With 330 jobs on the chopping block, what will this country town do to survive?

With 330 jobs on the chopping block, what will this country town do to survive?

It is training night in Hopetoun and the Sharks juniors are fired up. 

Coaches yell encouragement as, one by one, the young footy players launch into blue tackle bags.

The combined football, hockey, and netball club is an important social hub for the small West Australian town 550 kilometres south-east of Perth and 190km west of Esperance.

But, for its juniors and seniors, the 2024 season is now looking complicated.

Another pillar of the town, a nickel mine owned by Canadian company First Quantum Minerals (FQM), will soon close.

Falling commodity prices and high operating costs are behind the decision to mothball the Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation.

Junior sport is expected to be impacted by the mine’s closure, but community leaders say the town will adapt.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

In a brutal blow for Hopetoun, more than 300 jobs will be lost.

With a population of about 1,000, Hopetoun has been home to many First Quantum employees and their families.

But Southerners Sporting Club president Shannon Foulds has been down this road before.

“It will be a bit of a hit to our club, unfortunately,” she said.

“But we’ve been going around for nearly 60 years now … we’ve had a couple of mine closures before and we’re still here.”

In the face of uncertainty, locals are adamant that there is more to the community than mining.

Hundreds of FQM nickel workers and their families live in Hopetoun in WA’s south.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

Futures ‘up in the air’

At the local park, Jen Pratt’s kids are unstoppable.

“They’re like gazelles, they need an open space and they need to run,” she said.

“We spend a lot of time outside, a lot of time at the beach … it’s so special.”

But like many who had come to love the Hopetoun lifestyle, she now faced some tough decisions.

“My partner is at the mine, obviously our future is up in the air at the moment,” Ms Pratt said.

“Everyone is just doing what they need to do.”

Jen Pratt of the Hopetoun Progress Association is optimistic about the community’s future.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

On the edge of the Southern Ocean and Fitzgerald River National Park, Hopetoun will look to expand its tourism profile to compensate for the latest mine closure.

Ms Pratt, who works for the Hopetoun Progress Association, was bullish about the town’s future.

“As long as you’ve got people who are passionate in your town, who want to do things for the town, your town will succeed no matter what,” she said.

First Quantum, which owned about 160 homes in Hopetoun, acknowledged the impact that the mine’s closure would have on “all parts of the community”.

Katie Nimmerrichter of First Quantum Minerals is a Hopetoun local.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

An extended housing option will be made available to employees, while the company continues running a local grants program.

A team of about 50 workers will be locally based for the care and maintenance period, which will only end, “at a minimum”, with a “sustainable increase” in nickel prices.

“They’re committed to keeping a solid care maintenance team so that we are ready for a restart when the prices do increase,” said FQM’s community relations coordinator Katie Nimmerrichter.

‘We’ll still be here’

When the mine was last mothballed in 2017, one of the deepest impacts was felt at the local school.

Hopetoun Primary School P&C president Karrina Smallman said it was too early to tell how many of the 120 students would be forced to leave the “resilient” town this time around.

Hopetoun P&C president Karrina Smallman says there’s more to the town than mining.(ABC Esperance: Hayden Smith)

“We have been through this before … it’s less shocking this time when we’re a bit more prepared for these sorts of decisions,” she said.

“We’re hoping that it will be a little while before we’re feeling the full effects.”

Ms Smallman estimated that about half of the students were from families linked to either the nickel operation or another mine in the region.

The Sharks juniors are pumped for the 2024 season.(ABC Esperance: Emily JB Smith)

At Sharks training, Ms Foulds said the blue and white would continue to lace on the boots, regardless of how many players left town.

“Worse case, we might just need to merge a few of our teams,” she said.

“We’ll still be here.”

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