The vital importance of the iron ore industry to Australia’s modern prosperity is widely recognised.  Less appreciated perhaps is the industry’s remarkable back-story. 

This gap has now been filled courtesy of a new publication by historian Dr David Lee, the latest of the Minerals Council of Australia’s Monograph series.

In Iron country: Unlocking the Pilbara, David Lee charts Australia’s modern iron age from the lifting of the iron ore export embargo in the early 1960s to the China boom of the early twenty-first century.  He demonstrates that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the Pilbara to become the jewel in the crown of the Australian mining industry. 

A daunting series of political, commercial, financial, engineering and infrastructure challenges all had to be overcome to develop the foundation Pilbara projects.  Similarly, there was nothing ordained about the industry’s survival through the long years of low prices at the end of the twentieth century. 

David Lee uncovers the many and varied players who pioneered the industry.  They include prospectors and geologists, politicians and business visionaries, as well as the engineers, architects and workers who built much of the infrastructure of the Pilbara industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The conclusion David Lee draws is compelling.  The Snowy Mountains Scheme is held up as the benchmark of Australian engineering and technological prowess in the twentieth century.  The foundation Pilbara projects, constructed by private enterprise and over a much shorter time period, are at least a comparable achievement.

Those interested in a carefully-researched, fact-based analysis of the iron ore industry will find this publication indispensable.   

Editor’s Note: Dr David Lee is the Director of the Historical Publications and Research Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  He is the author of Australia and the World in the Twentieth Century and Stanley Melbourne Bruce: Australian Internationalist.  He is currently researching Australia’s post-1960 mining booms and a collaborative biography of Sir John Crawford.

Iron country: Unlocking the Pilbara will be launched by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Hon. Christian Porter MP, this evening. 

It is available at

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