downgraded from level four to level three next year, which would result in the loss of a deputy principal and increased teaching duties for the principal.

“We’ve been through it before. It was a lot worse when BHP closed, and there’s going to be a few people that will have to leave to find a job,” he said.

“But everyone’s pretty positive. We’ve just got to move on.”