by Kerry Tolson @kerrytolson.com
A drifting of red covers the horizon and slowly blankets the scene into muted tones. It could be a Eugene von Guerard painting from colonial times, the rust sprinkling across a greyish blue sky, then forming a more solid brushstroke to the ground blending the red with ochre and tan with patches of silvering green and white. In the distance a ribbon of brown cuts into the landscape and trails towards large oxidised bulks. For as far as we can see it’s flat, stretching endlessly, stunning yet harsh, a place where the dreaming is of red dirt dollars.
We are standing on a small hillock watching an approaching dust storm roll towards us and the township of Port Hedland and its satellite sister South Hedland. This is pure mining country, the red dust mingles and swirls with iron ore power plumes and a fine film covers everything tinging it pink. Even the flocks of corellas here look as if they need a good scrubbing, their feathers, normally a smooth creamy white, have a muddy tarnish with a touch of fraying edging. The dust storm passes quickly and a new canvas unfolds, brilliant blue, deep cobalt, emerald greens, soft mauves, stark black and a dazzling white all shine out under a blazing sun.
We’ve come to Port Hedland as a side trip to my appearance at the Corrugated Lines: A Festival of Words in Broome. Although 600 odd Km’s away from Broome and its multitude of things to do, I have been trying for close to 6years to get to Port Hedland to visit friends who lived there. Now I was here and I’m loving it.
I have been told that this place is nothing more than a mining town with a whopping great round-the-clock working harbour that loads massive ore ships on an endless rote – out to sea the ships line the horizon as they wait in line for their turn - but I discover it has quirky street art and sculptures, an array of aquatic and birdlife and the most stunning rock formations that drop into the sea – not to mention that at this time of the year there is a glorious splash of yellows, purples and crimsons of the wildflowers.
There is also the most bizarre, unexpected, sight I never expected - a massive hill of white behind the town’s main street that looks like a mountain of fresh snow but is actually salt. In the sunlight it sparkles. It can also be seen from just about all points of Port Hedland and from across the bay – it’s that large.
There is another, even more enormous salt mountain just outside the town, along with acres of dove-blue salt ponds with tips of crystal white.
Our friend takes us on a personal tour of the town and its industrial sites, we are shown to the various ore loading facilities where trains at length of 2.8kms long unload their 180tonne bins at a rate of 90seconds per pair, the massive conveyer belts that roll for tens of kilometres across the land to the port, trundling the ore in one long cobalt and deep red line, the processing plants which resemble rusting skeletons, yet come night-time are ablaze in orange lights and take on a mesmerising, almost festive, aura. We visit the harbour and watch the bulks load – it takes a full twenty-four hours to load and turn around, as one ship loads, sinks to its water line and guided out by a flotilla of tugs, another takes its place. Just off the port we see seventeen ships lined ready to come it and are told that because this day is a maintenance day at one of the processing plants there wasn’t many ships in that day. There are three mining companies in town, each with their own plants and train lines, this is place that never sleeps in a land of ancient dreamtime.
Lunch is at the gorgeously swank Esplanade Hotel and I’m surprised how affordable and fresh it is, considering the extensive food miles the produce needs to travel to get here. My friend tells me how hard it is to grow fresh food here, especially in 50degree summers, that there is no butcher let alone an abattoirs and any consideration of a dairy is crazy fanciful. Absolutely everything is trucked to here, nothing but iron ore and salt is produced in this red dirt town. At the Dome Cafe I get a fabulous barista-made coffee that would rival any trendy city café and I wander around the beautiful ambient surrounds, the Dome has been cleverly blended to a 1907 historic house – the former District Medical Officers' Quarters - in perfect simpatico with what appears to be many of the original features beautifully kept. A poke around the various rooms shows a very creative hub as I discover a meeting going on in one of the rooms and in another, a woman typing furiously away – a fellow writer perhaps?
We stop off at the local sports stadium – Wanangkura Stadium - the building is a piece of modern artwork in itself with its curvature walls of glassed cubes in deep blue and brilliant orange. At night these cubes seem to morph into a silvery glow - it looks incredible!
We top this off with a sunset picnic and drinks and watch the tide beaten rippled cliffs catch ‘fire’ under a blazing orange-domed orb that sinks into a golden-topaz tinted ocean.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.
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