6 July 2002
Tom Price is a mining town in the Pilbara. It was not as cold Karajini, but it was not much warmer either. When we rose at 6.00 a.m. to break camp, there was a lot of birdlife in the caravan park, including noisy mynahs, spinifex pigeons and corellas.
After dropping the trailer off at the service station for repairs, we waited in the town for a tour of the mine. The tour was delayed due partly to the start of the school holidays. This ominous event should have alerted us to trouble further down the road, but we didn’t tweak.
The tour bus arrived, and we set out for the iron ore mine. This tour was much more revealing than the one at Mount Isa, because the mine was open-cut. First we went to a lookout from which you could see much of the mine. There was a truck parked up there whose wheels were higher than the coach we were on. These trucks are powered like locomotives, with a V12 engine generating electricity to drive an electric motor in the rear axle.
We descended into the pit of the mine to watch a shovel load one of the trucks. Then we went to another lookout, from which we could see the primary crusher and the system of conveyor belts that transported the crushed ore to stockpiles, ready for transportation to port via rail. The commentary was informative, but peppered with PR to convince us how environmentally responsible the company was. The parent company was Rio Tinto, so enough said about that! The kids were much more interested in the tour this time around compared to Mount Isa, although Ruby has a tendency to disappear into a book when we are not looking.
After the tour we returned to the garage where our trailer had been fixed for a very reasonable price. We set out with Susie making lunches as I drove, so we could get some kilometres under the wheels. We lost our way at Paraburdoo, but found the highway again after driving through the streets for ten minutes. The town reminded us of a Canberra suburb, which pleased the kids but made me and Susie shudder.
We drove through a lot of rugged and beautiful country, until we finally joined up with a main coastal highway again. We stopped at the roadhouse for petrol at about 4.30 p.m., having almost used up a full tank getting out of the Pilbara. The roadhouse accommodation looked uninviting, so we decided to push on for the extra 70 km to a bush camp on a river.
This proved to be a wise move, and we had the foresight to stop for some wood at a dry creek bed at Coppin’s Creek. Unfortunately we forgot to top up with water at the roadhouse, as we were racing the fading light. Luckily we had a little in reserve, left over from our stay in Karajini. We pulled into Barradale Bush Camp camp and grabbed a sandy but level site next to the river. Somewhat ominously, there was a packet that had once contained a new metal tow rope. This was a timely warning to drive no further into the sand.
We set up in record time. The tent was up and a campfire was lit within ten minutes of arriving. The sunset was lovely, and we sat on a sandy mound near the campfire eating sausages. After dinner we sang songs as I played along on the guitar. Being closer now to the sea and at sea level, the night time temperature was much milder.
I stayed up rather too late watching the fire die down, and strumming the guitar. In the distance a family group was having a very noisy drunken time. Fortunately they were far enough away for it not to be a hassle, but I pity those who camped closer.
The next morning we broke camp and headed for Exmouth. There was a lot of holiday traffic compared to what we were used to (another ominous sign). Strangest of all, when we turned off the highway again to head up the peninsula, the kids pointed out the sky was overcast, and before long found ourselves driving in real rain. This was only the third rain shower we had seen since leaving Sydney some three months previously. We were travelling in a year of severe drought.
We stopped at the visitor’s centre in Exmouth, and phoned Susie’s parents to fill them in on our adventures. We also refuelled and bought some ice. We were told that camping in the national park was now full, and this advice was confirmed by a sign on the outskirts of Exmouth. We drove past the infamous North West Cape communications installation spy station, and pulled into the first caravan park we came across. It was chock-a-block full as well, due to the school holidays. After inspecting several unsuitable sites, the helpful woman at the counter found us an unpowered site for two nights, with an option for another two. We took up the offer, even though the tent sites here are less than ideal for a camper trailer, being rather soft and sandy.
Once we had set up, we went for a walk on the nearest beach, and then climbed the hill to the Vlaming Head lighthouse to watch the sunset. Susie made a chicken curry for dinner, and then we all played board games.