Job cuts at Ravensthorpe nickel mine in WA bring sense of deja vu to nearby residents

Job cuts at Ravensthorpe nickel mine in WA bring sense of deja vu to nearby residents

Sam Foulds is used to seeing faces come and go, as the size of his town fluctuates with the price of nickel.

Key points:

  • First Quantum Minerals has announced the suspension of mining activities at its Ravensthorpe nickel operation
  • The mine closed previously 2009 and again in 2017
  • The Hopetoun Progress Association hopes FIFO workers are let go before local ones

Sometimes the community of Hopetoun — population 1,100 — is thriving, with local shops busy, and homes and classrooms occupied.

But before long the nickel price starts to drop, and then things change for the town on Western Australia’s south coast.

When Canadian company First Quantum Minerals this week announced the suspension of mining activities at its Ravensthorpe nickel operation, with 30 per cent of its 420 workers set to be cut, it was no real surprise to Mr Foulds.

But the farmer and president of the Hopetoun Progress Association said it was still a tough blow for the community.

“Every time the mine has closed down … we certainly feel it,” Mr Foulds said.

“We’ve got some really good people in town… [then] you lose those connections; your kids lose their friends.”

Hopetoun will be impacted by First Quantum Mineral’s decision to suspend its Ravensthorpe operation.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

He remembers when the nickel mine was closed previously in 2009, and again in 2017, and is imploring the company to protect local jobs this time around.

“[Hopetoun] was a bit of a ghost town really,” he said.

“Because all the First Quantum housing is in the same area, that side of town was very, very quiet.

“I just really hope that when First Quantum are working out who’s staying and who’s going that they’re prioritising the locals over FIFO staff.”

‘We know that it’s short term’

Last year, 112 students were enrolled at Hopetoun Primary School.

But in 2018, months after the Ravensthorpe nickel operation was placed on care and maintenance, the total enrolment was just 53.

Hopetoun Primary School P&C president Karrina Smallman says the community will adapt.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

“It’s not just one job loss — it’s often the whole family that’s lost from our community,” P&C president Karrina Smallman said.

This week’s announcement by First Quantum comes just weeks out from the beginning of another school year.

But Ms Smallman said the school would adapt, just as it had in the past.

“It is likely to have an impact on the structures that the admin has set in place for this year,” she said.

“We don’t have any details yet … as far as how many students may not be with us.

“Staff at the school are amazing, and I’m sure they’ve got as many backup plans as they can possibly imagine, to make sure everyone’s catered for.”

BHP cut 1800 jobs when it shuttered the mine in 2009.

First Quantum has said it would continue to produce nickel from ore stockpiles and expected to resume mining at Ravensthorpe when prices recovered.

Ms Smallman said she didn’t believe the region had become overly reliant on the mining sector.

“I think we know that it’s short-term,” she said.

“And while they’re here, we want to make the most of it, and we do seek funding from [First Quantum].

“I think they will stick to their word and continue to support the community as much as they can through this time.”

Town ‘not solely dependent on mining’

Ravensthorpe Shire President Tom Major agreed.

“We’re not solely dependent on mining,” he said.

“We’ve got agriculture, tourism and some other industries to lean into — but it is a hit, losing these jobs.”

Ravensthorpe Shire President Tom Major says the decision was not entirely unexpected.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

Other miners are currently sounding out the region for minerals deposits. 

Despite the recent setback, Mr Foulds said he would welcome new developments in the region.

“There is a lot of exploration going on, and talk of different mines opening up,” he said.

“If an opportunity arises, I think go for it.

“You’ve just got to be aware of how up and down mining can be, I suppose.”

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