Day 192 to 195 – (14th – 17th Mar) WA Road trip

11 04 2011

Gavin had very kindly lent us his car so our Western Australia road trip could begin. With the car loaded and triple J on the radio (our station of choice in Oz), we headed north out of town. Our first stop was a cultural one, something of a rarity for Australia. The town is called New Norcia – a shadow of its former self. The grand Spanish monastery buildings were home to Spanish monks and several hundred aboriginal children. The jury is still out as to whether this well intentioned institution played a part in the ‘lost generation’. Considering the Australian government has only just apologised for the monumentally stupid idea of taking children from their families from the late 19th century to 1940 – I think there is a lot more to the story than the limited museum had to offer.

Our route to Moora took us past small salt lakes. Brilliant white salt crystals set amongst the deep red Australian sand immediately invoked memories of the stunning Bolivian salt flats. A short while later we found the Rabbit Proof Fence, essentially just your average run of the mill chicken wire fence. However, due the book and the extremely successful film by the same name this three foot high fence plays an important role in the journey back home from the Moora River settlement for three ‘lost generation’ Aboriginal girls.

The steadily increasing numbers of flies were starting to annoy me. I was beginning to feel like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts/ Charlie Brown comic strip with all those flies buzzing around him.

It’s funny that in South America we avoided driving at night because it could be dangerous in some parts. In New Zealand we avoided driving at night because everyone went to bed at 6:30pm and you couldn’t get a hotel room and now in Australia we were avoiding driving at night because of Kangaroos. So, with dusk rapidly approaching we spent the night in Mt Magnet. Mt Magnet was our first taste of a mining town. We don’t like mining towns – soulless, dirty and full of men.

On our way out of town we chose to take a look at one of the mines that helped to spawn this repugnant town. Our road trip then took us on to Cue to see 10,000 year old Aboriginal rock paintings; unfortunately we failed to find them. From here it was possibly on to the highlight of the trip for Jennie, Meekatharra. Meekatharra town not so much, but Meekatharra is home to one of the Royal Flying Doctors stations. Bar actually going up in the plane we got a full tour of the station. It was tough to do anything outside due to the insane number of flies. Having a conversation turned into a farce as Jen and I were waving our hands around our heads in a vain attempt to get rid of flies like a person with tourettes after ten cups of coffee. Every time the lady giving us the tour opened her mouth to talk a fly would fly in her mouth. We were forced to take the tour indoors.

This put me in another difficult position. You see a couple of those pesky flies must have followed us indoors and now one had landed on the ladies face. What do you do when the person talking to you has a fly on their face..? More to the point where do you look!?! Did she know she had a fly on her face? I just had to look straight into her eyes, but every time the fly made even the slightest movement I couldn’t help but glance over to it – she had to know she had a fly on her face… It took all of my energy not to stare at the fly; as a result I had no idea what she was banging on about.

It was on our journey north to Newman things took a turn for the worse. In the middle of nowhere the car over heated and we were forced to stop in the outback. Although this technically was the outback it was also the great northern highway and moderately busy, for Australia. Unlike as mad max would have you believe Aussie motorists are nice, and they do stop to offer help when you are stuck on the side of the road hundreds of kilometres from even the most inconsequential town. This would be instead of like in the movie, killing you and leaving you in the ditch by the side of the road. With the advice of several motorists and the unavoidable fact a toe truck could cost $2,000 we nursed the sick Audi on to Newman.

Taking the car to the several mechanics around town was interesting. After telling our story to the mechanics and then upon showing them the car there was always this sharp in hail of breath, followed by ‘oh an Audi’. You see Australians don’t like anything that doesn’t have a Ford, Holden or Toyota badge on it. Furthermore, in an outback mining town you can forget Ford and Holden – the car of choice is a Toyota ute. Anyway, no one wanted to look at it. Fortunately we did manage to find a mechanic from Devon who had seen an Audi before and he told us things didn’t look good and to put it on a road train back to Perth. So that was the end of our road trip and the beginning of two days of near living hell…

Flies by day Mosquitoes by night – Newman was the pits – no pun intended. Not even comedy could relieve us from the misery of Newman. At night there were mosquitoes and during the day we were plagued by the flies. Because of the huge boom in mining 80% of the accommodation in this town is muddy dirty portacabins with an insane price tag. More importantly all these portacabins were fully booked. So it was a couple of nights in the tent. However, instead of being on the side of a mountain or by a gorgeous lake we were basically on a building site with mine shift workers coming and going in trucks at all hours.

This town is purpose built and designed to extract iron ore from the ground and get it to China, Japan, South Korea and India as quickly and cheaply as possible. There was nothing to do in Newman… sorry there were two things to do. Visit the mine and go up a hill. To be fair the mine trip was very interesting, but the hill was just a hill.

Ignoring the large serving of BHP Biliton PR, the mine tour was good. The Mt Whaleback Mine is the largest open cut Iron Ore mine in the world at 5.5km long and 1.5km wide. From the view point which was a large slag heap, it was also a very impressive operation. With Iron Ore going for $180 per tonne on the international market and Mt Whaleback Mine filling two and a half 150,000 tonnes ships a day this goes a long way to explaining how Australia is booming.

Rabbit Proof Fence

Over our two days in Newman time passed unbelievable slowly, but Saturday eventually came around and we caught our flight back to Perth!

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