This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2006 Travels September 24


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!

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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.

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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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2006 Travels September 16


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Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park

We were back travelling in good time.

More dreary country to Port Hedland.

Reached there in time to go to the shops at South Hedland and get some weekend papers.

Refuelled there – $1.54cpl.

Port Hedland was a town in two parts. The older town and the original port facilities were on the coast but recent times had seen the main residential section and associated shops built several kms away, at South Hedland. The two were separated by swampy ground and extensive salt harvesting flats. The highway went by the new part.

There was a message on the phone, when we came into range again. It said we would be paid for our days of travel, as well as for fuel and accommodation. Yippee – because we had certainly racked up lots of travel hours!

Took Highway 1 out of Hedland, then the Great Northern Highway to the south. The country was marginally more interesting.

Followed our directions to – at about the 100km range from the highway junction – watch for the second turn off to the right, to the Yandeyarra Community. It was rather more than 100kms, but as predicted, opposite that there was a small sign to North Point, by a track  that went to the east.

We took that dirt/gravel track, which was in quite good condition. Drove through the dry river bed channels of the Turner River, then about 3kms further on, there was a cluster of buildings that had to be our destination?

Pulled into a large parking area and went looking for our contact, H. He proved to be of retiree age, like us. We got the impression he had not known we were coming, but he walked around the establishment with us. Showed us the dining area – tables set up on bare ground, under tarps, outside a catering caravan. There were two shower/toilet dongas, one with a washing machine in – a total of two toilets and two showers, only, and unisex. I didn’t know how many people would be using this camp and was starting to wish that our little caravan had its own bathroom facilities!

There were a couple of rows of dongas containing bedrooms – all looked very pre-used. Other donga type buildings were scattered about. There was a tent too – apparently some of the visiting aboriginals did not like being inside the rather confined donga rooms.

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Fly Camp

Rough “paths” of gravel linked the buildings. A big generator powered the place. Its noise was a constant background.

It was not a camp set up to fill one with great confidence!

H warned us that death adders abounded in the surrounding spinifex bush, so walking about out there required care. Lovely!

H decided that we could park the van right up at the end of a row of dongas, where there were also a couple of old caravans. We could plug our power lead into a power box on the end of the dongas. It was essential that we have power – already it was hot enough to need air con.

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Our power source – quite a few plugs hooked into that one power box

It was obvious from the tour that we would be fed – there were a couple of catering/housekeeping staff.

So, this was a “fly camp” – a temporary, initial camp. It had been set up for some weeks already – by Fortescue, not our company. It had been used by FMG people and those doing environmental and native heritage assessments and surveys. All the start up stuff. Now, our company people were allowed to be “guests”, too, while we worked to get the Rail Village 1 to a point where the company people could move there while finishing off the place.

We followed a track around the camp perimeter to our designated spot and parked the van at the end of the donga row.

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Unpacked and set up. Plugged our power lead into the box  along with several others. Because the lead had to cross a path to the van behind, John dug a trench, found a piece of plastic pipe and fed the lead through that, under the path. In the process, he disturbed a very pretty, well camouflaged  little gecko type reptile.

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Resident reptile

John took some photos of our van and the camp from up on top of the roof rack.

Being right at the edge of the camp set up, we were not far from the scrub that surrounded the camp. It was a pity that our van windows had to look out, though, on close by old vans and dongas, rather than the bush!

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We have camped in more attractive surroundings than this…….

Went to our first dinner at fly camp. It was served buffet style. There was a mixed green salad, potato salad, a mix of prawns and snap peas, hot rice, fish and chips, followed by a Boston bun style cake. Not bad at all.

Had no real idea who was who amongst the handful of fellow diners. Got the impression that there were not many company people here yet. One guy, K, did introduce himself – I thought he might be the site supervisor.

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2004 Travels July 28


An unpleasant surprise greeted John when he went to pack up this morning. The driver’s side front tyre on Truck was flat! So, a wheel change was needed before any other packing up got under way.

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How many flat tyres was that, for this trip?

While that was happening, the gold miner from the General Store arrived, with some small nuggets that he thought might be what I was looking for, to make earrings. I bought two.

After that, we had a routine drive to Port Hedland, all on good sealed roads.  Once past the hilly country around Marble Bar, the country got to be flat and a bit boring.

Went into the South Hedland Caravan Park, at $18 a night. It was rather shabby and contained mostly longer term dwellers. Later, as we were driving about, noticed a new park – Black Rock – that had recently opened. I wished I’d known about that one earlier! Knew there was another park, in Port Hedland itself, but had encountered sandflies there, back in ’93, and was not keen to repeat the experience.

After setting up for a short stay, drove into the main – older – part of Port Hedland, and had a look about. Port Hedland is really these two separate settlements, separated by several kms of desolate flat ground given over to salt pans and some industry. The drive in there took us past the very extensive salt works with their heaped up white salt hill.

The older, original Port Hedland was on a narrow peninsula of ground and limited by the swampy flat lands behind it. When there was the need to expand the original little fishing port town, with the advent of iron ore shipping, the necessary shops, services and houses were built back away from the swampy inlets, to the south. The layout of this part mirrored that of the other Pilbara towns set up for mining related purposes.

We saw long ore trains heading for the port area in the old town.

I remembered buying prawns from a trawler at the port, in ’93. We found out that it was no longer possible to buy fish or prawns from the boats, any more. Pity.

At one stage, saw an entourage in the distance –  turned out to be that of the Prime Minister. Never did find out why he was in town, though.

Came across a shop selling gemstones and rocks, and bought a few pretty stones for grand daughter.

Collected our mail from the PO. This included the new battery charger we’d had sent from Melbourne. But we decided not to try to get this installed now – not sure about the local work. We’d been managing with the portable charger, so thought we’d try to get back home with that system, and get the new charger properly installed at Trakmaster.

John found a tyre place and put the flat tyre in for repair.

M bought us all chicken and chips as a farewell dinner. I made an exception to my rule of not eating chicken not cooked by me – and hoped! I’d been outvoted. Fortunately, there were no adverse effects later.

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