360 2009-12-05

Hope town BHP Billiton opened its Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation in May 2008, at the feverish height of Western Australia´s mining boom. The state was dripping money and, for those lucky enough to be on the gravy train, life had never been better. Real estate and business prices skyrocketed in the intense build up to the mine´s opening and thousands moved to and invested in the once sleepy towns of Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe, feeling safe in BHP Billiton´s assurance that the mine had a 30 year life. But in January 2009 the bubble burst. The nickel price plummeted and BHP Billiton did the unthinkable: it suddenly and unexpectedly announced the closure of the RNO after only eight months in operation. The local communities of Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe were devastated. Now, ten months after the mine´s closure, the population has more than halved, real estate prices have plummeted and hundreds of houses are empty and stagnating on real estate agent´s books (now valued significantly lower than the mortgages on them). Business turnover has dropped by up to eighty percent and owners are struggling with huge debt. Hope Town examines one of the nastiest fallouts from the economic downturn and how a resilient and tightly-knit community is trying to pick itself up, dust itself off and start all over again.