This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2004 Travels July 27

TUESDAY 27 JULY     MARBLE BAR

In the morning, John wanted to do some computer stuff, so M and I went for a walk to explore the town, after I’d packed our lunches ready for later.

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Morning at Marble Bar Caravan Park

It was an interesting place, with some very dignified old stone buildings, dating from the time when mining seemed to offer a bright future for the place. Who knows, with the advances in the technology of minerals exploration and extraction, those times might come again?

Marble Bar is known as the hottest place in Australia. In recent times, that has been its only claim to fame. That was why John wanted to visit here in ’93 – so he could say he’d been there! We certainly were not expecting somewhere so intrinsically beautiful, and with so much that interested us.

The hottest reputation is not because of a maximum temperature reached on one day, but because it holds the record for the longest run of days over 100 degrees F (37.8 C) – 160 days over summer of 1923-24. They didn’t have air-con then, either!

We looked over the Pilbara Pioneers Memorial Wall. The plaques here give details of pioneers who often died alone and who were buried in remote and lonely places in the district. Some typical inscriptions: Avis Hosotana 1898: aged 3 days; buried at Tomborrah Creek; son of Otako and George; died of heat exhaustion. Robert Chandler 1899: Aged 42 years;  Buried at Tabba Tabba Creek near Port Hedland; a saddler who became lost in the bush and died of thirst.

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The Wall also honours Lang Hancock, who is credited with founding the iron ore industry of the Pilbara. He recognized the richness and extent of iron ore deposits in the region, and publicized and promoted the potential, although he never owned an iron ore mine himself. He did however, start asbestos mining at Wittenoom! These days, a dubious claim to fame. His daughter Gina, and her Hancock Mining Company provided funding for the Memorial.

M and I only progressed as far as the General Store! A miner’s wife ran that establishment. From her I bought a gold nugget already mounted ready for chain and four smaller nuggets, also mounted, for the daughters for Xmas. I put in an order with the miner for a pair of “flat” nuggets for earrings, when he had two that matched. M bought a nugget too.

We had certainly done our bit for the local economy, whilst here!

Then John arrived, driving Truck, to put in some fuel. He only added 50 litres – at $1.28cpl. That should see us through to somewhere cheaper!

We drove out to Coppin Gap, to the NE of the town about 60kms. This involved us taking the sealed Port Hedland road, then the gravel Bamboo track to the east. The Coppin Gap track led off this.

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Bamboo Road – and smoke

We passed mustering vehicles and a helicopter. The mustering team had lit fires in the spinifex, out beyond the Gap, as they had mustered out there. The dark spinifex smoke hung in the air – not all that far away, it appeared.

The country out that way was just beautiful.

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We parked at the end of the access track, then walked to the Gap, and walked/scrambled through it.

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Approach to Coppin Gap

The Gap was quite dramatic – a water carved gap in the Coongan Hills.

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Walking through Coppin Gap

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Reflections

We had lunch, sitting by the waterhole at the base of the steep cliffs of the Gap.

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As we retraced our way back to Truck, the fires looked closer, but still a way off. But they were enough for us to curtail any further exploration out in that direction.

Yet again, apart from the mustering team, we’d encountered no other people. Being able to enjoy places like this in solitude was wonderful, after the crowds of Karijini.

On the way back to camp, detoured to take in Doolena Pool, off the Hedland road, as it wasn’t far from where we rejoined this.

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Doolena Pool

Doolena Pool was on the Coongan River. Whilst it was very pretty, it was not in the same league as Coppin Gap.

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I thought John had done so well with the pretty constant driving he’d had to do over the past three weeks. We would have to find somewhere that he could have a good long refreshing break from it, once M left.

 


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2004 Travels July 26

MONDAY 26 JULY     MARBLE BAR

We managed quite an early start to the day’s sight seeing ventures.

Drove the couple of kms to the actual “marble bar” at the nearby Coongan River, that gave the town its name. The reef of rock is actually jasper, not marble, but – especially when damp –  it looked enough like the real thing to trick the first settlers.

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The “marble” bar and Coongan River

We put some water on it to show M how it does look like marble.

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Jasper outcrop

People trying to souvenir a chunk of jasper at the main part of the bar, had become a problem, so a little quarry area had been created, slightly out of the way, where those so inclined could pick up a piece of jasper, with vandalizing the main reef.

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It was a pleasant spot out there, by a big pool in the river, and we had a bit of a wander around.

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It would appear that there were fish in the river…

Then drove on a little way further south, to the old Comet gold mine. This started with a gold find in 1936 and was worked until the 1950’s. Its claim to fame was that it had, for some years,  the tallest chimney in the southern hemisphere, at 75 metres. It was still producing little bits of gold to sell to people like me!

The township of Marble Bar grew up as the result of a gold rush in the 1890’s. In that period of optimism, some substantial buildings were put up. However, the main rush was fairly short lived, as news of the great finds around places like Kalgoorlie, filtered north. But some mining activity continued, in fits and starts, around Marble Bar. The Comet Mine had been one such occurrence.

I bought a chunk of gold nugget. I planned, when back home, to have a setting put on the top, so I could wear it on a chain, as a pendant. Also bought a tiger eye iron necklace. My excuse was that these would be this year’s birthday and Xmas presents!

We went back to the van for lunch. Then it was out the Salgash Road, for about 36kms, to the old Corunna Downs WW2 airstrip and base.

Back in ’93, when we were rained in at Marble Bar, the park owner had given us directions out here and we had been captivated by the place and its little-known history – which he had told us, as there was then no tourist information available.

The drive out to Corunna Downs was lovely – dramatic scenery.

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Unusual rock outcrop near Corunna Downs

The air base here was built in 1942, in great secrecy – for long range B24 Liberator bombers – American – that would attack Japanese bases in the Dutch East Indies, and shipping in that region. At the time, the air bases further north – around Darwin and at Truscott in the Kimberley – were being attacked by Japanese planes. The surrounding area here was so hilly, remote and inhospitable, that it was thought the Japanese would not suspect a base was here. It was also beyond the range of most of their aircraft.

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Rugged Corunna Downs country

The base operated until 1945 and was decommissioned in 1946. It was never attacked. Although the Japanese hunted for the base of the big bombers, they never found it.

The remnants had survived remarkably well, though the few actual buildings that existed, were removed. The Australian and American servicemen were housed in tents, camouflaged, which must have been distinctly uncomfortable in the hot Pilbara summer.

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Flying fox was used when water course flooded

The longest of the two runways was about 2100 metres long and 50 metres wide; a slightly shorter runway intersected it, and there were kms of taxi ways.

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We could still see the remains of the old runways and some of the twenty earth bunkers that sheltered – and helped camouflage – the big bombers. There were lots of bits of metal, old drums and the like, lying around.

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Truck in revetment that once sheltered a big bomber

Of course, we had to drive some of the long runway, at speed! We did quite a bit of walking around and exploring on foot.

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On the runway

It was a very good afternoon. Something different for our tourist friend and something well off the beaten tourist track. We saw no other travellers at all, through the afternoon.

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Some of the travellers  we talked to, back at the caravan park, said that Carrawine Gorge, east of here, which we had considered visiting, was not worth the trip, because it was really badly degraded after this year’s cyclone. Scratch that idea, then!


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2004 Travels July 25

SUNDAY 25 JULY   NEWMAN TO MARBLE BAR   300kms

We headed north out of Newman, soon onto the unsealed road to Nullagine. The road was in pretty good condition.

We stopped at Nullagine to eat the lunch I’d packed.

Back in ’93, we were intending to stay here because John wanted to do some prospecting, so we’d driven down from Port Hedland. However, we thought it was a place with a very bad “feel”, not helped by seeing some sort of lock up structure, with bars, and occupants visible behind them as we passed. We’d about turned and driven all the way back to Marble Bar.

It still did not appeal at all to me as a place to stay! Whereas, we had great memories of Marble Bar – despite, or maybe because of – being stranded there for a few days by rain-closed roads. Back then, the Port Hedland road was still unsealed. Whilst the roads out to the south and north had been closed, the little local ones were not, and the caravan park owner had directed us to some great exploring.

We continued on to Marble Bar, through some really interesting country – ranges and hills, flattening out a bit before we reached Marble Bar.

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Went into the Marble Bar Caravan Park – $20 a night. The park had grown in size, since ’93. It was still quite a pleasant one. This was the park that was offered to us, to buy, back then! New owners took over, 16 months ago. There is really only a few months of tourist season here, though, obviously, it is far more a visitors’ destination now than it was eleven years ago.

Because we had phoned ahead and booked, they had kept us a nice site. M had a great grassy patch to one side of us for her tent. They were full and having to use a gravel overflow area too, so we congratulated ourselves on our foresight!

The town looked like it had been spruced up since ’93, and there was more information for tourists. But there were still some grotty areas.

After setting up, M and I walked up Water Tank Hill, behind the park, late in the afternoon. The sweeping views from the top were superb.

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Marble Bar town and caravan park from top of Water Tank Hill

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At 5pm, the park owner held a briefing session for all that day’s newcomers – about things to do in the area. Great idea, that probably resulted in at least some visitors staying on longer than they intended.

It was very pleasant to be back in a park that was peaceful and quiet, after Newman.

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