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Home is where work is
Moving up: Alex Wightman in Port Hedland. Picture: Alex Massey/ The West Australian

The way the mining boom has changed where and how West Australians work has been laid bare by figures showing the extent of the flight to the regions.

More than one-fifth of those who spent census night in the Pilbara, Mid West, Kimberley, Goldfields, Esperance or Gascoyne did not live in regional WA and 19 per cent of regional workers said they travelled 1000km or more to get to work.

By comparison, nationwide just one per cent of people said they travelled more than 500km for work.

But while the figures showed the extent of the State's fly-in, fly-out workforce, they also suggested more people were deciding to move to the regions permanently.

ABS director of census products and services Alan Wong said a comparison of 2006 and 2011 figures showed the number of people visiting the regions had increased but so too had the number of permanent residents.

In mining regions, such as the Pilbara, visitors were more likely to be FIFO workers. In areas like the Gascoyne, with some of WA's big tourist attractions such as Ningaloo Reef and Monkey Mia, they were probably tourists.

The Pilbara contributed the most to outback WA's population: 30 per cent of the so-called enumerated population, meaning those there on census night, and 28 per cent of the resident population. Almost three-quarters of those in the Pilbara on census night last year said they lived there, compared with 14 per cent who called Perth home and 8.5 per cent who lived interstate.

Former Perth resident Alex Wightman, 25, moved to Port Hedland almost two years ago after completing a degree in construction management and economics at Curtin University.

He now works for his father's building company. He said the lure of big projects in the North West was too much to pass up.

"It's the increased work opportunity, basically. There are opportunities up here that you just don't see in Perth, let alone anywhere else," he said.

Mr Wightman has become involved in the local community and was recently appointed vice-president of Port Hedland Rovers Football Club. He said criticism of the lack of community in mining towns was misguided.

"I can see myself here for a while," he said. "I like the people, the small town feel, the community. There just always seems to be stuff happening."

'There are opportunities up here that you just don't see in Perth.'"

  • Alex Wightman * Port Hedland's