This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2004 Travels July 16

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FRIDAY 16 JULY     TOM PRICE

Today was grey, cloudy and fairly cool for these parts.

I did some more washing.

John phoned C at Trakmaster, to get him to send a new battery charger to us, at Port Hedland. He also confirmed that he could link our batteries directly to the portable charger that we carry. This solved the power problem, temporarily.

Refuelled – $1.10cpl.

Drove up Mt Nameless, the peak that looms over Tom Price. The 4WD track to the top was still the very steep and somewhat challenging ascent and descent that I remembered from ’93. It felt a lot safer in the Defender, though, than it had in the old Hilux.

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Going up Mt Nameless – from the passenger’s viewpoint!

The views were alright from the top, but would have been much better on a sunny day – it was windy and freezing up there!

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Tom Price township from Mt Nameless Summit

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Tom Price Caravan Park below, to left

Decided to go visit Wittenoom Gorge, which we’d heard was really attractive, while one could still access it. Our thinking was that, on such a still, damp day, there might not be asbestos fibres floating around!

Wittenoom, of course, was notorious for having been the site of blue asbestos mining, which caused drastic health problems amongst its workers. The mining ceased in 1966. The settlement that existed up in the gorge where the mining occurred, was demolished and removed. But the tailings heaps remained.

The township of Wittenoom was several kms away from the mine area, on flatter land at the start of the gorge.

Had to go back the way we’d come in, yesterday,  for about 100kms, through Rio Tinto Gorge, then turn east on the Munjina road, for about 27kms to the Wittenoom township.

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Rio Tinto Gorge

We went to the Information Centre/gemstone shop in the old town. There was an excellent display of minerals and gems – one of the best I’d seen.

The shop lady told us that there were only a few houses still occupied in the town. The government was trying hard to get all residents to leave – on health grounds. However, the handful of residents who remain disputed the health risk in the town, being as it was, out on the plain and away from the gorge where the mine was.

It was official policy not to give out information about Wittenoom, put it on maps, or have signposts to it.

The shop lady pointed out something I had not known – that blue asbestos occurs throughout the Pilbara. She claimed that iron ore mining activity around Newman would be putting asbestos fibres into the air in those parts! Had no idea if she was correct in these claims, but it was rather a scary thought.

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Blue asbestos

We bought postcards and magnets. John bought some stones, including a little introductory kit for grand daughter, that had stones mounted and named.

Left the township and drove up into Wittenoom Gorge itself.

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Road into Wittenoom Gorge – mine tailings on the hillside

One could see why the remaining locals were entranced by the place – the scenery was just brilliant.

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It really was an abomination, to have such a deadly mine (or any mine for that matter), in such a beautiful place.

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Mine tailings on the hillside

The group Midnight Oil made the song “Blue Sky Mine” about this place.

The road into the gorge, once sealed, was breaking up in places, but was still quite negotiable.

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There was plenty of evidence of blue asbestos. There were huge tailings dumps on the sides of the hills, near where the mines had been.

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Tailings dump

Tailings had been used in the road making around the former settlement – there were clumps of blue asbestos on some of the surfaces.

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We looked around the old mine settlement site. There was not much there now, except broken concrete slabs. But the layout was clear.

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Old settlement site

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Found some lovely waterholes, up against rock walls at the gorge sides. The water was an unusual milky green colour.

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Although access to here was from the northern side of the ranges, Wittenoom Gorge is actually downstream from the really popular Karijini gorges – Weano, Hancock, Joffre and Knox. The stream through the gorge flows into the Fortescue River. One assumes that after rain events, it carries asbestos fibres down into that river.

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Cathedral Pool in Wittenoom Gorge

Exploring Wittenoom took us most of the day. Then it was time to return back the way we’d come.

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The clothes I’d hung out this morning were almost dry.

The caravan park was bursting at the seams.

John wanted to stay here another day, to relax a bit! Normally, taking our time was not an issue for us, but we felt some pressure to keep going, to give M as varied a time as we could. Whatever it was that was causing the face to swell up seemed to have gone away again.

I was able to extend our stay by a day.

We had excellent fish and chips for tea, from a shop in the central shops complex. They were quite expensive, though.

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