The Pilbara - Into the back country towards Packsaddle & Wittenoom

Friday, Jul 12, 1985 at 00:00


Friday 12th July, 1985
The Pilbara, Western Australia.

This morning was one of those, “Lets not rush into anything until we have to” type mornings. We really didn't have to be anywhere until 1.00 p.m., that being the departure time for the Mt Newman mine tour.

We had come to the decision that we would have a look around during the day and then head off and get a start on the road to the gorge country. We arose at the leisurely hour of 8.30 a.m. and had breakfast, It was a beautiful sunny morning so Michael decided to bare his white legs to the world by wearing shorts. Bill, king of sarcasm that he is, immediately put on his sun glasses to cut back the reflective glare. Anyway, we had packed away all the gear and were clear of the park by 10.00 a.m. We did a bit of shopping at the Newman Boulevard which is the plaza type shopping centre and I put in a couple of films for developing just to make sure that the camera was working well. Morning tea was taken at one of the cafes.

In need of cash, we managed to draw out some money from the R & I Bank using our bankcards and then endeavoured to locate the shire offices. We had decided to take one of the back roads to Wittenoom via Packsaddle so it was necessary (and wise) to enquire as to the condition of the road before we headed off. The council staff weren't any real help yet we managed to get a few pointers about the route we intended taking.

We had lunch under a tree at the local soccer ground. The smell of freshly baked bread at the supermarket had been too much for the both of us so we invested in a few fresh rolls and some ham and cheese etc. Early in the afternoon we again returned to the shopping centre where Bill bought a pair of sandshoes. I picked up my photos and at five to one, we headed off to the mine tour office. The office was on the outskirts of town and they carted us out to the mine site in an old tour bus, the windows of which had been scoured incredibly by the red iron ore dust. It was nearly impossible to see anything out of them.

Mt Newman is a pretty big concern being 60% Australian owned and shipping out 160,000 tonnes of iron ore a day, 365 days of the year. Pretty colossal figures when you think about it. The first things we inspected on the tour were the service areas where the mine machinery is kept and maintained. Then it was up to a lookout point above the actual mine pit. From this vantage point it was possible to take in all the mine workings. The big trucks and excavators looked like your every day Tonka Toys from this height but it was an entirely different matter when your standing next to them. By god they're big! Real E.G.F.B.T’s (Extra Gianormous Flaming Big Trucks).

The tour lasted for an hour or so and at its conclusion, we headed off via the post office where I rang home. I was wishing that they'd let Bill keep his little blue hard hat. He had become quite attached to it. Once we were clear of the city, there was some concern and confusion on both our behalves as to the proper direction that we should have been heading. Our route had thrown us an uncharted fork. Still in the end we managed to find the right track. This is really great travel. It's the start of the country that we came to see. Magnificent stuff. It's very hard to describe but it has had an uplifting affect on the both of us.

We are camped near an old mine shaft which is half way up a hill about 40 kilometres short of Packsaddle (roughly 110 kilometres west of Newman). The view is spectacular. Our camp site was found by good fortune. While following a picturesque valley, we sighted a track that headed up one into the hills on one side. Being the intrepid explorers that we are, (bloody idiots more likely) we thought that we'd head up it and see if we could find a suitable place to camp for the night. The track ended in a flat cleared area where an exploration shaft had been dug. A perfect spot to camp with a great view looking along the valley. The shaft looked deep and dark. Certainly our torches couldn’t penetrate the gloom. I climbed down the shaft for about 60 metres before getting the spooks and coming back up. The shaft showed no signs of stopping.

We are sleeping under the stars tonight as the ground is too hard to get the tent pegs into. The day has been great weatherwise and it's still not really chilly. I am still in my shorts and a summer shirt. Bill is reading his copy of the National Times, our first bit of information and culture in the past ten days or so. Had steak for tea with special Chateau Timberoo sauce ala Pilbara. Real good tucker. We are reaching new heights of civilisation out here in the wilderness. Had a bit of a chat with a passing truckie on the C.B. as to the road conditions west of us. We should reach Wittenoom by tomorrow. As I'm writing, “Spinifex Bill” has just added a new dimension to fire fighting as we know it (what is it with boys and fire?).

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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