It is the story of mining, earth moving and then later agriculture. But most of all, it is a story about the marriage of determination and ingenuity, and a testament to how far a refusal to take no for an answer can get you.

Some may be surprised that the name DFD Rhodes is not as well-known as other pioneers of Western Australian industry, but it is less surprising to those who know the family who founded and continue to run the company. Like many Western Australians the Rhodes family have gone about their business in a quiet way, allowing their work to do the talking for them.

Don Rhodes founded the company in 1950, taking on earthworks projects that built the Perth we know today including the construction of the runways for Perth Airport, earth works for the Narrows Bridge, carting the rock for the Garden Island causeway and the goods train line through Canning Vale.

Don Rhodes, circa 1940.


The Rhodes Ridley is a monument to Don Rhodes himself, to Harold Ridley who designed it, the men who put it together, and the men who drove it.

Regional Western Australia and the Northern Territory also bear the mark of major projects by Don Rhodes, including the Lake Argyle diversion dam, the Useless Loop Salt Project, the building of a section of the inland road to the North and the beef cattle road in Top Springs (NT).

The company’s mining and exploration activities in the Pilbara grew in parallel with the earth moving arm of the business, most notably with the Woodie Woodie manganese mine. Manganese was mined, crushed, screened and carted on dirt roads, built and maintained by the company, to the fledgling town of Port Hedland. With profitability and reliability key issues in the harsh and isolated environment, Don and his team soon realised they were limited primarily by the size of truck they could operate.

Above: Don Rhodes admiring the view at Mount Augustus, WA.

 

Below: Ore transport and loading at Woodie Woodie, manganese mining operations.

Rather than wait for a suitable product to become available, Don and his workshop manager Harold Ridley engineered their own solution, the iconic Rhodes Ridley truck. While the sight of colossal mining vehicles is a common one today, when the Rhodes Ridley was built in 1958 it was the largest road truck in the southern hemisphere, dwarfing other vehicles as it passed them.

This ‘pioneer’ attitude is typical of Don, and of the company; a reliance on oneself and ones team to find a solution, no matter how challenging the problem.

As WA grew throughout the 1960s and 70s, so too did the interests of the company. A successful exploration program resulted in the discovery and pegging of some of Western Australia’s most well-known iron ore deposits, and the company was responsible for mining the first ten thousand tonne sample shipment of iron ore for Robe River Iron. The continual change and expansion of DFD Rhodes cemented the company’s fundamental role in the growth and success of Western Australia.

DFD Rhodes contracting activities came to an end in the early 1970’s and the company moved into agriculture. Today, DFD Rhodes is one of the State’s major producers of wool and lamb, and also produces beef, canola, barley and oats, with farms spanning 36,000 acres. A shifting focus towards diversified investments necessitated a move of headquarters from existing offices in Welshpool to the city, with an Ord St, West Perth site earmarked for an innovative new head office.