Around 1000 kilometres north-east of Perth, in the northern Goldfields, lies the unique town of Leinster – where everyone has a job, free housing, and free access to the gym and local swimming pool.
With next to no crime, no mortgages, leafy tree-lined streets and a thriving community, Leinster is truly an oddity of the outback.
“It is the oasis in the desert,” said Naomi Maher, who moved there with her family two years ago for her husband’s mining job.
“When you fly in and out all you can see is this abundance of trees [in the desert] and that’s when you know you’re at Leinster.”
Leinster was founded in 1976 because of mining nearby, and today it is a ‘closed town’ – home to around 500 permanent residents.
That means that in order to live in Leinster, you need to be an employee or contractor of global mining company BHP.
Among other amenities, the company provides accommodation, a gym and swimming pool to its residents for free, as well as a supermarket and cafe.
“You can only live here if you work here. We all work together so we all know each other,” Ms Maher said.
“We’re very fortunate … BHP does everything for us, they do our maintenance – everything.”
Since moving to Leinster, Ms Maher has thrown herself into the community, volunteering with the school and day care on top of her job at the local contracting services hub.
“Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all here just to make a little bit of money before we move on to our real lives,” she said.
The town with (almost) no crime
According to crime statistics published by WA Police, there have only been three offences committed in Leinster since July last year – all of them for stealing.
Compare that to a town of similar size like Leonora, a couple of hours south, which recorded 183 over the same period.
So little crime is committed in Leinster that the town’s police officer-in-charge, Paul Vargas, is often found assisting police in neighbouring communities or patrolling the highway.
“Not a lot happens in Leinster as far as crime goes, or as far as policing services or the requirement for policing services go,” Sergeant Vargas said.
“Normally it’s your low-end stuff. It’s your stealings or your trespassing — it’s not difficult investigations that you have to conduct.”
As for why the crime rate is so low, Sergeant Vargas has a theory.
“I think there’s a strong correlation between employment and crime,” he said.
“If you look at Leinster it’s literally 100 per cent employment.
“So people here are here for that purpose, they’re here to work. They do work long hours and I think that contributes to the low crime rate.”
Break the law? Expect to be expelled
Having said that, because the town is run by BHP – and its residents are employees – if you break the law in Leinster, BHP will decide whether to kick you out.
“They have a zero tolerance policy here … for things like violence and theft, anything like that,” Ms Maher said.
“So you lose your job, you lose your house, you lose all that sort of stuff if you break the law.
“And up here everyone knows it. So everyone just follows the rules. And it’s such a simple way of living, you just don’t do anything wrong and you’re fine.”
Glenn Palman, who works at the nickel mine as a shift supervisor, said pretty much everyone abides by BHP’s rules. Like Ms Maher, he said Leinster was a great place to live and raise kids precisely for the reasons that make it so unique.
“This town is great for kids. And then to have the freedom of the pool and gym and all the free amenities in town is awesome,” he said.
“So my kids live in the desert, they live in the bush, but they’re probably the best swimmers around compared to kids at suburban schools.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for BHP’s Nickel West said the company was responsible for maintaining the town’s facilities, as well as providing essential medical, power and water services.
“Providing free access to these facilities is an essential part of supporting a vibrant and enjoyable community – the people who work around Leinster as well as their families,” the spokesperson said.
They added that while to live in Leinster you must be a mine employee, “short-term accommodation is available for travellers and visitors to the town, who we welcome”.
‘It’s not like it’s a holiday’
As much as he loves living here, Mr Palman said the town does have its limits. In his case, it’s so his kids can have a high school education elsewhere.
“The reason why we’re leaving town, we’ve made a decision over the last two weeks. It’s quite a dramatic decision,” he said.
“I would have stayed here a lot longer if it wasn’t for my children’s friends who are actually at boarding school now.”
Many families in Leinster send their children to board elsewhere in the state once they graduate from primary school.
“I personally would have liked to see a bit more emphasis on the high school students here and having a proper teacher or a couple of teachers no matter what the number of students they have in the class,” Mr Palman said.
But it was never meant to be perfect. According to Ms Maher, most people only stay in Leinster for a few years before they move back to their old lives.
“There’s nothing fancy up here whatsoever. It’s not like you’re moving to a five-star beach resort or anything like that.
“At the end of the day, if somebody else is paying your rent, by the time we leave here, we’ll be in a much better position than we could ever possibly imagine to be if we stayed in Perth.
“It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a tough lifestyle, it really is. Even though we’re all together, everyone still works 12- to 14-hour days. So it’s not like it’s a holiday.”