Services to Indigenous people in the town of Port Hedland: Mapping and gap analysis

Services to Indigenous people in the town of Port Hedland: Mapping and gap analysis Report

  • Author(s): Western Australian Department of Indigenous Affairs,
  • Published: 2003
  • Publisher: WA Department of Indigenous Affairs

Abstract: The Town of Port Hedland is a town of many contrasts. High incomes and a strong resource sector on the one hand, abject poverty, disadvantage and social problems on the other. Although Indigenous people have been major contributors to the culture, diversity and development of the region, they have generally failed to share equitably in the rewards of economic prosperity. The situation faced by Indigenous people in Port Hedland is a direct legacy of a turbulent history of dispossession, displacement and socio-economic disadvantage. Statistical analysis confirms that Indigenous people continue to suffer in comparison to their non-Indigenous counterparts across a wide range of social indicators. For example, Indigenous people: • suffer from higher rates of mortality and hospitalisation from a variety of often preventable diseases such as circulatory disease, injury and poisoning, respiratory disease and diabetes; • are more likely to access counselling or assistance for social and health problems due to alcohol abuse, financial matters and domestic and family violence. • mainly live in larger households with a higher likelihood of renting and inadequate housing conditions; • are more likely to leave the education system after compulsory schooling; and • have lower individual and household incomes, a high unemployment rate, a low labour force participation rate, and are not typically employed in the high gross domestic product (GDP) industries of mining and retail. These underlying social issues mean that too many Indigenous people come from backgrounds that predispose them to social problems and to early and potentially frequent contact with the criminal justice system. Importantly, 37 per cent of the Indigenous population in Port Hedland is aged 14 years or under. Pressure is also being placed on town facilities by people moving or visiting from outlying communities in search of services and amenities that are unavailable to the residents of remote Indigenous communities. Port Hedland and the broader Pilbara region is therefore facing a sizeable emerging problem unless there is urgent and sustained action taken. This action must not only tackle the obvious symptoms of disadvantage, but also act to prevent current and future generations of Indigenous people being exposed to the same environmental and social risk factors. This service mapping exercise has shown that there is a myriad of government-funded programs and services; both mainstream and Indigenous-specific, available to Indigenous people in Port Hedland. The effectiveness of these resources is, however, blunted by an operational environment that is characterised by confusion regarding roles and responsibilities, misunderstandings and competition. The vast majority of funding is also consumed by the downstream consequences of disadvantage rather than being invested in intervention and prevention activities. One of the strengths of Port Hedland is the tremendous commitment and goodwill apparent amongst government agencies, community organisations and the private sector. Non-government organisations play a pivotal role in service provision and are an important expression of the social capital available to Port Hedland. They are, however, often caught in the middle of an environment where competition for resources is high, where organisational capacity may be low and where there are unrealistic expectations to deliver outcomes on behalf of government agencies with very limited resources. The challenge for Port Hedland is to harness this goodwill and commitment; to support it with appropriate technical expertise and resources; and to ensure that all sectors are working collaboratively in order to promote services that are efficient, effective and appropriate to the needs of Indigenous people. This report has made a number of strategic and operational recommendations that focus upon developing a collaborative and coordinated approach across all functional areas and all tiers of government. A significant effort is needed to shift the delivery of services to Indigenous people away from a discernibly fragmented environment and to move towards the type of coordinated and reciprocal models being promoted as policy by State and Federal Governments. This strategic and non-partisan approach needs to extend to the relationship between government agencies and non-government organisations and also to relationships within the Indigenous community. “Community politics” is a common and invasive theme within the Port Hedland environment that has been acknowledged by all stakeholders as an impediment to effective working relationships and to efficient service provision. There are many challenges facing the Port Hedland community and it is encouraging that the Pilbara Key Managers Indigenous Forum has recognised the need to work collaboratively to tackle these issues in a planned and strategic manner. This needs to be done in close partnership with the Indigenous community and to be supported by decision makers in Perth and Canberra.

Cite this document

Suggested Citation
Western Australian Department of Indigenous Affairs,, 2003, Services to Indigenous people in the town of Port Hedland: Mapping and gap analysis, Report, viewed 09 August 2022,

Endnote Mendeley Zotero Export Google Scholar

Share this page

Search again