The day of small disasters

Trip Start Jul 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 07, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The day began well enough, with Hilary and Alec's Junior Ranger investiture ceremony administered by a tap-dancing volunteer ranger (really). Our goal was Dampier and the coast and for this the Tom Price Railway Access Road seemed the best option.  This privately-owned road was built in 1966 with the express purpose of providing maintenance access to the Hamersley Iron (now Rio Tinto) railway to the coast.  Happily, they also make this road available to the public.

Being a company road, company safety standards applied.  This meant that in order to obtain a permit to use the road we needed first to view a 20-minute safety video at the Visitor Centre in Tom Price.  On the whole this slick production taught us little we did not already know: don’t speed, beware of loose gravel, avoid overtaking through the dust clouds thrown up by trucks, and – more unexpectedly – be aware that train drivers could mistake red clothing for an emergency stop flag.  We watched the video, sang the Rio Tinto company song, and received our permit.  All very well.  The route from Tom Price to Karratha is 285km - even at 70 km per hour we would make it to the coast by mid-afternoon.

The gravel road appeared well maintained and in fine condition.  However, at about 60km from Tom Price we heard a loud bang and lurched to a stop: we’d blown a back tyre.  After hundreds of kilometres over far rougher surfaces this seemed a bit rich, so as we started changing the wheel we began mentally drafting a letter of bitter complaint to the Rio Tinto legal department.

This was our first wheel change in this vehicle, and neither Carrie nor Simon can strictly be described as experienced mechanics.  Happily, our careful (ok, slow) progress did allow time for an enormous train to heave into view.  It is well known that the first day of train-driver training covers the blowing of horns at waving children, so when a horn sounded Carrie and Simon were not surprised to look up to find Hilary and Alec dancing atop a rail-side mound.  But wait!  Where was Alec’s hat?!  And – what was this!? – why was he wearing only undies??!!

The makers of Rio Tinto’s OH&S video would have been delighted at the effectiveness of their message!  Alec, familiar with Bobbie and Phyllis’ removal of red clothing to stop a train in The Railway Children, had done exactly the same to instead keep this one running.

The wheel changed, lunch eaten, and three-quarters of the party reclad (Alec in red clothes, Simon and Carrie in red Pilbara dust) we resumed our journey.  Again, the road stretched out tamely before us.

Bang!  At 100km again we heard another loud noise.  This time a stone thrown up by the car had bounced off the trailer and smashed the back window: another delay while we picked out glass fragments from our belongings and applied electrical tape in a criss-cross pattern to hold the rest in place.  Now we were really riled ("To the letters editor, The Australian...").

The rest of the journey passed calmly, aside from a badly signposted intersection (the 20km detour probably constituted an inconvenience rather than a disaster).  Now the sun was close to setting, but the last 100km on the newly opened stage 2 of the Karratha-Tom Price Road Project rewarded us with truly spectacular scenery as the road descended through the Pilbara hills.  We made it to Karratha just after darkness fell, and wearily limped our way to a local caravan park.  Our plans as tourists were now on hold; the next day’s goal was simply to get the car fixed.
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atlarge on

do you mean bendigo is no longer as dusty as the Pilbara? (have you had some rain?)

atlarge on

Re: Not stopping the train
Thanks! I'll look forward to the gold watch when we get back - can you arrange the ceremony?

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