Tuesday, 2 October 2012

2-10 October 2012, Roebourne, Cossack, Karratha, Dampier

We set up camp at another public recreation area called Cleaverville, about 10km from Roebourne.  Normally $7 per day for a maximum of 3 months, or after 1 October, free of charge but a maximum stay of 3 days.  All the sites are along the water’s edge, so we found a spot with direct beach access for beachcombing, swimming and of course fishing.   After 3 days we saw no sign of the ranger and ended up staying 9 days as the area had full internet/phone reception so even though it was the last week of the school holidays, we did quite a bit of school work to get ahead.

Another amazing sunset in WA
Our ocean view and all for free!

We had our own private tidal rockpool to swim in each day. 
Can you see Larry in the background sitting down?

Kate on the beach in front of the van


Larry celebrated his 62nd birthday while we were at Cleaverville.

Remember I said earlier that we’ve all had enough of mine tours, well this was the last one I wanted us to do as it focussed on what happened to the iron ore once it was mined and put onto trains.  The Port to Port tour departed from the Roebourne Old Gaol (now the Visitors Centre) and went straight to Port Lambert. 

The bus had complete access to the port area.  We saw trains unloading ore (two carriages at a time, they simply turn upside down!), the various processing plants, the stockpiles, conveyer belts, and of the course the huge iron ore bulk carriers, similar to the ones we had seen at Port Hedland.  Two boats could be berthed and filled within 24 hours and we counted 11 boats waiting out in the harbour to come in.  An Australian ship pilot is flown by helicopter out to each ship and pilots the boat into the wharf and then pilots it back out to sea once it is filled with ore, to then be picked up by the helicopter and brought back to the mainland. 

There was a lot of construction work going on and the guide told us that everything was being doubled, the train lines, a new wharf, stockpiles, basically everything to allow the production rate to be doubled.  Note to self: Purchase some Rio Tinto shares!!  The tour also took in Wickham, a 'going no-where fast' town of about 500 people that Rio has recently decided will be its main employment centre for Port Lambert.  300 new houses are being constructed, a new recreation centre built, a new oval and club house, all the streets are being resurfaced, the place is a hive of building activity. 

New conveyor belt under construction
Port Lambert

New jetty under construction
This gorgeous bay is part of the Rio Tinto lease, hence no access!

The iron ore on a conveyor belt.  The ore can either be stockpiled
near the jetty, or loaded directly into the bulk carriers.


The tour included a visit to the ruins of Cossack, originally a pearling centre before being fished out and Broome became established.  All of the original government built buildings remain intact, the courthouse, customs building, bond store,post office and prison, primarily because they were made from stone and could withstand the cyclones.   The town has a fascinating history, but in the end cyclones, over fishing and silting of the river lead to it’s demise.  Subsequently, Roebourne, 20km away, which had been established as an administration centre and was once the biggest city between Perth and Darwin, also diminished.  Being a bit of a history buff, I loved wandering around the old buildings and we returned a few days later so I could really poke about.  Archeologists have been all over the place but there is still alot of broken china and other bits of household items laying about.
The Cossack Courthouse.  It only operated for two years before the town was no longer gazetted.

Interior of the courthouse, it was very imposing.

Cossack Courthouse.  This was once the main street and full of buildings.

An arty farty shot looking through a hallway onto the water, Cossack Government Bond Store

The cemetery was fascinating (as usual). This was one of the oldest headstones I could find. 
There was also a Japanese cemetary nearby.

The Cossack school.  Kids travelled by horse tram from Roebourne, a
90 minute journey to cover less than 20 km.

Old post office box at the Cossack Post Office, another building still standing.

A general store at Cossack.  Now used as a wedding venue and all the old buildings are put to
good use each year as part of the Cossack Art Show.
The Aboriginal history in this part of the country is pretty sad.  Basically, Aboriginals were rounded up and forced into service as pearl divers (including women and children) or allocated out to the newly arrived pastoralists.  Some Aboriginal women were kidnapped and left on small islands off the coast for the pearling men when they wanted female company.  They all worked with no pay until they drowned, were eaten by sharks or died of the bends from diving too deeply.  If they happened to escape, they were imprisoned.  In the Roebourne prison, you can still see the bolts in the floor and wall, were Aboriginal prisoners were chained by the neck and attached to these huge rings bolted to the building.  White prisoners were never chained.   This systematic rounding up Aboriginals and putting them into service was known as 'blackbirding'.   The original stolen generation.  I've never heard of it until now and it makes me wonder how many other aspects of recent Aboriginal history the average Australian knows nothing about.

Cossack prison
Three neck rings, all anchored to the wall.  This cell had 10 wall rings on each side. 
Only Aboriginal prisoners wore neck rings and often indefinitely.  The main
crime committed was absconding from their station owner or killing stock. 
The guards were fearful of an Aboriginal ambush on wardens, hence the
practice of shackling together and to the building.  European prisoners,
 regardless of their crime, were never chained together. 
Part of the prison is now the visitors centre, and in the ladies toilet,
one of the wall rings is still in place.

It was a full moon while we were in the area, so we finally saw a Staircase to the Moon. 
Still hard to get a good photo, but it was much more impressive than what we saw in Broome, and only
about a dozen tourists in total!

Drove into Karratha, another purpose built town to service the iron ore industry.  It was exciting to wander around a modern shopping centre, complete with KMart, Target and real coffee shops.  Driving around the town, I commented to Larry that I hadn’t seen a single tinny, but we saw lots of boats in front of yards, lots of big boats!  Not only boats, but lots of caravans as well.  The houses are quite large but built on small blocks so all these extra toys, ie boats, caravans, had to be parked on the street. One street we looked down I counted 9 big boats on the street and 7 caravans.  Money, money…. Saw some adverts in the shopping centre for single rooms to let - $400 per week + expenses.  For a single bedroom!  No wonder mine workers earn such big money, but which came first - the big wages, or the big living expenses....

Drove into Dampier, home of Red Dog.  Went to a very daggy shopping centre and got bread and some hot chips to have a picnic lunch down near the water.   Dampier is also a purpose built iron ore town, but much older (1960’s) compared to Karratha, so the homes are older, but they have some great grassed areas on the beachfront.  Called in to see the Mermaid Hotel (of Red Dog movie fame), but it was also daggy.  Instead, we headed to the library to read up on the real Red Dog.  There is a lot written about him and the movie is really just a collection of different incidences with the dog.  Dampier still has a huge port and houses iron ore workers, including some large fly in, fly out camps.  While we were in Dampier, we did some washing at the Dampier Transit Park.  I have a purple Indian cotton dress that is still losing lots of dye after a number of washes, so I put it in a laundry tub to soak.  Of course I completely forgot about it until we were back at the van about 50 km away.  Larry volunteered to return for it the following day while I supervised school lessons.

I thought Red Dog looked a bit like a wolf!
The Dampier Library had a collection of large porcelain Japanese dolls donated by Rio Tinto. 
In the 1970's, when Dampier port was new, whenever a Japanese ore bulk carrier
call into port for the first time, they would gift a doll to Rio Tinto.

The dolls stood in glass cases and some stood over half a metre tall.  Of course,
we took photos to send to Elizabeth's Japanese teacher in Cairns.


We also visited the North West Shelf Liquid Gas information centre which overlooks the Woodside gas plant.  Note to self: purchase some Woodside shares!  It’s like the whole of the Pilbara region of WA is one big mineral.

Not far from Woodside Gas Plant is about 10 000 Aboriginal rock engravings estimated to be approx 20 000 years old!

Deciding it was time to move on, we left Cleaverville and drove with the van back to Karratha to the Visitors Centre to fill up with water.  We then drove 60 km south to another free recreation camping area called 40 Mile Beach.  As we were setting up, Larry realised he had left all the van keys and the two water caps from the van back at Karratha.  He was not happy!  This camp spot was also right on the beach and we spent 3 nights in ‘Still Rooting Ave’!  Again, between April-Sept you can stay here for a maximum of 3 months and there is evidence of herb/vege patches, roughly put together fish cleaning tables and our camping spot even had rocks bordering around the bushes like garden beds.

Travel tips: Dampier Transit Park is $28, but maximum stay is 3 nights.  No water to vans.  No Laundromat in any of the towns but you can use the Transit Park or Roebourne Visitors Centre ($3 per load).  Water only available at the Visitors Centres. Karratha has Coles, Woolies, Target, big hardware shops, all the fast food outlets.  Cleaverville & 40 Mile Beach, $7 per day April-Sept, free after 1 October.  Sandflies were a problem at Cleaverville in the early morning.

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