Wilowdale's early years.............
April 1984 was the official opening of the Wagerup alumina refinery; however production commenced at Willowdale Mine in late 1983 to ensure bauxite stockpiles were available when Wagerup opened and that future mining areas were being developed.

The first crusher site at Willowdale was at Bancell. The workshops and main offices were further east at Arundel.

Everything had been ready to go for about 2 years with construction of the mine and refinery completed in 1981, but the alumina market was oversupplied at the time, so the commencement of production at the mine and refinery was delayed. Eventually the decision was made to start production.

The first Willowdale mine superintendent was Dave Ingle. In 1984 Dave moved to Del Park and was replaced by Gordon McKenzie. Under Gordon’s leadership, the mine developed a strong focus on safety, teamwork and involvement of the whole workforce.  The first full rehabilitation season in 1985 culminated in a day where all employees were involved with the tree planting. There is a famous photo of this occasion (right) and if you enlarge it you might recognise some of the faces in that crowd who are still with us today.

Alan Cransberg (current Managing Director) was the first production and planning supervisor and Roy Land was the maintenance supervisor. They had the job of recruiting the people to run the mine.

Of course, there were challenges as with all new operations.  Willowdale had a lot of the ’handed down’ equipment from Alcoa’s other WA mines. Keeping this equipment running was a challenge, but there was a number of fitters that had experience with this sort of challenge and they succeeded in getting it done. The original 371 conveyor belt created major challenges as it would never track straight. 

The ore was relatively higher in organics than the ore mined from our other mines.  This was something that had the potential to adversely affect the refinery efficiency, so significant sections of ore planned for mining was deferred until Wagerup built the second unit in the early 90s.  Blasting the caprock in a way that minimised impact to neighbours was also an activity that people spent many hours trying to improve (and this work continues today).

The first crusher site was mined out by 1988 and the crusher was relocated to Arundel. This was a big event as it was the first major crusher move at Willowdale, and it brought the whole Willowdale workforce together at the one site for the first time.

From the very early days, Willowdale employees came with a spirit of adventure - like all pioneers taking up a new challenge. They set the standard for all who were to follow them over to Willowdale.

From these original employees came the Willowdale culture that we see today.  Quite a few transferred from Jarrahdale, some from Del Park and Huntly, but there were many new employees – some from farming backgrounds and others who were employed in local earthmoving operations and others from the north-west mining operations.  Diverse backgrounds, some with bauxite mining experience, others with none – but all pretty quickly worked out the ‘Willowdale Way’.  There was a pride that quite rapidly engulfed this new team - and it was one team. The renowned “Goanna club” was soon born.

Willowdale people have always been motivated by a challenge, proud of their workplace and supportive of their workmates. This spirit is the reason that Willowdale is now considered part of the world’s leading bauxite mining operation.  People come from all over the world to see our mining operations and rehabilitation.

Click image to enlarge.