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Wednesday, 12 August, 1998, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Western Australia's natural riches
Prospector Ron Manners shows Julian Pettifer a gold nugget dug up -and almost ignored - by a friend
For the first programme in its new series, Crossing Continents goes to Perth and Western Australia to investigate the region's ups and downs by talking to its new frontiersmen.

Listen to this programme in full

After making millions on his first gold claim, Mark Creasey can use a nugget as a paperweight
Presenter Julian Pettifer talks with some of the region's many new millionaires, like outspoken prospector Ron Manners, thirtysomething whiz kid and nickel mine owner Andrew Forrest and successful 'new miner' Mark Creasey - a Suffolk boy made rich - and asks them the secrets of Western Australia's success.

Western Australia's natural resources - its oil, gas, nickel, iron ore, wheat, wool, and most importantly its gold - have cushioned its booming economy from the financial shocks now being felt in Australia as a whole. Most of the region's trade is done with Asia, but the economic crisis there still hasn't hit Western Australia as hard as other parts of the country. That's because the local economy is based on exporting raw materials, which remain essential for manufacturing.

The vast tracks and terraces of Kalgoorlie's Superpit - the world's largest goldmine
The land itself is hugely rich in minerals, and many of the richest deposits are only just beginning to be explored and tapped. For those willing to take a gamble and stake a claim, its natural wealth seems to be there for the taking. But there are complications and downsides to the region's success.

The most burning issue in the mining industry now isn't Asia: it's much closer to home, right at the heart of the mineral boom. Many mines are located on traditional Aboriginal lands and indeed Western Australia has the highest density of 'native title' land claims in the country. It's a hugely contentious issue: do these claims in fact jeapordise development? And are there any ways the Aborigines and the 'new colonials' can work together? Andrew Forrest's new nickel mine in the outback, 'Murrin Murrin', straddles several land claims but has already been hailed as a model of co-operation between local Aborigines and prospectors looking for profits.

Kalgoorlie's first gold rush paid for palaces in the outback - this was the Town Hall
Western Australia's economy, its politics and its outlook are all distinct from those of Australia as a whole. It was the original Gold Rush state in the 1890s, attracting thousands of new settlers and making vast amounts of money in prospecting towns like Kalgoorlie.

The region's success, as well as its isolation, even sparked an attempt to secede from Australia altogether in the 1930s. That plan failed, but even today, Western Australians are happy to admit they're a special breed..

WEB EXCLUSIVES: Hear Julian Pettifer's reaction
as Ron Manners reveals his gold nugget...
Eavesdrop on the sounds
of the Superpit mining operation
Financial journalist Tim Treadgold
on the late-80s bust, the Asian crisis and coming political storms
Ron Manners:
there's nothing stuck-up about Kalgoorlie millionaires
See also:

21 Jun 98 | Asia-Pacific
08 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
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