This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2006 Travels September 15

FRIDAY 15 SEPTEMBER   FITZROY CROSSING TO EIGHTY MILE BEACH   755kms

Today was another hot one, long and tedious.

The country side was not as interesting – mostly flat and dry. I regard the stretch of highway between Broome and Port Hedland as one of the most boring in Australia!

We decided to have a final night of freedom by the sea, at Eighty Mile Beach. From there, we would reach the camp – if we could find it – in reasonable time the next day.

Refuelled at Roebuck Plains – $1.65cpl; Sandfire Roadhouse – $1.65cpl.

The tourist season was winding down fast, so there were plenty of vacancies in caravan parks up north.

We paid $34.45, after discount, at the Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park. Had stayed here previously, and loved it for its location by the superb sweeping beach.

On dusk, went for a walk on the beach to watch the sunset. It was low tide, so the water was a long way out. There were not many other people on the beach.

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Sunset, Eighty Mile Beach. Red sky from bushfire or burn off smoke

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The park shop was still doing fish and chips, so we treated ourselves to a takeaway – yummy.

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2006 Travels September 14

THURSDAY 14 SEPTEMBER     KUNUNURRA TO FITZROY CROSSING   676kms

We left Kununurra at 6.15 am. The early start was helped by the fact that our systems were still on NT time!

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Jabiru flying. Lots of sky, but I’d never sen one in flight before

Refuelled at Halls Creek – $1.65cpl; and at Fitzroy Crossing Lodge – $1.65cpl.

It was about 2.10pm when we reached Fitzroy Crossing, not long after we had stopped at the Mary River rest and camping area for lunch.

We were both ready to stop then, rather than make the next long stage to Broome.  Decided that the company had dicked us around for the past few weeks, so we were not going to kill ourselves getting to the site. We would do reasonable stages, and have some rest, each day.

The countryside between Kununurra and Fitzroy Crossing was seriously superb. As far almost as Halls Creek, it was very hilly and dramatic and stark. It evened out a bit after that, but still had mesas, plateaus and hills in the distance, to keep it interesting.

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Country around Warmun

We noted several very good free camping areas – with toilets.

There was a new bridge over the Ord River crossing, but were still lots of single vehicle width bridges, with no sides, just low cement edging. I had forgotten about those!

Went into Fitzroy River Lodge – $25.

This was a park where caravanners seemed secondary to the main accommodation business of the hotel and motel sections. They said we could select our own site. There might or might not be a drive-through site left. If we wanted to use two ordinary sites so that we could stay hitched up, we could pay double! We found a drive through one – they were not all that busy.

Guests were allowed to use the motel pool, so we had a long and beautiful swim in that.

Just after dark, it was really pleasant to walk around the park. The lights from the rigs were really pretty. The cooking smells were nice too! It was balmy and warm.

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Fitzroy River at Fitzroy Crossing

I put a bit more effort into tea tonight.

We had noticed that the van wheels, especially on the left side, were feeling quite hot in the afternoons. They seemed better in the mornings. It was a concern, because we were not doing much braking to explain the heat!

M phoned, from Marla. She had detoured into Chambers Pillar on the way south and camped a couple of nights there – loved the place. She was timing her return south to reach our home in time to take over from the outgoing house sitters. She was quite happy to have a place to stay that wasn’t with her mother, for as long as needed. I gave her a free hand in dealing with the garden – pruning, tidying up and so on, as much as she wanted. Being the keen gardener that she was, I imagined the place would soon look better than it did when we were home.

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2006 Travels September 13

WEDNESDAY 13 SEPTEMBER   HOWARD SPRINGS TO KUNUNURRA   848kms

We pulled out of Howard Springs at 7.15am.

Basically, it was a day of driving, stopping only for quick coffee breaks and leg stretches.

I had packed sandwiches this morning, and we took a brief lunch break at a roadside rest area, somewhere west of Katherine.

Refuelled at Katherine – $1.38cpl; Timber Creek – $1.67cpl; and Kununurra – $1.66cpl.

It became quite hot as the day wore on. We discovered that the Truck air con could now be used while we were towing. The previous problem of the engine temperature climbing too high when we did so, had been solved by the new radiator! This made a very big difference on my hot side of the vehicle, especially around my feet. The layout of the Defender meant that the passenger foot compartment was quite constricted and made hotter by the central drive shaft housing.

The country around Victoria River Roadhouse looked very interesting – worth a visit in the future?

Just before the Roadhouse, we crossed the Victoria River, in a bridge that would undoubtedly flood in the wet season, cutting the highway.

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Victoria River

The Roadhouse had a camping ground attached, a fact I mentally filed away for future reference.

Although we had driven this route, from the west, in 1993, I found I did not remember much of it. In 2000, we came from the south-west, Dunmarra through the Jasper Gorge, to Timber Creek, so avoided that Victoria River section.

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Victoria River

The last part of the day was through starkly spectacular country – really “wow”.

We started to see some boabs, so typical of the Kimberley country.

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Passed through the border checkpoint with no issues

Reached Kununurra about 5.30pm, WA time. We had gained 90 minutes crossing the border, so it was “really” 7pm. It had been a long day on the road!

Booked into the Ivanhoe Village Caravan Park – $23.40 after discount of $2.60. We were able to stay hitched up.

Walked to the shops and bought green groceries, now we were through the border quarantine.

By the time we got back to the park, it was almost dark – the night falls quickly in these parts.

We were not very hungry, so just had tinned soup and dry biscuits for tea, and fell into bed.

Back in the Kimberley country that I love so much – but just passing through. I resolved, at this point, that if we managed a trip next year, we would come to the Kimberley. That made me feel a bit better.

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2006 Travels September 12

TUESDAY 12 SEPTEMBER     HOWARD SPRINGS

We were back at the office at 8am, for another session, that lasted until 10.30am.

Another $175 earned!

John spent the time being taken through yet more manuals and procedures. I tried to gain more understanding of the paperwork and procedures. It still remained daunting, and scary.

We then raced around, doing all sorts of odds and ends. After weeks of doing very little, it was now much frantic activity.

John finished injecting his timber and getting it wrapped for the journey south. It would be kept like that and not despatched until we phoned them to send it – when we were home again to receive it.

I bought fish to stock up the van freezer, figuring that might be the hardest protein to get, out in the bush. I already had some meat and chicken in there.

R had been so vague about our accommodation arrangements at the site, so I did not even know if we were being fed, or given supplies.

We were to report to someone – called H – at the fly camp, whatever that was.

Even the directions were vague! R could not show me where we were going on my Road Atlas map! We were to take the Great Northern Highway south from Port Hedland, for about 100kms, then take a dirt road to the left, and the camp was up there. There should be a sign at the corner! The “about” part concerned me; and how many dirt roads to the left were there likely to be in such an area?

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The general area shown to us on the Road Atlas map, where we were supposed to be going

At a luggage shop at Casuarina, bought a large overnight bag – one that would do for us both if we had to fly home at Xmas.

Got some groceries. Returned the library books. I went to a book exchange and stocked up.

Refuelled at Coolalinga – $1.35cpl.

We did most of the camp pack up.

I cooked up our stocks of tomatoes, potatoes and onions, so we could take those through quarantine at the WA border. I gave produce I couldn’t use to the guy behind and threw some out.

It was a very tiring day.

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Meanwhile, work on clearing the construction site had begun


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2006 Travels September 11

MONDAY 11 SEPTEMBER     HOWARD SPRINGS

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.

PENTAX Image

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.

PENTAX Image

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

SUNDAY 10 SEPTEMBER     HOWARD SPRINGS

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

SATURDAY 9 SEPTEMBER     HOWARD SPRINGS

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