Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hamersley Gorge and the Tom Price Pit Tour.

After our Tom Cruise-esque climbing efforts of the previous day, the idea of Hamersley Gorge, supposedly the most accessible and child friendly of all the Karajini walks, was quite lovely. We also felt like our times of isolation, vast tracts of spinifex covered country and high-vis day wear were almost behind us: after this little walk we were heading for the coast with a Tom Price detour.

Hamersley Gorge from the top- only a short walk to the bottom.
Anyway, Hamersley Gorge has recently been tarted up with state of the art infrastructure like concrete steps (how luxurious) and toilets which aren’t yet coated in red dust (but are still of the drop kind so no real advancements there). The water course at the bottom is pretty and shaped for lazing away the day with some tanning oil which was exactly what some backpackers were doing- I didn’t think anyone did that anymore. Skin cancer must be easily curable in Europe.

Coloured and curved seams in the rock walls.
However, it’s the gorge walls which are the most impressive. Layers of different coloured sedimentary layers form curving patterns along the walls, showcasing the ancientness of this land and its beauty in one fell swoop of the rock. The kids played at the bottom, Fiela went for a swim and I gazed around at the amazing formations of the walls.

Beautiful Hamersley Gorge from the bottom.
We had heard that as Hamersley was at the very northern boundary of Karajini National Park, there were some free camps just around the corner where you could camp, have a fire (handy as it was pretty cool) and generally have the place to yourself. Despite our best efforts, these free camps alluded us and we headed out of the pristine national park for the more industrial confines of Tom Price.
Typical Pilbara.

Whilst the contrast between the spectacular scenery of Karajini and the neat rows of mining humanity of Tom Price couldn’t be greater, there was something about this town that was at first endearing. Yes my socialist friends, the heartland of Pilbara mining is actually quite pleasant. There are no grubby faced and exhausted men roaming around and the streets are clean- not a speck of iron ore or Lady of the Night to be seen anywhere. The company houses are neat, each with their toy of choice out the front (campertrailer, boat, jetski, trailbike etc and a purpose built trailer for each of them) and the infrastructure for the people living here exorbitant- a sports oval to make any town twenty times the size jealous, roads without a pothole in sight and a hospital whose main traffic is that of not-so-sure footed walkers from Karajini, rather than actual miners.
A beautiful sunset from Tom Price Caravan Park.
We booked into the caravan park to enjoy its actually-hot-showers, electricity and water. We spotted Kit and Di over the way and of course Marguerite made a beeline for them, inviting them via paper invitation to her birthday party a few months down the track. They politely declined.

Caesar, already bored on the bus tour of Tom Price Mine, and we haven't even moved yet.
The Workshop.
The next day we joined the Tom Price Mine tour along with about 20 Grey Nomads and one other family. Honestly, wearing the safety gear alone was worth the $30 price tag, but more so was Caesar’s reaction at the machinery and life size Tonka trucks. The gravelly voiced driver informed us of the ins and outs of the town (purpose built for the mine), the mine (they had quite literally dug up a mountain) and the people who worked there (women were the preferred truck operators as they unsurprisingly took fewer risks than men and the train drivers earned a base salary of around $180,000 per year). Apparently the Tom Price Mine would only be viable for another ten years of 24hour a day production, but “not to worry” there was at least another “forty years of production” around from mines recently discovered. The boom would continue “until China’s done with it then India’ll be ready to take what’s left.” Sigh. We got out of the bus and looked down into the pit from the safety of the high fence, hardhats and plastic glasses and whilst I concede that in the grand scheme of global economics it is this industry which has kept Australia afloat, I can’t help but be saddened and angered that we had pillaged this beautiful land to do it. I looked at where an ancient mountain had once been and it was poignant. The trucks were tiny at the bottom of the pit but like common household termites they had slowly but surely feasted on this great piece of land. I didn’t really listen to the rest of the tour.
The hole where a mountain used to be.

We bought Caesar a t-shirt with a big truck on it and high tailed it out of there, keen to leave the high-vis workwear and enormous holes in the ground behind.

Marguerite, seeing the funny side.

Feeling like useless and small...

Gratuitous machinery shot.

The pit.

Lifesize Tonka truck.


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