Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pilbara Road Encounters

It’s been as strange year for driving in the Pilbara. Here is my evidence. As preamble I should say that outside of a town it’s extremely unusual to see anyone on a road without a motor vehicle nearby.

1) En route from Range Gorge to Pannawonica, I’d driven for two hours across the Chichester Ranges and seen exactly three vehicles. We came over a rise. There were two women jogging on the road. They were clean, wore nice track suits, and looked quite happy. They waved as we drove past. I tried not to cover them in dust.

2) We were sitting on the Jimmy Creek road eating lunch; out of the spinifex. Louis said, there’s some one on the road. I looked up to see a woman walking towards us. She came closer. We waved. She waved. She was Aboriginal, but dressed in safety clothes. After greetings, she wanted us to understand that much of the land behind us was an Aboriginal religious site. There were certain areas we could not go. No problem there. She thanked us and walked away. I later sighted a power shovel and truck working to the east about a kilometer. Maybe she walked over from that operation.

3) Earlier the same day on the same track, we drove past a Thrifty rental truck parked on the verge of the road. As I slowed to pass it, a helicopter suddenly took off from nearby. It headed to the top of a nearby mesa and landed. It eventually flew on to the east. I assume some one got picked up near the truck. We stayed in the area the rest of the day. The helicopter never returned.

4) We drove in Paraburdoo. The main street was blocked by cows. It was a clear sign to leave town and camp. When we returned the next day for phone, groceries, internet, and lunch, I inquired about this at the AusPost. The cows were in town because that’s the only place in the area where there’s forage. Paradurdoo’s common areas and many lawns are keep green using groundwater, unlike the surrounding parched regions. The cows were simply trying to survive. Apparently there had been many more around until the previous week, when Rocklea station mustered them out. Paraburdoo would have been quite an exciting place if this involved the usual helicopter and station hands in trucks.

5) On the way into the Mt. Hilditch section, my target was putative dolomite outcrop about ten kilometers southwest of the West Angelas iron mine. I wanted to avoid the mine site; easier for everyone. The track ran through a gap in the hills and turned west. Directly ahead as a massive tailings pile from the mine. It had expanded beyond all expectation. Luckily the Patrol looks like a mine vehicle.

6) I held my breath wondering how to end this post. What would the land provide? I cringed at the idea of having to manufacture something that fit this narrative. Provision occurred. After a final swagout, we drove west on the Giles Point track towards Newman. It’s one of the old Pilbara roads, now used for mine exploration and station work. It’s in good shape, but has serious patches of bull dust. I drove the Patrol through one of these soft patches at a sharp curve in the road. I looked to my right, checking the berm height, and saw a flash of purple.

The turn in the road: the bush just left of center

I stopped. It was a Common Fire Bush in flower. Wow; it’s early in the season and it’s been really dry, so flowers have been very rare. One of my loves of the Pilbara has been its flowers; so diverse, so fecund. The Fire Bush was lovely. It was covered with blooms and about-to-be blooms. It was a stark and welcome contrast to the harsh dryness of the Pilbara this season.

Common Fire Bush, close up

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