Amid the toughest downturn the nickel town has ever seen, Kambalda residents say it is only a matter of time before the tide turns.
With an unprecedented slump in the nickel price leading to more than 100 job losses over the past 18 months, and the future of much of its infrastructure called into question, the mining town in Western Australia has faced a recent crisis of confidence.
But as the community looks at ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the area’s first nickel mines, locals say the town has plenty of life left in it.
And with the nickel industry starting to show some long-term optimism amid the gloom, they say the turnaround they have been hoping for is not too far away.
While mining has always been a fixture of the landscape, modern Kambalda had its genesis in a chance discovery by two prospectors in 1954.
Explorers had largely ignored the area since the expiry of the Red Hill goldfield in the early 20th century, but prospectors John Morgan and George Cowcill dug up a rock bearing what they thought was uranium.
A geologist at the Western Australian School of Mines examined the rock and found it to be carrying a large amount of nickel.
However, it was not until 1966 that the Western Mining Corporation (WMC) began exploring around the region amid the 1960s nickel boom.
The day WMC sank its first drillhole at KD-1 on January 3, 1966 is now considered the effective birthdate of the modern nickel town, with the 50th anniversary set to be celebrated next year.
Mechanic Norm Karafilis has lived in the town for 40 of those years, and says locals have learned to weather the peaks and troughs of the market.
“We know the nickel price will eventually come back up, the current stockpiles will be depleted, and a lot of the activity that’s now mothballed will resume,” he said.
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