Greater Geraldton is a city of opportunities and booming economic activity. With a population just over 40,000, Geraldton is the administrative centre of the Midwest’s diverse industry base – they have everything from a world leading rock lobster fishery to agriculture, manufacturing and gold production. “Traditionally, we’ve been an economy that’s been fairly heavily reliant on primary industries in terms of farming and fishing,” Mayor Ian Carpenter explains. “But over the last two years, the direction is now heading towards iron ore mining.”
One of the things that makes Geraldton unique is the amount of development that’s going on, as well as the speed in which the population and wealth of the area is growing. The city is in the midst of a massive economic expansion and has significant capacity for further growth. Land availability is good, housing prices are affordable and existing infrastructure is well-established. The local government, businesses and the community support a vision of expansion, sustainability and liveability for the city.
Behind a lot of the area’s success is its booming mining industry, which has always been fairly healthy. “For the last 25 years, Iluka Resources Limited has been processing mineral sands and precious minerals in our industrial area,” Carpenter says. “The emphasis is now on developing the Midwest iron ore province, which will have a dramatic effect on this community.”
Though Geraldton has traditionally focused on primary industries, the value of its tourism sector is also high, Carpenter says. “Over the years, it’s been a substantial part of our economy.” The city recently released an investment brochure launched by the Minister for Regional Development in Geraldton, that details investment opportunities in the Greater Geraldton area.
This year, the city will have 14 cruise vessels visiting. Cruises have been a fairly regular occurrence and have been encouraged for the last few years. “That part of tourism is growing quite well. Tourists like to visit the HMAS Sydney II Memorial, his has become a bit of a tourism icon,” he says.
The Memorial sits on Mt Scott and is representative of the 645 crew who perished when HMAS Sydney II sank in Australia’s worst maritime disaster1941. The memorial overlooks the city and harbour and has people from across the country talking about its beautiful and moving design.
The Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton is another popular tourist attraction. It consists of about 122 islands and is the most southern tropical coral in the world. “We have the Leeuwin Current that runs down our coast from north to south which brings various types of fish. The islands are a fabulous place to view,” Carpenter says. “I’ve been a diver most of my life and I’ve dived in lots of different places around the world. In my opinion diving conditions at the islands are as good as, or better than any others I’ve encountered. Conditions out there are fantastic for diving.”
Another reason to visit or live in Greater Geraldton is its welcoming year-round climate. The city enjoys mild winters, balmy autumn evenings, summers cooled by frequent sea breezes, and springs loaded with wildflowers blooming under blue skies. Geraldton is one of the sunniest locations in Australia in January with over 11 hours of sunshine per day on average. “I think we have a terrific climate. It’s a bit Mediterranean and it’s in general just a lovely place to live,” Carpenter says.
In Geraldton, average maximum temperatures in February peak around 30°C on the coast and just over 32°C at the airport. Regular sea breezes moderate temperatures in the warmer months. In contrast, winters are mild with the July average maximum temperature being the lowest of any month at just under 20°C. Temperatures below 20°C are uncommon.
The City’s growth is rapid and a lot of investment is pouring into the region. For example, Brookfield Rail is spending approximately $550 million to upgrade the railway line between Geraldton and Mullewa, which is 100 kilometres east of the area.
Around $2.6 billion has also been spent on an iron ore mine ready for production which should begin in October at a mine south-east of Geraldton. “Once that’s in production, the amount of iron ore going through the area will be substantial. It’s probably important to note the Midwest, as a whole, produces a lot of gold, so that’s all part of the gross domestic product for this area,” he says.
These types of investments create a lot of wealth in the area, and provide work for the labour force required to service these mines. As a result, the area has become a base for fly-in and fly-out workers associated with mining. “The growth we’re getting in passenger numbers at our airport has been quite substantial,” Carpenter says.
Environmental sustainability is a priority for Carpenter and the City Council. The 2029 and Beyond Future Sustainable City Project is one initiative started about 18 months ago. It’s an “enormous” public consultation program designed to gather the wishes of the community, and finding out what it hopes to see as the area’s long term future. The program was awarded a first-prize in the United Nations-backed Liveable Communities award for Community Empowerment and Participation.
“With the town in a phase where it’s going to develop very quickly, the Council wanted to make sure that the way in which the town develops is in line with community wishes,” Carpenter says. “We probably had about 2,000 people involved overall. We’re now moving into the action phase of the 2029 and Beyond project vision.”
There are also wind farms south-east of the city, with about 60 turbines at the moment, and 20 more being constructed. “I think this now makes it one of the largest wind farms in Australia,” Carpenter says. Recently, the first solar panels were put in place on a solar farm project in the same area. That project will produce about 10 megawatts (MW) of solar power. “This power has been designated to run the desalination plant, which will service Perth from Binningup,” Carpenter says.
With regards to challenges, Geraldton’s substantial growth has mostly shielded the area from the effects of the GFC that’s slowed down development in other cities. The steady numbers of applications for building dwellings and commercial premises shows how strong their regional economy is. “We didn’t see a reduction at all in numbers. Fortunately, during the GFC building construction continued at a normal rate,” Carpenter says.
While some large commercial developments have not gone ahead because developers have had trouble sourcing funds, overall Geraldton’s development slate has remained strong. “In terms of small projects like housing developments, they’ve just continued along and continued to make progress,” says Carpenter.
Carpenter said he would like to see the City of Greater Geraldton become a larger community over the next decade, while still maintaining and enhancing its vibrancy. He says the city can achieve this goal by increasing housing density without expanding its footprint. “That was something born out of the 2029 and Beyond community consultations. Local people have said they don’t have an issue with higher density providing it’s restricted to the central part of the city,” Carpenter says.