Monday, 30 May 2016

Petroglyphs, Dampier to 80 Mile Beach

Where are we?

Route to Broome

We are now in Broome.

Petroglyphs in the Burrup

In 2003 the World Monuments Fund listed the Burrup on the top 100 most endangered heritage places on the planet. It is the only Australian site listed. The reason for the listing is that although there are up to 1 million Aboriginal Rock Carvings here, the Petrochemical Industry is being allowed to build major industrial plants in the Burrup and to destroy the carvings as they do it. 

To quote from their website:

"In an effort to protect the Dampier Rock Art Site from further industrial development, concerned citizens around the world are "standing up for the Burrup" before their own iconic monuments and landscapes. Their hope is to send a powerful message to the Western Australian Government, which refuses to protect the thousands of engravings and petroglyphs-many thought to be more than 10,000 years old -- at the Burrup Peninsula site, favoring continued expansion of natural gas industry there.

Since the first natural gas plant was built on the Burrup in the 1960s, hundreds if not thousands of engravings have been removed or destroyed, while toxic emissions generated by the installations continue to eat away at renderings not directly damaged by site construction. Despite the wishes of the area's Aboriginal population and advocates for preservation, the Western Australian Government seems content to lose an extraordinary cultural landscape of global importance …….."

Burrup when Island

This is the current designation for the Peninsula with a significant area designated “Industrial".  

Burrup Industrial Map

Originally the peninsula was not connected to the mainland other than by some mud flats. Allowed development turned the island into part of the mainland.

In 2007 the Murujuga National Park was created to cover much (but not all) of the area of the Burrup Peninsula. 

There are numerous websites about the Burrup - here is a reasonable starting point for an understanding of the problems the site faces. Here is one which has some good pictures of the petroglyphs and here is a reasonable account of the area. Here is a particularly good one which seems to cover most aspects of the park and the photographs in it show the amount of industrial development which had taken place by 2013.

Here is a detailed official report of the area and the first 14 pages are well worth reading, particularly if you have some understanding of Aboriginal history and lifestyle. To borrow from the report:

"This is a sacred place, home to Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years. Ngarda-Ngarlie people say ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. They have left their mark in features like the Marntawarrura, or 'black hills,' said to be stained from the blood of the creative beings."

So with this in mind, we are driving to the Dampier Peninsula to see if we can find some Petroglyphs. Many web reports have said that the site is difficult to find. All I can say is that I GoogleEarthed "Deep Gorge Burrup Dampier" and that gave me a visual satellite location plus some street views gave me the road turn off point. As we approached the Burrup, there were signs pointing to the Marujuga National Park which we followed and that took us to

Murujuga National Park Sign

and a sign pointing to Hendersons Cove (the cove is past Deep Gorge and at the end of the road)

Deep Gorge Sign

Then after 2 kms or so, there is a sign pointing to the right and down a very bumpy road (best for 4WD and tough tyres) is the car park for Deep Gorge.

Deep Gorge Rocks

What faces you is a pile of rocks, a large pile of rocks, a very large pile of rocks!

Deep Gorge Site Long View

We continue to wonder why there is a pile. We are currently assuming that they result from some geological activity but it is not beyond reason that the pile was created by ancient man bringing the rocks there one by one (think of Stonehenge as an example of rock moving).


The Petroglyphs are reasonably easy to spot - here is an emu

Emu in Situ

and this is the Emu on the rock pile - being large it is one of the first to be seen.

Kangaroo Another

Kangaroos obviously feature

Man and Kangaroo

and we decided that this one was of a man who had been out hunting and was carrying the kangaroo back to his camp.


There was a superb Lizard and many more petroglyphs


or markings on rocks which we thought might have been a petroglyph.

Directly opposite this rather wonderful place is

View Opposite Deep Gorge

a large PetroChemical site.

We know that there are many more petroglyphs on the peninsula and a problem has been that the Aboriginal Communities are very reluctant to tell the authorities where they are so that they can be catalogued and protected. The little we know about Aboriginal culture explains this.  There are many secrets in their culture, secrets which even members of their communities are not allowed to know until they reach a certain point in their lives. We suspect that this site is a site sacrificed to tourism i.e. let the tourists see these and they will be satisfied and not look for our other sites. Cataloguing their other sites would then mean that their secrecy would be compromised.

Nearby Beach

Nearby Beach 2

We are delighted to have found some and we then proceed to Henderson’s Cove for a first look at the sea and lunch. The cove is large, white and nearly deserted.

After a night at nearby Dampier Community Campsite (rather good for a small site), we are off to 80 Mile Beach which is 500 kms up the road for a  spot of R&R. 

Pilates in the CampSite

That we are in a campsite does not prevent Mrs Harvey from doing some Pilates before we leave.

80 Mile Beach 

80 Mile Beach is not eighty miles long (a fact). Depending on your research source it might be 85 miles long, it might be 140 kms long, it might be 140 miles long, and it might once have been called 90 mile beach but its name was changed so that people did not confuse it with 90 mile beach in Victoria which is in fact 55 miles long. I hope all is now clear.

Whatever its length is, it is a place where most evenings you can sit and drink a cold beer whilst watching the most beautiful sunsets. There is a great RV camp there where we stayed the last time we were in the area, and apart from being a place where you can spend time doing nothing, the RV camp shop also sells the most superb freshly baked Danish Pastries.

The drive from Dampier to 80 Mile Beach must count as one of the most boring drives in Australia. The landscape is either boring or the few towns you pass through (apart from Karratha which is acceptable) are horrible with ugly industrial developments (Port Hedland in particular). 

500 kms Long Straight Road

If you disregard the vehicles we met in the couple of towns we drove through, we are not likely to have met more than 100 vehicles coming the other way during the 500 kms.

Nothing to see

Usually the landscape is flat and featureless in all directions. We knew this of course having driven it in the other direction in 2009 and accept that it is something one has to put up with. A few Times Crosswords and CD 5 of “Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins are enough to keep us entertained.

The 80 Mile Beach Campsite is about 12 kms down a very dusty road

Arrival at 80 Mile Beach

and arriving there is a bit like coming to an oasis. 80 Mile is one of only two places we are planning on revisiting from our 2009 trek, that we are here again is testament to how nice it is.

80 Mile Pitch

It is less crowded than the last time we were here and we get a pitch with water and power and also not too far from the toilets and showers.

80 Mile Beach View

The Beach is still just as empty bar a few hopeful fishermen

Pat s Shells

and Pat collects a few shells from the billions on the beach.

80 Mile Sunset

Despite being a bit cloudy, sunset is very spectacular

80 Mile after sunset

and the clouds become every more dramatic after the sun has set. A very memorable moment assisted by a cold VB (a can of cold Victoria Bitter to the uninitiated !)

A day off tomorrow with no early get up and a chance to do some maintenance before we head off to Broome.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Tom Price and the Railway Road to Stargazers

Where are we?

Route to Stargazers

We are at Stargazers in the Pilbara

Tom Price

About 100 kms west of where we were camping in Karijini is our next destination. Tom Price is a mining town in the Pilbara and by a mining town, I mean it did not exist before the mine was opened in 1966 and will probably close whenever in the future, the mine closes. There is only one major employer in town - the mining company  Rio Tinto. All other employment (shops, hospital, restaurants etc) depends on Rio Tinto being there and when they catch a cold (as they are now with the economic situation in China) then everyone else gets flu. The price of Iron Ore now was said to be only 60% of what it was at its peak.

We are here for one night, on our way through to the Burrup Peninsula on the North Coast and apart from some essential washing and maintenance, we intend to go on a tour of the open cast iron ore mine.

Mount Nameless

The town is overlooked by Mount Nameless, as it is known by Europeans and Jamdunmunha as the local aboriginal people (the Eastern Guruma) have always known it.

The town itself is quite nice and green

Tom Price Green

with a very helpful Tourist Office, and free and fast wifi in the centre of town.

Tom Price Green 001

Tom Price Green 002

Many of the facilities are paid for or subsidised by Rio Tinto as a part of their Community Payback scheme.

Tom Price Toilets

There are also very good public toilets with $2 showers available. I mention this because one common thing throughout Australia seems to be the availability of good clean public toilets - something of interest to us when we do not have a toilet in the van.

The Pilbara

Where is the Pilbara

The Pilbara is a region of Australia which has both some of the Earth’s oldest rocks and also some of the oldest fossils in the world. Within the region’s rocks, fossilised traces of bacteria that lived 3.5 billion years ago, 1 billion years after the Earth was formed, have been found.

It is a very (but not the most) sparsely populated region of Australia with an estimated 1 person per 10 Km2 (for comparison, London is about 55,000 per 10 Km2).

As with all areas, it has a number of sub-geologies. There is:

  • the northern coastal sand plain section where most people live;
  • the desert section in the middle; and
  • an area towards the bottom called the Pilbara Craton area which is where the mines and mining towns are.

Most of Australia’s Iron Ore is found in this latter area (an estimated 24 Billion tonnes) and most of the mined ore is exported.

Much of the ore is of an astonishingly high purity. The typical composition for Premium Brockton ores at Mount Whaleback and Mount Tom Price is about 65% Fe, 0.05% P, 4.3% SiO2, and 1.7% Al2O3. . I suspect that the prospectors who found it must have thought that their assay equipment had gone wrong when they first tested it. A readable account of how Iron Ore is turned into Iron can be found here.

The Tom Price Mine

Most days, Rio Tinto arrange tours of the mine for a rather expensive $33 each. And so, wearing our Hard Hats and Safety Glasses (both seemed to be rather unnecessary given how we were managed but perhaps give out a Rio Tinto safety message) The tour involves you getting on a bus 

Mine Tour Bus  Have I Got My Hat On

and being driven around the mine site with a commentary from the Driver and a chance to get out and look at the mine hole.

One thing we can say about Iron Ore Mining is that everything is BIG.

Ore Truck

the Trucks used to carry the excavated ore around the mine are big,

Big Digger

The Excavators are big (actually this is an old small one no longer used - the latest are twice as big)

Digger Selfie

and provide a big backdrop for our non-improving selfie skills

Rest of Mount Tom Price

Most of Mount Tom Price which is now nearly not there was big (this is half of the “not there anymore”, the other half is behind me).

Tom Price Pit

The Mine Hole is big

Ore Blending

and the equipment used to blend the excavated ore in order to get the mix required by the customer is big.

It also has to be said that even in a time of hardship, the money involved big and the reported profits are still reasonably big. 

It was an interesting tour, not one which one could say is a “must do” but if you want to get a feel for the scale of one of the biggest mining operations in the world, it is worth a visit. 

The Railway Road

In order to get the ore from where it is mined to the coast where it is shipped overseas, a number of railway lines have been built from the inland mines to the coastal ports.  

Iron ore Pilbara train

The trains which haul the ore to the coast are very long and famous because of this and the weight of ore which they move. 

Train across the Pilbara

There is a road adjacent to the railway line which passes through Tom Price on its way to coast known as the "Rio Tinto Rail Access Road”.  Road is not really an accurate word - it is a reasonably well maintained red dust track suited to 4WD vehicles.

Why? Because it takes us across a part of Australia we could not get to by any other way; we get to go through an isolated area; it is an unusual thing to do…….. and many other reasons we have not yet thought of.

Rio Tinto rail crossings

We have a variety of mud-maps to assist us

Railway Access Road Map

the main map being this one.

You have to get a permit to drive along the road and you get this either by watching a video and doing a test at the Tourist Office or do it online (which is what we did). We passed the safety exam (it really was not very hard) and so will be driving the road adjacent to the Green Railway line. 

  Paul Rail Access CertificatePat Rail Access Certificate

The questions asked are so simple that you would have a struggle to fail and if you did, you just answer the questions again until you pass.

RAR Update

We phoned the “Road Condition” number before we left but did not understand the message because it referred to local landmarks. There was an interpretation of the message on the wall outside of the Tourist Office which we did understand. This said that it was open to all traffic with few problems.

Interestingly, a number of people we met said that they had heard that the surface was very bad etc etc and so did not do it. 

Road leading to railway road

The first 30 kms are a boring trek across a plain on a normal road. Then you get to the road entrance.

Rail Access Road Sign

Have you got a permit

I would have to say that we were not stopped and asked to produce our permit as we drove along it but no doubt someone has been.

RAR Surface

The Road surface is very similar to most maintained 4WD tracks we have been on, some corrugations which shake your teeth out, some dust patches and also many smooth corners at which you need to slow down. Generally however, it was easy to drive along.

The usual hazard of heavy vehicles is present

RAR Heavy Load

this one had just done the Access Road and was having its tyres checked

Road Train Dust

Road Train Dust 2

and this one passed us at high speed creating the usual dust cloud issue. All you can do is pull over and wait for the dust to settle and hope that there is nothing following in the dust cloud which cannot see you.

The big attraction of driving adjacent to the track is of course the trains which are very long.

RAR Train Engine

Each train has three engines pulling

RAR Three Engines

RAR Trucks

RAR Level Crossing

and if you get to a Level Crossing flashing Red, you have a long wait because there are around 220 wagons in each train.

Train too long for one picture

I took this picture of an Iron Ore train and wagons in Dampier and it is so long that it would not all fit into the picture even though I was about 5 kms away up a hill.

Dampier Loading Point

The railway line ends a Dampier where the ore is loaded onto ships for transport to China, Korea, Japan and elsewhere. The loading point was opposite the campsite we stayed near in Dampier.

Millstream Chichester National Park 

Millstream Sign

About three hours up the railway road is the side road to the Millstream Chichester National Park.

Millstream Dirt Road

The road in is the usual dirt road and is in quite good condition.

Pay Day Entry Fee

After a few kms, there is a self service honesty pay booth for paying your day entry fee of $12. It is quite simple, you fill in the back of the envelope, detach the receipt and drop the envelope containing your fee into a box.

We Paid

We paid and we were pleased we did because at dusk a ranger came to our pitch to collect our camping fee ($11 because we are Seniors out here) and we were able to show we had paid the entry fee as well. 

Inside Park Sign

Nothing is too far apart in the park

Current Millstream Lodge

and the new Millstream Lodge Building run by the Parks Service (although there were no staff on duty when we went) soon arrives.

Original Millstream

The old Millstream Lodge is on the side of the new

Original Homested Kitchen

and inside gives you a feel for what life was like many years ago. Here is the original kitchen stove - a very heavy cast iron affair and our reaction was to marvel at the effort expended getting it there. 

Kangaroo in Millstream

 In the garden we meet our first Australian wildlife - a Kangaroo which is obviously quite used to visitors

Wallabys in Millstream

and some Wallabys who were less certain. 

Fortesque Lake

From the Cliff Lookout on the way to our campsite we can see over the park and the Fortescue River which runs through it

View over Savannah

 as well as views over the savannah towards a distant range

Savannah Range

and we decide it really is a beautiful place. 

Stargazers Campground Sign

We have chosen to pitch at Stargazers Campground because it is said that the lack of trees gives you a good view of the night sky and also because Caravan Generators are banned there. Their noise can be very annoying.

It is a very basic site, a long drop toilet nearby (complete with lizard), no power, no noise and just us (and four other people elsewhere in the campsite). We all choose to be distant to each other since privacy and quiet was the reason we each went there. 

Night Sky

The night sky is all it is supposed to be with the Milky Way very clear 

Sunrise over Star Gazers

and at Dawn the eastern sky is simply wonderful as it goes through a complete range of morning colours when the new day starts.

Off to Dampier today (about 200 kms north) to see of we can find some of the Aboriginal Petroglyphs on the Peninsular before we head to 80 Mile Beach and then on to Broome.