This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2004 Travels July 16


Today was grey, cloudy and fairly cool for these parts.

I did some more washing.

John phoned C at Trakmaster, to get him to send a new battery charger to us, at Port Hedland. He also confirmed that he could link our batteries directly to the portable charger that we carry. This solved the power problem, temporarily.

Refuelled – $1.10cpl.

Drove up Mt Nameless, the peak that looms over Tom Price. The 4WD track to the top was still the very steep and somewhat challenging ascent and descent that I remembered from ’93. It felt a lot safer in the Defender, though, than it had in the old Hilux.

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Going up Mt Nameless – from the passenger’s viewpoint!

The views were alright from the top, but would have been much better on a sunny day – it was windy and freezing up there!

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Tom Price township from Mt Nameless Summit

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Tom Price Caravan Park below, to left

Decided to go visit Wittenoom Gorge, which we’d heard was really attractive, while one could still access it. Our thinking was that, on such a still, damp day, there might not be asbestos fibres floating around!

Wittenoom, of course, was notorious for having been the site of blue asbestos mining, which caused drastic health problems amongst its workers. The mining ceased in 1966. The settlement that existed up in the gorge where the mining occurred, was demolished and removed. But the tailings heaps remained.

The township of Wittenoom was several kms away from the mine area, on flatter land at the start of the gorge.

Had to go back the way we’d come in, yesterday,  for about 100kms, through Rio Tinto Gorge, then turn east on the Munjina road, for about 27kms to the Wittenoom township.

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Rio Tinto Gorge

We went to the Information Centre/gemstone shop in the old town. There was an excellent display of minerals and gems – one of the best I’d seen.

The shop lady told us that there were only a few houses still occupied in the town. The government was trying hard to get all residents to leave – on health grounds. However, the handful of residents who remain disputed the health risk in the town, being as it was, out on the plain and away from the gorge where the mine was.

It was official policy not to give out information about Wittenoom, put it on maps, or have signposts to it.

The shop lady pointed out something I had not known – that blue asbestos occurs throughout the Pilbara. She claimed that iron ore mining activity around Newman would be putting asbestos fibres into the air in those parts! Had no idea if she was correct in these claims, but it was rather a scary thought.

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Blue asbestos

We bought postcards and magnets. John bought some stones, including a little introductory kit for grand daughter, that had stones mounted and named.

Left the township and drove up into Wittenoom Gorge itself.

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Road into Wittenoom Gorge – mine tailings on the hillside

One could see why the remaining locals were entranced by the place – the scenery was just brilliant.

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It really was an abomination, to have such a deadly mine (or any mine for that matter), in such a beautiful place.

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Mine tailings on the hillside

The group Midnight Oil made the song “Blue Sky Mine” about this place.

The road into the gorge, once sealed, was breaking up in places, but was still quite negotiable.

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There was plenty of evidence of blue asbestos. There were huge tailings dumps on the sides of the hills, near where the mines had been.

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Tailings dump

Tailings had been used in the road making around the former settlement – there were clumps of blue asbestos on some of the surfaces.

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We looked around the old mine settlement site. There was not much there now, except broken concrete slabs. But the layout was clear.

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Old settlement site

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Found some lovely waterholes, up against rock walls at the gorge sides. The water was an unusual milky green colour.

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Although access to here was from the northern side of the ranges, Wittenoom Gorge is actually downstream from the really popular Karijini gorges – Weano, Hancock, Joffre and Knox. The stream through the gorge flows into the Fortescue River. One assumes that after rain events, it carries asbestos fibres down into that river.

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Cathedral Pool in Wittenoom Gorge

Exploring Wittenoom took us most of the day. Then it was time to return back the way we’d come.

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The clothes I’d hung out this morning were almost dry.

The caravan park was bursting at the seams.

John wanted to stay here another day, to relax a bit! Normally, taking our time was not an issue for us, but we felt some pressure to keep going, to give M as varied a time as we could. Whatever it was that was causing the face to swell up seemed to have gone away again.

I was able to extend our stay by a day.

We had excellent fish and chips for tea, from a shop in the central shops complex. They were quite expensive, though.

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2004 Travels July 15


It was a grey and cloudy day.

The campground was still closed, as we left. We were so lucky to have been able to spend the time there, that we did.

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After some discussion, we had decided that remaining on the Roebourne-Wittenoom road might be a safer option than returning to the railway access road, given all the rain there had been. It meant a longer drive, but that was preferable to the potential embarrassment of getting bogged on a private road!

The scenery became progressively more interesting through the drive. The eastern parts of the Pilbara were more rugged than where we had been.

For a while we ran parallel to the Chichester Range.

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Near Mt Florance homestead, there was an area of contrast, where one side of the road had been burned, the other not.

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Contrast between burnt and unburnt country

The roads we travelled on were mostly unsealed, but in reasonable condition.

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Crossed our old friend, the Fortescue River, on another long, slightly built up causeway. Clearly, a prolonged heavy rain event would close all sorts of roads in these parts!

Turned south-ish at the junction of the Wittenoom and Nanutarra roads. We then had to drive through the Rio Tinto Gorge – one vehicle width and very narrow. It would have been “interesting” if we’d met a vehicle coming the other way! It goes for several kms.

Just after that, we tried to go in to Hamersley Gorge. Part way down the access track was a wide turning point and a sign saying no caravans beyond that point. This was still quite a distance from the gorge, so we decided against walking the rest of the way.

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Track to Hamersley Gorge

Decided to have lunch at the turn around area, anyway. Just to make life harder, another van came in and parked there too, which made our reversing out, to leave, quite difficult.

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No vans past this point!

The Tom Price Caravan Park was very full. We managed to get a site – small – though. It was right up in the back corner of the park. $22 a night. We felt crowded all the time we were there, especially in the amenities, which were Atco type. Not amongst the better places we’ve stayed!

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Tom Price camp

After setting up the camp, I did some cleaning up of the van – Millstream mud!

M and John showered. I washed a couple of loads of grotty clothes, then had my shower. It was welcome after the muddy days without.

We drove into town to the Information Centre and shops.

There was a notice up saying that the Dales Gorge camping area in Karijini National Park, was very busy and would-be campers should get there very early, to obtain a site.

While tea was cooking, the power pole “died”. Overload from the four vans hooked up to it, we suspected. After this, our battery charger was no longer working! If we could not fix the problem, it would not be long before we would have to turn off the fridge, which worked exclusively from the batteries.

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