Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 4 - South of Broome

The mining industry is cooling down -- or so we've been repeatedly told by Perthites, who seem both energized and weary of all the hype and affluence that's swept through their state in the past years. But passing through the Pilbara you'd never guess it was leveling off. Mining rules in this country and our puny campervan is marginalised next to the many giants that possess the road. Most of these trucks are four 'trains' long, weighing in at 200 tonnes and kicking up quite a noise and dust storm on their way past.

A fire crossing the road outside of Port Hedland slows us down for a half hour wait
while authorities determine its safe to pass through.

As we near Port Hedland the buzz of industry heats up. White 4WDs with flourescent stripes and three metre high flags bouncing off their sterns appear like worker bees serving a hive of queens. These workers come out of a similar mold: burly guys with thick necks, hairy arms and short cropped hair, usually with a black pair of wrap-around sunnies perched on top. They appear undaunted by the  blast of heat, dripping with moisture, that hits us when we open the air-conditioned cab of our Britz at the first petrol station in town. Inside the shop is chillingly cool and full of workers stocking up on bags of chips, cool drinks and the occasional meat pie. Johan jokes with the portly middle-aged woman behind the counter: "How do you stand this heat?" "I don't," she blurts. "I stay inside all day: at work, in my car, at home -- all air-conditioned. I'm from Tassie and wouldn't survive in this climate otherwise."

Welcome to the tropical northwest. Port Hedland lives up to its reputation as an uninspired over-rated and over-priced industrial town. A local real estate office advertises a modest three bedroom home for rent: $1500/week. If you up the grunge factor you can get one for $850/week. Go the other way and add a bit of luxury: $2500/week. If you're looking to own, your starting price (that's for the grunge appeal) is half a million.

The Visitor Centre tries to make something of the port city's brief and turgid history by handing out brochures for a Town Historical Tour. But directions aren't clear on the map and the heavy heat is rapidly turning our moods south. We stop at the local yacht club to ask if its safe to swim in the ocean: do so at your own risk, we're told. There's poisonous stingers and sea snakes and a croc was just seen a few days ago near the shores. No thanks.

We hop back in the cool car and head north. After the turn off to Marble Bar the trucks ease back. Further north there's an occasional commercial truck -- one 'train' long -- delivering goods to Broome, but the road gets quieter and quieter. We stop at a Rest Area 120 kms south of Broome and do six sprint rounds on the highway, working up a 160 bpm heart-rate and a killer sweat. In 20 minutes only one car passes by, its driver cocking a curious eye at the aging couple dressed in civies, running down a deserted highway with no car anywhere to be seen.

The only thing on the road during our sunset run on the highway.

As the sun sets, the interim between the flies dying down and the mozzies starting up only lasts a few minutes. They're small but persistent, and virulent in numbers. We douse ourselves with heavy duty bug spray and hope for the best on this hot windless night in the bush -- just us and the bugs, and a few stray cows that wander past in the wee hours of the night.

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