This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2006 Travels September 24

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Our day off.

We had come a long way in a week, in terms of knowledge and knowing what we were doing.

Today was John’s birthday – 66. A very low key occasion, this one. It was enough just to have the day off!

Sunday was a good day for me to have off because head office was closed, and so much of what I had to do was based on communication with them – and with other businesses, usually also closed on Sundays.

After a sleep in, and an unpressured shower – the other camp occupants  being out at work – I had my usual grapefruit breakfast at the van – having gotten John to replenish the stock on one of his forays into Hedland during the week. He went across to the cook van and scrounged something from them. I went over and put together a couple of lunch packs.

Then we set out to drive to Port Hedland. This was a repetitive outing for John, already, but for me, it was most enjoyable to see the outside world!

Resize of 09-24-2006 03 RV1 new sign

Sign at the access road/highway corner

We explored the old town a little. There was much more character in the old buildings here, compared to the more recently built service centre of South Hedland, but it gave off an air of some neglect. This was at least partly due to the coating of rust red dust that had permeated everything, drifting across from the iron ore loading dock.

The town dates back to origins as a harbour for pearling luggers in the 1860’s who found suitable moorings in the channels surrounding a promontory of land that was cut off from the mainland at high tide.  Settlement began on that island. Some thirty years later, the island was linked to the mainland by a causeway across the tidal flats – roughly the area where the salt harvesting operations are now.

The old town section contains a few buildings that date from the late 1800’s/early1900’s, such as the Esplanade Hotel, but termites and cyclones are not kind to buildings in places like these. Neither, really, is its  kind of boom and bust history: boom in the early gold rushes to places like Marble Bar, again in World War 2 when it was part of the front line defences of northern Australia and was bombed by the Japanese. Now there is the current, massive iron ore boom. In between those times, it reverted to a pastoral service town.

We parked as close as we could and watched iron ore being loaded into bulk carriers. This was the core business of the Pilbara region – digging up the ancient land and shipping it off to China.

It was the BHP loading facility that we could see at the end of the long, narrow promontory of land that the old town was built on.

We had already learned that there was great rivalry – emnity – between the older established BHP and the newcomer of FMG. The ore body that FMG planned to mine was in the Chichester Ranges, to the north of Newman and the BHP mines. It was, by comparison,  a lower grade ore body that FMG believed could be profitably exploited.

It seemed that FMG had wanted to use – initially at least, BHP’s  existing railway from its mines at Newman to Port Hedland, and also the ore loading facility there. BHP – understandably – was not going to encourage a competitor in any way, and refused access. Although FMG was pursuing this in the courts, the company had decided not to wait for the slow legal processes, and was building its own railway – essentially parallel to the BHP one and only a km or two apart. It was also building its own port facility on Finucane Island, across a narrow channel from the BHP port. So this was how we came onto the scene.

Obviously, since returns to FMG would not begin to happen until they were actually exporting iron ore, there was great pressure to get this infrastructure completed ASAP. It was clearly a costly undertaking and we gained the impression that there were plenty who thought the venture would not succeed, that financing had been hard to come by, that better known contractors had no faith in the viability of FMG, which was why a small company based in Alice Springs had gotten the nod to build the construction camps.

We were to find that BHP were not welcoming or encouraging of anyone or anything to do with FMG, to the point of actions to obstruct or delay the project.

John had already, on his trips in here, found a pleasant small park by the sea and the boat ramp, and he took us there to have our lunch. We were able to set up the laptop on a table in a picnic shelter and do a download. He would try to do this every week or so, on one of his regular trips in.

Resize of 09-24-2006 01 Download at Pt Hedland

Lunch in Port Hedland. Ore loading port in background

There were lots of iron ore bulk carriers, lined up on the horizon, waiting their turn to come in for loading. I was really surprised at how many were out there.

Refuelled truck in Hedland – $1.46cpl.

Drove back to camp in time for tea.

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