Donovan Francis Duncan RHODES


Don was born on 30th October, 1910 in Selby, Yorkshire, England to Joshua and Eliza Rhodes (nee Outhwaite). He had two younger sisters, Betty and Beryl. The family emigrated to Australia in 1913.

The family settled in Western Australia on a 120 acre orchard in Maida Vale. It consisted of orange trees and grape vines. The produce was taken by horse and cart to Midland Junction by Don and his father once a week.

When Don was six, he and both his sisters started school. Even though Beryl was only four, she was allowed to start school as she was very lonely at home. The three of them attended a one teacher school and had to walk three miles to get there. Don had to take a billy can with him to collect the milk for the family on his way home from school.


The One Teacher School at Maida Vale

He was around twelve, when the family's house burnt down and they lost everything they owned, and had to rebuild from scratch. There was no water at the house, the water being carted in a barrel on a sled to the house once a week. This water was used for cooking, drinking, cleaning and washing. (After Don returned from high school he dug a well at the side of the house and installed a hand pump inside the house. This was the family's first running water.)

On finishing his primary education, Don won a scholarship to Northam High School, studying agriculture. He hated living away from home and always claimed that he didn't grow at all in those three years.


Don at Northam High School


Back home, Don went into the poultry business, which was successful. However, his father took all the profits after Don had done all the work.

His father has a contract with the Main Roads Department to supply gravel rocks that were used then for kerbing of the roads. These rocks had to be dug using a pick and loaded by hand onto the truck. Upon reaching the road works the rocks were once again unloaded by hand. Very labour intensive work. As long as Don and his father had only one truck, they shared the work load, but when his father expanded and bought another truck, Don was left with the digging and loading. The tougher part of the job.

Don left home when he was 23, with an old truck and £17. He went to Kalgoolie to try his luck at mining with a partner, but his partner left as soon as Don's money ran out. He then turned to chopping and carting cord wood for the State Battery and the hospital laundry in Kalgoolie.

Later he had a contract that involved him working on Rottnest Island after which he was working in the metropolitan area for quite some time. He met Dan Hunt, who hired him to drive a heavily laden truck from Perth to Darwin. At the time the road from Perth to Darwin was just a track, as most goods went by sea. Don was still in Darwin sub-contracting, when the town was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. The army commandeered all Don's equipment for the war effort, and he only got them back when the war finished. While he was in Darwin, he met a man called John Charman, and the two men became good friends.


Don in a bomb crater in Darwin


In late 1944 he left Darwin to return to Perth when his father became seriously ill. His dad had contracted meningitis from driving his truck without a windscreen. The windscreen had broken some time previously, and he was too mean to replace it. In 1945 he was introduced to John Charman's sister, Dorothy Charman. They were married on the 5th December of that year at Christ Church in Claremont.

The following year, in November, his son, Kenneth Donovan Rhodes, was born. Their daughter, Maxine Frances Rhodes was born in July, 1950.

At the time of his marriage, Don was the licensee of the Ascot Inn, having taken it over from his sister Betty's husband. His mother and father, as well as his sister and her husband and their daughter, all lived at the hotel. His mother, sister Betty and her husband were killed in a car accident on Don's wedding day. Don and Dot then raised Betty's daughter Vilia, who was nine at the time.



Prior to his marriage, Don bought out his brother-in-law's five 5 ton Ford trucks, with contracts to supply lime stone and bauxite to Swan Portland Cement works. The bauxite was blasted and then loaded by hand. Don bought the first small excavator in Western Australia, to dig and load the bauxite onto the trucks. He was soon asked to use the machine on other jobs, and because of this he found he needed to buy another loader.

Don's first big contract was to construct the original runways for the Perth airport, for which he used sub-contractor truck owner drivers.

After the birth of his daughter, he formed a family company, D.F.D. Rhodes Pty Ltd. The business grew rapidly in the post-war era.


The original workshop at Tate Street, Welshpool

Woodie Woodie

The new company was contracted by Northern Minerals to mine and cart manganese from Woodie Woodie to Port Hedland. Mining began at Woodie Woodie in 1952, and the first shipment went out in 1953. This was the beginning of the manganese industry in WA. He had to upgrade what were just bush tracks, into suitable roads for ore trucks, from the 94 mile peg on the Marble Bar railway line, for another 240 miles into Woodie Woodie. Two graders worked constantly maintaining the road. He began the operation in a small way with about 15 trucks, and in the first year carted about 9,000 tonnes of ore to Port Hedland.

The accommodation was primitive, with water having to be carted in from a near by gorge (approx. 80 miles). After mining for a few years, the open cut pit began to fill with fresh artesian water. Whilst solving the problem of no available water, the water had to be constantly pumped out of the mine.

The manganese truckies drove the 334 miles in 18 hours, providing there were no brake downs, punctures, rain or collisions with kangaroos, emus, donkeys or bush turkeys.

One of the most frustrating problems that Don had, was the city worker, having an enormous fear of being stranded in the wide open spaces.

The mine closed in 1967. Today the open cut pits of both D.F.D. Rhodes and Bell Bros. are filled with water, and would be impractical to mine.

Manganese deposits at WoodieWoodie are still being mined today (depending on ore prices) and are located on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, 300 miles east of Marble Bar.

Unloading manganese at Port Hedland



Loading kibbles ready for shipping

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