Cape York via Simpson Desert 9 July 2015 – Day 37

Thursday, Jul 09, 2015 at 20:41

Peter Beard (WA)

Sadly this is the end of the 4WD part of this trip for Pete. It ended in Broome for Ali because of work commitments and in Paraburdoo for Pete because he broke the unbreakable 80. Again.

Pete got in to Paraburdoo after an easy trip from Auski Roadhouse at Munjina on the Great Northern Highway just north of Karijini National Park. First stop as always on arrival was the service station to top up with fuel and do the usual count-the-wheels and have a cursory look around and under the car.

While Pete was looking under he noticed oil leaking from the front axle housing at a place where no oil should ever leak. He cursed - that's why it’s called it a cursory look - paid for the fuel, grabbed a coffee and drove across the road to book into his room at the local pub. Once checked in Pete jacked up the 80 and removed the driver’s side front wheel for a closer inspection and found a crack in the outer right front radius arm mounting, which had worked its way around the back of the axle housing and right up to the top of where the bracket is welded to the housing.

You might remember from earlier blogs that the four bolts locating the axle housing to the radius arms had been coming loose since the beginning of the Simpson crossing and at Archer River on the way to the Cape Pete had finally re-fitted them using Loctite and did them up tight. Really, really tight.

Pete doesn’t want to diss any producer of urethane suspension bushes so he won’t mention any brand names, but he suspects the plastic bushes don’t allow enough flex and that’s why the bolts were coming loose, and why the axle housing has now eventually cracked. His brother Paul, a mechanic with more than 40 years’ experience with cars, 4WDs and trucks and who himself owns an 80 Series, agrees. Urethane suspension bushes and 4WDs don’t mix.

So first job when Pete gets home will be to remove the front axle assembly and strip it down, then see if it can be repaired or if it will need to be replaced. And it will go back together with the standard, high compliance rubber bushes and a set of caster plates.

The replacement Pete found for Ali failed to set the alarm for this morning and let Pete sleep to just before 9am, despite the noise from four-trailer road trains carrying iron ore from the mines at Roy Hill to Port Hedland thundering past at three minute intervals all night.

It didn’t really matter, today’s trip was an easy less than 300km on good roads down to Paraburdoo. Last night Pete looked at the map and decided to go a different way from the planned 40km drive south on Great Northern Highway and along Karijini Drive to Marandoo Road, then down Tom Price to Paraburdoo Road to Paraburdoo.

Instead he left Auski Roadhouse and travelled on a good gravel road east along Nanutarra Munjina Road, past the old asbestos mining town of Wittenoom and following the northern side of the Hamersley Range, which he would cross at Rio Tinto Gorge. Pete anticipated Rio Tinto Gorge to be a cynical exercise in place-naming and expected to see nothing but a hole in the ground where Australia used to be but had been dug up and shipped to various parts of Asia.

In fact the road through the gorge is untouched and picturesque, and once through the pass it opens out onto the access road into Hamersley Gorge, part of the famous Karijini National Park. Pete did the drive down to the gorge and noted the access way and viewing facilities there was yet another project paid for with mining royalties specifically funded through the WA State Government’s Royalties for Regions program. Royalties for Regions was cunningly devised by former WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls holding a metaphorical gun at Liberal and Labor leaders following the 2008 state election. Neither ruling Labor nor the Liberals had won enough seats to form a government and each was wooing the National Party’s for its preferences. Grylls demanded that 25 per cent of all mining and on-shore petroleum royalties be allocated to projects and programs in regional WA, Barnett and the Liberals struck a deal and the rest is now history. Today’s news that iron ore prices have plummeted to an all-time low of $US44 a ton and is expected to fall even further probably means that Royalties for Regions is also now history.

Pete found the southern side of the Hamersley Ranges a bit drier and much browner than the northern side. Still on Nanutarra Munjina Road he crossed Hamersley Iron’s railway line out to Marandoo and Yandi, and then the line to Tom Price, and turned left along the now-paved Bingarn Road towards the mining town of Tom Price itself.

Tom Price is named after US based steel company Kaiser Steel’s vice-president. It used to be called Mount Tom Price but the “mount” part of the nomenclature probably had to be dropped after the mount became a hole in the ground after it was shipped off to, yes, various parts of Asia.

From Tom Price it’s an easy 80km drive on a good tarmac road to Paraburdoo. Or Paraburdise as it is affectionately known. Tomorrow Pete is meeting his former work colleague at a local café, along with her husband who works for one of the big mining companies up here and their new baby girl.

And that’s probably the end of this blog. Nobody wants to read about a boring drive on tarmac back home to Perth, unless of course the axle housing actually breaks in half in the worst possible place and at the most inconvenient time. If that happens there will be an addendum, if not adios.


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