The town of Newman was established by Mt. Newman Mining Co. Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of BHP) in 1968, however, Aboriginal occupation of this area extends to around 26,000 years.
The Martu people are comprised of about a dozen language groups that extend across the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts. The Martu progressively lost their land and nomadic lifestyle as European expansion crept inland from the late 19th Century. Western exploration, the establishment of Christian Missions, and gold discoveries at Marble Bar and Wiluna led to Indigenous people moving from their traditional lands. The 1950′s missile- testing program further encouraged Martu people into settlements and newly emerging pastoral stations.
In 1957 prospector Stan Hilditch discovered a large deposit of Iron Ore (now the BHP Billiton mine) in his search for Manganese. Initially an embargo on the sale of Ore to Japan and distance from the coast dampened corporate enthusiasm for developing the deposit. However, in January 1967, a consortium established Mt. Newman Mining Co. Pty Ltd and in January 1969 the first shipments of Iron Ore left Newman, travelling 426km by rail to Port Hedland. BHP Billiton’s Mt. Whaleback mine is the largest open cut Iron Ore mine in the world, with a pit length of 5.5km. To the north and east of Newman are smaller ‘satellite’ mines. In total over 100 million tonnes of Ore are produced each year by the seven BHP Billiton mines. Newman grew rapidly in the 70′s and 80′s with management of the town ‘sold’ to the Shire of East Pilbara in 1981 for $1.00. In recent years Newman’s population has grown to its present level of 7,000, but is on the verge of an expansion phase with increased demand for Ore from China. Adding to the permanent population is the fly in fly out workforce averaging around 4,000 people. During the 1980′s Martu people started to move back into their traditional land and establish communities. The Federal Government officially recognised traditional ownership when the Martu were granted land rights to 136,000 square kilometres of land to the east of Newman in September 2002.