This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2006 Travels September 11


We were at the company office from 8am till 2.30pm, with no breaks.

6.5 hours each, at $35 an hour, meant that we had just earned a total of $455!  It seemed quite unreal.

It was obvious that we were both embarking on a really, really steep learning curve!

R took John through all sorts of safety related stuff – manuals, stuff about chemicals and their handling and storage.

We were both told about some of the site procedures. It was all routine for them, but totally new to us. John was told that, on site, there was a Toolbox Meeting, every morning, before work, where the men would go over what they would do for the day, and any special safety procedures they needed to note.

The secretary tried to show me some of the office and paperwork procedures. She tried very hard to be helpful, and fortunately gave me a lot of material that I could take away and try to digest at a slower pace. I couldn’t admit it to her, but I was quite at sea with the way she zipped around different pages and displays on the computer.

She said she’d had to go out and buy everything – apart from furniture and machines – that would be needed to set up two offices at the sites, and these supplies were being trucked down.

Later in this year, I obtained photos of the area of the first construction  site, before work commenced there. The top photo showed the access road from the Great Northern Highway, that ran east-west and connected with the service road that ran along the length of BHP’s rail line from its mines near Newman, to Port Hedland. The fly camp (temporary accommodation)  could be seen in the distance.


The lower photo showed the site of the actual camp that the company would build. It was to look very different a few months later! The photos were taken early in August.


R issued us with work shirts – orange, high-vis ones, with the company logo on.

There was so much technical type paperwork and terminology to get my head around.

R seemed fairly vague about conditions and accommodation where we were going. He said something about there being – or would be – a fly camp. That meant nothing to us, then. It obviously was not a holiday venue for blowflies! We were to find out that it was a temporary camp – put up “on the fly”, by the Fortescue team based in Port Hedland – to house workers, as needed. It took me a little time to work out that it was not the responsibility of our company, at all – that company workers were guests there, just like aboriginal heritage advisors from local communities, or environmental survey people, from wherever.

I was very pleased that we would be taking our own accommodation with us, but had no idea if things like power were available, or any bathroom facilities!

I was very hesitant to reveal my total ignorance by asking questions about things like this!

We learned that R was actually to oversee the entire Pilbara project. There would be Site Supervisors – J at Site 1, P at Site 2 (though this changed around soon after we arrived there, because P would be later arriving). In the Alice Springs office I would be dealing mostly with V, who was co-ordinating the FMG projects. M kept track of where buildings were and arranged staff air flights. K did Personnel and paid accounts and salaries.

We were invited to R’s home for a BBQ tea tonight. That was nice of him.

Most importantly, today we were told that we were to drive ourselves down there ASAP. The little training we were getting here would have to suffice – it was all systems go down there, now. The company would pay our fuel and accommodation costs in getting there – nice.

As soon as we finished at the office, raced off, grabbed a Subway late lunch, then went to a specialist work gear shop to buy ourselves the steel capped boots we had been told were mandatory, all the time, on site. They were far more comfortable than I had expected. Also costly – some $120 for each of us.

We must wear long sleeved shirts, long trousers and steel caps, on the work site.

I went and bought books on Excel and other Office programs I thought I needed to quickly try to learn!

John went to the landscaping place and bought more African mahogany – on the strength of the money earned today – $400 worth.

The evening meal at R’s place, at Palmerston, was very pleasant. They have a huge outdoor living area, under cover, surrounded by lush green gardens – as is the norm up here.

R’s daughter, who we’d already met as she was the secretary at the Darwin office, was there, and his wife, who had recently set up in business as a property manager.

Through the course of the evening, a clear message was conveyed to John – they wanted a compliant safety person, rather than a really pedantic one, because they did not want any hold ups to the work! Maybe that explained why they hired someone with no formal qualifications in the field – although as a former school Principal, John had been familiar with some aspects of such matters.

It seemed that R expected to be down there on site, at some stage, managing the work from there rather than totally from Darwin.

We heard on the radio that there were bad bushfires down around Adelaide River. Hoped the highway didn’t get cut.

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2006 Travels September 10


Bowls in Darwin in the morning.

Now that a lengthy trip was looming, John greased the wheel bearings on the van and adjusted the brakes on both sides – eased them off a bit.

I spent some of the day working out what I would need, and would have to do to prepare for this “adventure”.

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2006 Travels September 9


We had to go to the Darwin company office, in the morning, to see R. When things moved, it seemed they did so quickly!

Apparently, it had been getting environmental and aboriginal heritage approvals that had been holding up the project. These things were not up to the company – it was Fortescue that must negotiate and sort out the approvals, and then hand the site over to the company for the construction work.

I was still trying to get my head around the delineations and processes and who was doing what.

It was arranged that we were to turn up at 8am on Monday, for “work” – induction and so on. We would be paid for our time.

There would be three options for getting us to the site:  1. Drive ourselves there.  2. Drive to Alice Springs, so some training at Head Office, then drive the Tanami Track to WA. But the Tanami was very rough at this time.  3. Fly to Alice for training, fly back to Darwin, then drive ourselves.

R was not yet sure which of these it would be. Just one of a number of uncertainties, it seemed to me.

Back at camp, I made John go and tell J we would not be doing the mango work after all. I felt really bad that we had let her down, and hoped John was embarrassed.

Occasionally I saw, in my walks around the area, Rainbow Bee-eaters – really colourful little birds, with the distinctive longer tail feather. In some light angles, they appeared irridescent.

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Rainbow Bee eaters

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2006 Travels September 8


A message came in on our phone, from R, asking if we were still interested in the Pilbara work?

So – the jobs were still there, it seemed. I really had relaxed, thinking we would hear no more about it.

John was determined to take them up, even though I made it abundantly clear that I did not want to.


I made John phone the offspring, to tell them. They were pretty philosophical about it – guess they’d had time to get used to the idea that we would not be home again for quite a while.

Phoned M again to tell her our plans had changed. Again, left a message.

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2006 Travels September 5 – 7


Our routine went on pretty much as before.

There were now two new full sized buses in the park. They appeared  to have been made into quite upmarket motor homes, each towing a trailer with a 4WD vehicle on. They contained  families, travelling and working. Sometimes in my park walks, I would see the mothers doing home schooling work with their children. At other times, I would encounter them in the pool.

John went to the timber place a couple of times, to work on injecting his wood. The idea was that filling the cracks in this way would prevent them enlarging. I resisted all attempts to enlist my help.

Filled Truck at Coolalinga – $1.36cpl.

We were told that we would start the mango packing next Tuesday – a definite start then. That was good news. Just waiting about in the steadily increasing heat and humidity was becoming a bit tedious.

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Mango orchard

Phoned M to give her the news about our mango work – had to leave a message, so she had to be somewhere out of range.

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2006 Travels September 4


We drove back towards Darwin, to the landscaping place previously visited. John wanted to see if the mahogany man was there. He was. He told John much about the timber and showed him lots of it. We were able to see items – like big tables – made up from it.

Because of the tree removal program, the place was getting lots of the timber.

It really was a beautiful wood. Mostly a deep, rich red, and with distinct grain lines that made it really interesting.

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John spent $600 on buying wood. He was able to select three long slabs, cut from large tree trunks, along their length. The sides were mostly the natural edges still, just stripped of bark. They would make brilliant, irregularly edged  tables. He bought other pieces to be table legs and bases, plus a couple of chunks for wood turning. He had a wonderful time.

The timber would be shipped south for us. No more transport in the van for us, after last year’s disaster!

Before the timber could be shipped, John had to fill some of the naturally occurring cracks in the timber with a special solution that he had to buy, then inject with a syringe. Painstaking work, that would be! Definitely man’s work though……..The solution was quite expensive, too.

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2006 Travels September 1


We drove into Darwin.

I did some food shopping.

There were some galleries at the Parap suburb that I wanted to look at, so we went there. The galleries were worth visiting, but we resisted the temptation to buy any art works.

I came across a shop – Frangipani Fabrics – that sold quilting materials, and went in to look around. That craft had long interested me, but I had not acted upon the interest. It did not seem a really portable activity for this current lifestyle. But one day…… so I joined their “club”, whereby they sent selected fabric quarters to members, each month – they were perhaps tempters to get people to buy larger quantities, but I found the idea intriguing and the materials gorgeous.

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Indigenous quilting fabrics

Bought fish and chips for tea.

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2006 Travels August 31


Another drive into Darwin this morning, this time to go to lunch at the Casino.

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I had arranged to meet there with a long-time colleague, A. We had both started new jobs at the same school, in 1982, and had worked closely together. Whilst I remained at that school for sixteen years, until “retiring” to travel, A had moved to our linked school in Darwin – Kormilda College – and been there for years. He was working part time now, in his main speciality of music teaching.

It was great to catch up with him again. Unfortunately, his wife was at work and could not come.

I was interested to hear of the changes that had taken place at Kormilda over the past six years, since the Principal that I had known there, had moved on. It seemed to me that the school was now was mainly a day school serving Darwin and had shifted some distance from the concept at the time of my school’s original involvement – mainly to provide education to indigenous kids from remote communities across the Top End. It had been an ambitious and worthy undertaking, fraught with all sorts of unforeseen issues.

In the course of discussion I shared a memory with A of the time I had been at a Conference in Singapore with that Principal. At dinner one night he was called to the phone, and came back quite ashen faced. A well meaning teacher, freshly employed from Melbourne, had set up a football game to occupy the boarders. For ease, he designated that one team would be made up of boys from certain communities, and the other from different communities. He was not to know that there were blood feuds between some of the communities, going back into the mists of time. The game quickly degenerated into a cross between brawl and all out warfare. Many of the spectating boarders had run away – to relatives in the greater Darwin area, or just into the bush. It was a considerable crisis for him to manage. Fortunately, the Conference was winding down and he could return almost immediately to Darwin. We could now laugh about it, but it had been really serious at the time.

A talked quite a bit about their lifestyle up here. The initial attraction for him had been working with indigenous students, rather than living in the tropics, per se. He said they found it quite a cultural desert – especially in the Wet. They regularly flew to Sydney to go to shows and the like. He thought  that when his step sons finished their schooling here, in another few years, they would move south again.

I really enjoyed our lunch. It was a pleasant break from just waiting around.

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2006 Travels August 28 – 30


The days were spent just hanging about, waiting.

John slept in, played computer games. I read, walked, went swimming, sewed.

The highlight of our days was happy hour, sitting outside, watching the antics of the neighbouring peacocks – especially their nightly ritual of settling into the trees, with much jockeying for position, and trying out different trees and perches. It was surprisingly entertaining!

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Plenty of shade and privacy here

We drove into Darwin one day. I wanted to go to Spotlight to get some materials for my Hardanger embroidery. At Casuarina, we browsed the shops and I bought a couple of computer books – on Windows and Excel, having decided that I really should update my computer skills, anyway. At Berrimah, John bought some work shorts, in anticipation of mango shed work.