Port Hedland is known by the Indigenous Kariyarra and Nyamal people
as Marapikurrinya, which either means "place of good water" (as told by
a Nyamal language speaker) and makes reference to the three reliable
fresh water soaks that can still be seen in and around the town, or as
the town council's website says "refers to the hand like formation of
the tidal creeks coming off the harbour (marra - hand, pikurri -
pointing straight and nya - a place name marker)".
According to Dreamtime legend there was a huge blind water snake
living in the landlocked area of water known as Jalkawarrinya. This
landlocked area is now the turning basin for the ships that enter the
port and as the story goes, "the coming of the big ships meant it was
unable to stay".
The town's name honours Captain Peter Hedland, of the cutter,
Mystery, which visited the area in 1863 on an exploratory voyage headed
by Messrs Ridley and Parbury.
Originally known as Mangrove Harbour, it is at this location that
Dutch navigator Gerritt de Witt was blown ashore in 1628 aboard the
Vyanen. Port Hedland developed as a port after the discovery of gold at
Marble Bar and Nullagine in 1888. The original port, named Condon, was
near the mouth of the de Grey River. It is now an abandoned ruin.
Towards the end of the century it became apparent that the pastoral
industry in the Eastern Pilbara needed a port, and in 1896 the first
Port Hedland jetty was begun.
With the discovery of gold in the Marble Bar area a few years later,
the jetty was extended in 1908, and a railway between Marble Bar and
Port Hedland was completed in 1911. From then until the late 1930s, the
port was mainly used for the import of stores and producer items for
the local industries, and the export of pearl shell, wool, livestock,
gold, tin and small amounts of copper.
After World War II, the port continued to serve the pastoral
industry, and began to export significant quantities of manganese.
Goldsworthy Mining developed an iron ore mine approximately 100
kilometres east of Port Hedland in the early 1960s and built the towns
of Goldsworthy and later Shay Gap as mine sites. A rail line was then
built to Port Hedland where dredging was undertaken to deepen and widen
the port's channel and a wharf was built opposite the township of Port
Hedland on Finucane Island. Shipment of ore began on 27 May 1966 when
the Harvey S. Mudd sailed from Port Hedland to Japan with 24,900 tonnes
In 1967 iron ore was discovered at Mount Whaleback and a mining
venture was undertaken that included the establishment of a new town,
Newman, 426 km of rail from the mine to the port and the
development of processing equipment at both Newman and Port Hedland. In
1986, at a cost of $87 million, the existing channel was dredged to
allow the port to increase the tonnage of those ships able to enter the
port. Prior to dredging the port was only able to load vessels less
than 2,000 tonnes but today it is able to accommodate ships over