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BHP Billiton Iron Ore and Western Australia's Pilbara communities today celebrated a significant milestone in Australia's mining history by marking the 40th Anniversary of the railing and shipping of the first iron ore mined from the Mt Newman Project (now known as BHP Billiton Iron Ore's Newman Joint Venture).

The anniversary signifies the combined achievements of BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Mitsui & Co., ITOCHU Corporation, their predecessors Mt Newman and Goldsworthy Mining, and the communities of Port Hedland and Newman.

In 1969, the Mt Newman Project celebrated three major milestones: the first iron ore was railed from Newman's Mt Whaleback mine; the first shipment of iron ore left Nelson Point in Port Hedland on the Osumi Maru and the Mt Newman Project was officially opened at Mt Whaleback in Newman.

That year, a total of 6.45 million tonnes was mined and shipped from the region. Today, BHP Billiton Iron Ore exports more than 124 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

Since 2002, BHP Billiton Iron Ore has approved more than US$10 billion in expansion projects. The company's investment in the business is set to continue with installed capacity of the company's Pilbara operations expected to reach approximately 300 million tonnes by 2015.

The Hon. Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, said the growth and success of the iron ore mining industry had made Western Australia's Pilbara region one of Australia's economic powerhouses.

The true scope of the economic potential of the region's iron ore resources was first uncovered by A.S. Stan Hilditch in 1957. Hilditch made a vast iron ore discovery while searching for manganese, aware that iron ore was of little value because of a Federal Government embargo on its export that would not be lifted until 1960.

The lifting of the embargo made way for one of the world's largest iron ore developments - The Mt Newman Project, which saw more than A$2.2 billion invested in the Pilbara's iron ore production facilities, railways, ports and new towns.

The small tidal port of Port Hedland, gazetted a town in 1896 to service the pastoral industry and the mining of gold and tin, is today Australia's largest port in terms of annual tonnage throughput.

In 1966, the town of Newman was established as five joint venture partners - BHP, AMAX, CSR, Seltrust and Mitsui-C. Itoh (ITOCHU) - invested in the development of the Mt Whaleback operation, a 426 kilometre railway to the coast and new port facilities at Nelson Point in Port Hedland. BHP was appointed manager of the Project.

BHP Billiton Iron Ore President, Ian Ashby said the 40 year milestone was not solely about the achievements of the business, but of the men and women whose hard work and dedication made the industry a reality.

""Everyone at BHP Billiton Iron Ore today is extremely proud to be continuing the work and delivering the vision of those pioneering men and women who laid down the foundations for the industry 40 years ago,"" he said.

Mr Ashby also highlighted the company's long term commitment to the Western Australian community.

""We are extremely fortunate to have the richness of valuable resources we have available to us in this country. At BHP Billiton Iron Ore we are committed to managing those resources responsibly and to sharing our success by providing jobs and other social and economic benefits to the communities in which we operate.

""We are proud to support community investment projects that contribute to the long-term sustainable development of the Pilbara. In financial year 2008, we invested A$20 million in the areas of greatest community need in the Pilbara - namely health, education, Indigenous development and township amenity,"" he said.

Mr Ashby has been at the helm of BHP Billiton Iron Ore since December 2006 and has overseen the company's rapid growth projects to significantly increase iron ore production and shipping capacity in the Pilbara.

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