There are two businesses in town that deal in tyres and related repairs, more or less opposite each other on the edge of the town and we were there soon after 8 am, to find that their yards were just full of mine related vehicles all needing urgent service; typical of Monday mornings for all and everywhere.
The first quoted a price for Bridgestone tyres at a price about 33% more than we had suggested to each other over breakfast. He suggested that the shop across the road might be able to source the Goodyear tyres to match those already on the vehicle, so we popped across to the Cooper’s outlet who convinced us instead to shoe our work horse with these famous 4WD never-fail tyres. Of course you cannot put just one on, it would be as lopsided, so a pair were agreed on, quoted at a price $30 each less than the Bridgestone. I could hear the credit card groaning in Chris’s pocket; he looked at me in askance and I gave the nod. There was little option.
They could do it immediately, the tyres in stock and the labour available. Alas, we were expected at the Information Centre in about an hour and we were anxious to be on time. We would return at about 11.30 am when the tour was over.
We were still early and still hoping to head off to the Hamersley Gorge in the afternoon so we popped back to the caravan park, packed up lunch and headed back to the CBD in time to join other punters for the mine tour.
By the time the doors opened the queue was out on to the pavement and it was evident that the tour would proceed, however it would be leaving at 10.15 rather than on the hour as advertised.
We found ourselves in conversation with a chap from Bunbury, whom we had met in the camp swimming pool a couple of days ago. He is up here with his eight year old son for a special father and son bonding holiday, a pilgrimage back to the place of his own childhood and the region around his current employment. This man works in a mine to the north east of Auski and commutes week about from down south of the state. They are travelling in a vintage or classic Landrover. I use those terms loosely however their landrover is very like that which my parents had during my own childhood and that was long ago.
We discussed his angle on Tom Price and iron ore mining, unions and the economy, and the pros and cons of his own domestic situation. This was all very interesting and more so when considered in conjunction with the spiel from the tour guide a little later on.
At 10.30 the Lestok Tours bus arrived and thirty of us poured onto the bus, all armed with our safety glasses and white helmets. We could have had the tyres fitted after all, or could we? How long would it take in the end?
The Rio Tinto Mine tour is really a must-do when in Tom Price because mining, after all, is what the town is all about, and the tour is really very interesting. Well it is, unless you are only two or three years old and just wanting to sit on your mother’s knee and be spoken to in German. There was a moment just after we had entered the mine site when I wondered whether the driver / guide was going to suggest he take the culprit and his parents back to the town. Fortunately for all, five minutes of noisy bad behaviour was followed by relative quiet.
|The Rio Tinto Mine Tour|
However we did learn that the gender balance of the employees on the mine site at any one time was 60/40 and 70/30 if only considering work one might otherwise consider “jobs for men”. We learned that the trains carrying the iron ore through to Karratha are two and a half kilometres long and are pulled by three engines, and that Rio Tinto has nothing to do with Port Hedland. That is strictly BHP’s domain. We were interested to learn that gas piped in from offshore fields generates electricity which in turn is transmitted through from Karratha to Tom Price, Paraburdoo and Marrandoo. We also learned that the town was sold by Hamersley Iron Ore in 1980 for $1 to the Shire of Ashburton. Up until that time it had been a closed community and totally self-sufficient or rather, totally independent on the Company for all its needs.
We saw one of the great open cast pits, and watched massive trucks, shovels, drills and other machinery move about all over the terrain, the crushers, conveyor belts and screening plant, and the many support service buildings. As we had entered the mine, permission was required by radio contact, from the operations centre far away in Perth. It is that same operations centre that will be in charge of the automated trucks due for service very shortly.
I think I mentioned earlier that there was apparently enough iron ore to meet the world’s requirements for the next 400 years. That fact was gleaned from a travel video we have, produced in the late 1980s. When we repeated this gem of information to Baz, he was quick to dispute its veracity. The life of the mines is more like forty years, and when you think about it, the world’s capacity for iron ore consumption has increased and accelerated at least ten times in the intervening years, particularly with the expansion going on in China. This would bring that figure back to the ten Baz had spoken of. It is also understood that that China’s demand will drop off in the next few years but that India’s development will quickly fill the void.
In summary, we saw and heard so much, as I said; I thought my head would burst.
We struck up conversation with a couple of fellow tourists, a couple from Gisborne in New Zealand, who are taking just eight weeks to travel Perth to Darwin, and catching up with a couple of their children in the process. They are travelling in a hired campervan, the sort of 4WD vehicles we have seen driven mainly by young Europeans, thrashing them along the gravel roads and not inspiring future purchase for one looking for a second-hand camper. And this, now hired by Patrick and Christine, is probably one of those; bit and pieces are falling off the body and important fittings are inadequate, worn and altogether not meeting normal expectations. This account did not inspire the promotion of Apollo campers.
We finally arrived back at the Information Centre at 12.30 pm, one hour after we had suggested we might be back at Tyrepower & Mechanical. Already late, we did what modern people do these days, have lunch and make ourselves even later. The shady park adjacent to the centre provided a peaceful and pleasant picnic venue and gathering place for a mass of noisy birds.
When we finally did arrive at the garage, they greeted us with courtesy, directed us to a covered verandah where we resumed our reading of the weekend newspaper while the professionals dealt with the landcruiser. Not long after we settled in, we were disturbed by a couple of familiar faces; Patrick and Christine from the tour. Apollo had directed them to this garage to have some of their gripes remedied. Our newspapers were put away and we chatted about caravans and campers, travel spots and the road ahead and our lives, past and present, finding more and more in common with these lovely people. After an hour and a quarter, we were finally dragged away; our tyres were fitted and ready.
Chris paid the bill but while we were climbing into the landcruiser, he noticed the balancing weights were not in evidence. “I don’t think they’ve balanced the wheels!” he exclaimed.
“Well, you had better go ask”, I responded.
Sure enough, they had not, so back into the workshop the landcruiser went and back onto the verandah we went to resume our conversation with our new travel friends. Half an hour later, the work was finally completed and we bid a final farewell after exchanging email addresses.
We filled with diesel and bought a couple of bits and pieces from the supermarket before heading back to camp. The good spare tyre had not been stored away correctly but left on the roof with the second spare, so we lifted it down, fitted it snugly under the back of the vehicle and restored the tanks of diesel in readiness for our journey tomorrow.
We have decided to leave Tom Price in the morning, in line with our original plan, thus ruling out the trip up to the Hamersley Gorge, a trip on dirt road of seventy two kilometres and the same all the way back. Perhaps we will have short changed ourselves but quite honestly, although photos suggest that this gorge is indeed beautiful, is it that much more beautiful than all those we saw yesterday?
Tonight the birds have been active and as I write this, the galahs are settling into their roost for the night. Earlier, dozens of these same birds gathered in the open space of the powered sites, swinging on the power cords, sitting on the tap stands and generally amusing all of us who bothered to watch their antics. Oh here I go again, waxing lyrical about one of my favourite things; birds.
We have had the maps out and our travel bibles, and decided further about our route ahead. As of tonight, we have decided to head for Carnarvon, thus missing Exmouth and Coral Bay. We figure there will be enough sea, sand and fish further south to satisfy any appetite for such activities. But then, our plans can change from one day to the next.