‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history.’ – Martin Luther King Jr.
For over sixty years Little Industries has been servicing the Goldfields. Never forgetting our humble beginnings in those early years of Noel and Gell Little, the founders of Little Industries, we’ve kept alive the spirit, drive and work ethic that has enabled us to evolve from a family-run timber supplier into a multi-faceted mining and contracting service provider.
Here is our story, created by Noel and Gell, and continued by us.
1912 – 1936: From Little things, big things grow.
Noel Little was born in 1912 in the South-Western coastal town of Bunbury. He started school after a move to Westonia, a small town in the West Australian Wheatbelt, where his father, Edward, was the local bank manager. But at only seven years of age, his mother and father separated and set in motion a pivotal moment of change for his future. His mother, Clarrie, was faced with the prospect of raising Noel and his three brothers alone, and the necessity to financially support herself and her sons. Work was not easy to come by in the small rural town and Noel found himself back near Bunbury, sent to live with relatives while his mother travelled in search of an income. He endured, and was to spend most of his schooling years in the South West, first at Boyanup Primary, and then Bunbury High School.
When his studies were done, Noel found work helping on relatives’ farms, and then at the Wellington Dam for sustenance pay. During these years he helped his mother financially, something that he continued until after he married. But with the onset of the Depression in the ‘30s, the money dried up and, like his mother, he was left to drift in search of work. Word spread of a growing mining industry, and he found himself headed to Wiluna in search of better fortune.
On arrival, Noel found that it wasn’t to be the paradise that some had foretold. Even in a mining town jobs were hard to come by, especially underground. But through determination he earned a position as a woodcutter and then as a truck driver, skills that would prove influential in later years. But despite his income and success, the call of work from under the surface remained, and of the higher pay that came with it.
Noel told the story of his first day underground at Wiluna long into his life, of lining up each day for a week at the start of the shift waiting to see if he got a start. Eventually, his name was called and he was given his first job under the earth: shovelling ore into skips. After three hours working the shovel his hands begun to bleed from the work. Not deterred, he ripped his shirt into strips, bound his hands and kept working. It was a week before his hands calloused over and the bleeding stopped. He passed the test and stayed underground, working his way up to a machine miner.
Wiluna, though, wasn’t to be his future. In 1936 Noel made his way to Kalgoorlie’s gold industry armed with a letter of introduction from the Wiluna mine manager that described him as always having been ‘efficient, sober and reliable’. Always determined, he quickly found employ at the Great Boulder Mines, a place where he would spend the next twenty-four years working his way from miner to shift boss and eventually, mine foreman.
But most importantly, it was in Kalgoorlie that he was to meet Geraldine Farrow, or Gell as he came to call her, the love of his life whom he married in 1939.
1939-1945: The War
History reads turbulently for so many in the 20th century, and like many Australians of his time, Noel enlisted to serve in the 2nd World War. An infantryman with the 2/43rd Battalion, Noel saw action in the Middle East at El Alamein, and again in the jungles of New Guinea as part of operations to capture Lae and secure the Huon Pensinsula.
In 1944, his battalion returned to Australia, but Noel carried a leg wound from the Middle East and malaria from his time in New Guinea. His service was coming to its end. He wrote to his old manager at Great Boulder and enquired about whether he would find his job waiting for him. The reply that he received read:
“Replying to your personal application for reinstatement in your old position with the Great Boulder Pty Gold Mines Limited, we have to advise that should you have your C.O’s permission for your discharge from the army, you can be very usefully employed in our Hamilton shaft section.”
Granted that discharge, Noel made his way home from the war and did his best to pick up where he had left off, devoting the next 16 years of his life to the goldmining industry and his family.
1960 – 1964: Lakewood Firewood Company
In 1960, Noel was offered the position of manager of the Lakewood Firewood Company, the last of the wood lines that supplied timber and firewood to Kalgoorlie’s goldmining industry. He accepted, and made a great success of the venture that hewed, hauled and dressed timber for the companies of the Golden Mile.
Towards the end of 1964, Lakewood ceased its supply of mining timber and firewood, and always astute, Noel saw the opportunity to take over this supply to three of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder gold mines: Lake View & Star, North Kalgurli and Great Boulder Mines. He signed his letter of resignation to the Lakewood Firewood Company, thanking them for four years of service. His next letter followed only months after, offering his services to resume the supply of timber to the mines, and so began the Mining Timber Service, a Little family company.
1965: Mining Timber Service Begins
Mining Timber Service formally came into existence on the 20th of January 1965, and under Noel’s experienced direction began supplying timber to the gold mining industry in the Eastern Goldfields. The timing was right: timber sales to gold, and later nickel, mining companies flourished, and the small partnership began to expand.
1969: No More Wood, A New Name and The Rise of Haulage
During the late Sixties, the times were changing yet again, and with them the mining industry. The need for timber began to lessen, and Noel was forced to adjust his operations to survive. Already equipped to transport loads, Mining Timber Services seized upon contracts for haulage of water, sand and metal, and they boomed. After only five years of timber supply, in 1969 the last load of wood was delivered and the company concentrated on the growing transport industry in the region.
With the loss of timber supply from the company’s repertoire of services, a name change was overdue. Chosen to reflect the greater involvement of Noel’s sons Alan and Joe, N.B. Little and Sons Pty Ltd was born.
Reinforced by his kin, Noel turned the attention of the company to the state-wide need for infrastructure. Major contracts were tendered for, won and serviced for the cartage of water to seal the Eyre Highway, and of sand and metal for microwave tower supports spanning the whole of Western Australia.
The boom in work saw both Alan and Joe working throughout WA until the early ‘70s when the company expanded from Kalgoorlie and established its first depot in the nearby town of Kambalda, a move intended to better service cartage customers in the region. Led by Joe, the company experienced a growth in contracts in the area so substantial that the focus of operations began to shift, leading to the eventual closure of the Boulder depot.
One such contract was a three million tonne sand backfill project. Another, the commencement of ore cartage for Western Mining Corporation at Kambalda, and another the haulage of aggregates for 60,000 yards of road sealing near the town of Port Hedland. Beyond doubt, N.B Little and Sons had survived the transition from timber supply to the provision of mining services and haulage.
This shift was followed by two new dimensions of the company’s operations in the early 1980’s: a boost in international demand for Lefroy salt led to N.B. Little and Sons winning major contracts for the harvesting and cartage of salt, and for ship-loading at the southern port town of Esperance. In addition to these contracts, the company undertook civil works including dams, both tailing and catchment.
1982: The Next Generation of Littles
In 1982, 46 years after he first lifted a tool in a mining company and 17 after he serviced his first contract as an entrepreneur, Noel Little retired from the company that he had built, and the industry that he had been instrumental in shaping. His part in the Little company had come to its end.
Following in their father’s footsteps, Alan and Joe took over the management of the company, and with new skippers at the helm came immense growth, a new direction, and a new trading name: Little Industries. The depot in Boulder was closed and all operations of the company were centred in Kambalda. The Little Company’s employee base rapidly grew from 20 to 150 employees, and new endeavours were undertaken.
In mid-1983, the company began crushing waste rock from the mines in Kambalda to supply a variety of quarry products to mining companies and government agencies in the Goldfields region. Rail ballast to was delivered for Westrail and the Australian National Railways (ANR). Concrete and sealing aggregates were supplied for the construction of most of the major mines in the region, including Western Mining’s Kambalda, St Ives, Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter, Leinster and Mt Keith operations, as well as New Celebration, Paddington, Gidgie Roaster, KCGM Kalgoorlie, Bulong Nickel, Murrin Murrin and many other smaller projects.
In addition to servicing the mining industry, the company’s sealing aggregates were used on all the major highways and towns in the region, including the Eyre Highway, Goldfields Highway and Great Eastern Highway, and the towns of Kalgoorlie, Kambalda, Coolgardie, Esperance, Leinster, Leonora, Laverton, Wiluna and Southern Cross. A new tailings dam was constructed for WMC at Kambalda, including all drainage and collection dams and access roads.
Contract crushing was performed at WMC Kambalda, St Ives, Kalgoorlie, Nickel Smelter, Leinster, Ora Banda, Cue, and Laverton. Major crushing and heap leach projects were undertaken at ACM Westonia, and mine rehabilitation at WMC Resources Foster & Carnilya Minesites.
However, it was bulk haulage of mineral ores that remained the major portion of business, with major contracts being completed for WMC Kambalda, St Ives, Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter, Leinster, Ora Banda, New Celebration and Jubilee.
1992: The Building of Anzac Drive
Reflective of the community spirit held by the company was the 1992 construction of Anzac Drive. Kalgoorlie badly needed a bypass road from West Kalgoorlie to Goldfields Highway, but for years the requests of residents and haulage companies had fallen upon deaf ears.
Out of sheer need and frustration, a group of local haulage, earthmoving and mining company executives decided to take action. On the weekend of the 18-20th of September, 1992 trucks, loaders, graders and scrappers were put to work along with a small army of volunteers. Working through the weekend, seven kilometres of well-designed and formed road were built, wide enough for the heaviest of traffic and far from the city’s streets.
With the road successfully in place and creating an effective bypass around the town, public support swelled in its favour. Forced to accept its existence, the State government sealed the road, and the roadbuilders of Anzac Drive, with the Littles amongst them, had changed Kalgoorlie-Boulder forever.
1993-2003: Quiet Time
Always an unstable game, in 1999 came the winds of change for the mining industry and those that supported it. The nickel price crashed, and with it many mines in the region. Little Industries stayed true to its heritage and kept to its geographical area, taking what work remained.
Crucially for the company, Western Mining sold off their nickel mines in the region. Instead of one large contract for all their mines, the market was filled with smaller operators needing service providers. Little Industries retained some of the work, but not all, and by 1999 had diminished to only 12 drivers. It was an opportunity to regroup, reinvent, and keep on rolling.
2003-Now: The Next Phase of Little Industries
In 2003, the mining industry finally began winding up its tempo. The resources of Western Australia were once again in global demand, and Little Industries went along for the ride. With calculated surety, vehicles and plant equipment were built back up again.
The number of employees swelled, too, but this time with a mix of company drivers and subcontractors enabling more flexibility with lengths of contracts and job. By staying streamlined, selective of their clients and contracts, and with a strong focus on the provision of undoubtable quality and trusted staff, the company ensured the quality of every job.
Where the ‘60s to mid-‘90s had required volume and turnover, this upturn allowed the company to use its wealth of experience and turn its hand to specialisation and its areas of expertise. Having learned from the downturn that followed the last boom, the company was more flexible, better able to ride the fluctuations and variations in demand, and change its direction to stay with the times.
While varying facets of business all started to expand, it was bulk haulage in the changed times played a lesser role and quarry products and contract crushing that were in great demand, led by the increase in demand for products for roads, rail and concrete.
But this change of philosophy set in motion in the early-2000s didn’t fully materialise until early into the next decade, and carried through to staff at all levels. Joe, having established a system that he trusted, stepped back from the company and moved to Perth, administering and managing the company remotely.
Now a product of a quantum shift 20 years ago, the modern incarnation of Little Industries has become known for the dependable quality of its services, delivered on time and at a competitive price.
Today, carried on by Alan, Joe and all who work in his name, Noel Little’s story continues. To become a part of it, please contact us.
To find out more about the history of the Goldfields, check out the Woodlines of Eastern Goldfields Western Australia Facebook Group, supported by Little Industries.