History has it that
William Dampier, master of the Roebuck, was the first European
to visit Broome back in 1700. He came ashore in an unsuccessful
attempt to replenish his ships water supply and catch an
Aborigine. The poor native they caught resisted and
unfortunately they shot him.
Broome was a small outpost, but this all changed when the
submarine telegraph cable to Asia, which ran via Darwin, was
rerouted via Broome. Before the cable arrived the town was a
rough shanty town, a collection of tents and a handful of
pearlers and their pearling luggers.
From 1890 the pearling boom began. The
population continued to grow with a large influx of
Chinese, Malays, Japanese, Filipinos, Europeans and Aborigines.
Before 1890 pearl divers free dived, returning to the surface
for air at the last minute. It was a dangerous way to make a
living, made worse by the fact that the best pearling grounds
were generally to be found at the mouths of estuaries where most
of the sharks were also to be found. The industry was made safer
by the introduction of the canvas diving suits, copper helmets,
rubber air hoses and boots.
Up until just
before World War I when pearling was at its height, over 400
pearling luggers operated out of the port. During the off
season, the population of over 3000 Asians in Broome and nearby
Chinatown brought a brisk business to the local pubs, gaming
houses and brothels. All this came to an end after the start of
WWI because of a lack of overseas buyers of the pearl shell.
After the war, the recovery was slow. Japanese had taken over
the work as crew and divers. When World War II started, there
were only about 50 luggers in the fleet and the town was still
severely in a state of depression. This state was further
worsened when all the Japanese population was interned. In 1942
the town was attacked by Japanese Zero fighters which destroyed
16 flying boats and 7 aircraft on the Broome airstrip. It’s
estimated that about 70 people were killed in the raid. Another
raid occurred again on March 20th 1942.
war, the pearling industry slowly started to recover. But the
romantic days of gaff rigged
ketches known as pearling luggers
and pearl divers had started to disappear. In their place came
cultured pearls. The much sort after pearl shell which was in
demand for making buttons had been replaced with plastic
But the romance of the
pearling industry still lives on in Broome. Today the town is
one of Australia’s most popular, must see, and must visit
holiday destinations. It’s up there with other favourites such
as Byron Bay, Noosa Heads, Port Douglas and Cairns. It’s a
“cool” place to visit.
I drove into
town (known as Chinatown) and parked opposite the famous
Streeters jetty. Streeters was the firm who originally built the
jetty, the warehouses to store the shell and the Roebuck Hotel
that I passed by on the way in. Mangrove trees have now grown up
around the jetty at the back of the town where the pearling
fleet used to moor. I walked out along the jetty, where there
were a couple of small fibreglass yachts tied up, the tide
having gone out leaving them sitting there in the mud. I walked
to the end but mangrove trees had blocked the view of Roebuck
Bay. I walked back to Hewie, where a guy stood
drive this all the way from the east coast did you?” he asked
with a sense of disbelief.
“I sure did.
I just arrived here in Broome,” I told him.
believe you. You sent it over on the back of a truck.”
“No way,” I
told him. But he failed to believe I’d driven it over. I started
the motor and then opened the bonnet and showed him the little
old side-valve engine purring away. He looked at it in more
“Impossible!” he said.
don’t believe you. You sent it over on a truck. This thing
couldn’t make it all that way!”
here at an average speed of 60 to 70 kilometres per hour. Any
car will go anywhere if you drive it slowly and nurse it along.
It’s a bit like when turbo chargers first came out in race cars.
The cars with turbo chargers always took the lead ahead of the
non turbo charged cars. But in many cases the turbo charged cars
blew up their engines before the end of the race. The non turbo
drivers soon realised that all they needed to do was just stay
in the race and wait for their turbo rivals to just drop out and
they’d in the end win. Slow and steady generally wins the race,”
I told him.
“But I still
don’t believe you,” he said, as he shook his head and walked
through town past Sun Pictures, the
open air cinema, and
visited the pearl showroom, Pearling Luggers, with two
beautifully restored pearling luggers sitting on the hard with
their gaff rigged sails set and towering over the building. I
stopped by the Roebuck Hotel for a glass of light beer before
heading out to the famous Cable Beach. If anything is engraved
into my memory of Broome it is
the colours of Cable Beach. The
surrounding desert was a dark red brown. Above the
beach was a
kiosk and restaurant, surrounding this was a bright green grassy
area. The gardeners who maintained it did an excellent job. The
green cool grass looked inviting. The first thing I did was to
take my shoes off and walk on it. I then sat down and lay on it.
It felt and looked so cool and refreshing in contrast to the hot
red desert. Down below was Cable Beach. The
bright blue sky met
the horizon. The sea was a dark blue except just where the ocean
becomes shallow near the shore where the water is a light shiny
green over the yellow sand. Like many other people enjoying this
pleasant little oasis I found a coconut tree for shade, made
myself comfortable on the soft
moist grass, opened up my novel,
read for a while then fell asleep in the heat of the day.
was still there when I woke up. Others around me were still
asleep and no one was looking at me thinking what a lazy bastard
I was sleeping in the middle of the day.
around the corner to the Cable Beach Caravan and
and checked in. It was mid October and the park was about half
full. As I drove in someone called out “Hey Hewie!” I
looked around and there were some old friends I’d made in
Darwin, Tom and Colleen. Colleen looked over me and Hewie
and shook her head.
it! How did you do it?” she asked.
“It took me
six days from Darwin. How long did it take you?” I asked.
that was bad enough. Our air-conditioning wasn’t working very
well so it was a bloody hot and uncomfortable trip. I would have
died if I had have come with you!” she said.
“Come on! It
wasn’t that bad,” I said. But Colleen didn’t agree, she had a
spinal problem and found it difficult sitting up on long trips.
“Congratulations mate! I thought about you along the way. I knew
you’d make it” said Tom as he handed me an ice cold can of beer.
Colleen were like many other recently retired Australians who’d
decided to buy a caravan, a four wheel drive, say farewell to
the kids and grandchildren and take off to see Australia. Tom
was a retired builder. After a visit to the doctor he was told
that he had terminal anthracemia and silicosis and didn’t have
long to live. So they sold the house, put the money in the bank,
bought a caravan, then hooked it into the back of his mid 80s
model Toyota Landcruiser and hit the road. The doctor
told him that he’d have to cut out the drinking and smoking, but
I think that advice went in one ear and out the other. Whenever
I saw Tom he had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the
I headed into town the
next morning in search of a place to set up a temporary office
for a day or maybe two. The web site
www.orientbeach.com from which I make a living, urgently
needed some updates. The town had no lack of internet cafés. I
checked around as I needed a computer that had a copy of
Microsoft’s web publishing software, Frontpage or a
copy of Microsoft Office Professional which has
Frontpage as a part of the software suite. Most of the
internet cafés in town had a copy of MS Office at least
on one of their machines but none had Office Pro or just a copy
of Frontpage. With no Frontpage computer available
I negotiated with one café to allow me bring in my PC and
connect it to their network. They agreed, insisting that I used
my own monitor. The café was upstairs with about 50 terminals.
By 10 o’clock that morning the terminals were nearly all in use
with people checking their email and playing games – the place
was air-conditioned- it was about 34 C and about 100% humidity
outside. No wonder the place was so popular.
I lugged in
my PC and connected up the keyboard, mouse and monitor and then
I realised that I’d forgotten the plug-in network adapter. I
went back downstairs and around the corner to a computer shop
which sold me a network card for $5. Returning to the café I
took the back off the box, found a spare slot and installed the
card. I was ready - so I thought. When I switched it on it
refused to boot. Furthermore I could smell electrical smoke.
Something was burning – it was the power supply. I switched the
system off and took the old power supply out and headed back
around to the computer shop. They didn’t have a power supply to
suit my machine.
guy a few kilometres out of town in a little industrial area
who’ll have one. Go out and see him,” said the technician at the
I drove out there and
found the place. They had just what I needed. Back at the
internet café I slid the new power supply into the slot and
tightened up the screws. When I switched the machine on it again
failed to boot and smoke started to come out of the new power
supply. I pulled the plug and loaded the PC back into Hewie
and headed back to the computer shop. He took a look at it and
came to the conclusion that there was a problem with the
“Trash it and get a whole new PC” he said.
Back in town I found a small communications
office that had Microsoft Frontpage installed on one of
their PCs. I took it for the afternoon and made the updates to
my web site. When I left Ballina, I thought that most of my
problems would be keeping Hewie on the road. Little did I
think that trying to live in cyberspace would be more testing.
Unlike the PC, Hewie had given a few problems but at
least he hadn’t packed it in altogether – bloody computers!
I was in Broome for a
week before heading south to Port Hedland. I broke the long
journey of 600 kilometres from Broome to Port Hedland about
halfway at a caravan and camping ground called Eighty Mile
Beach, 40 kilometres south of the solitary outpost of Sandfire
Roadhouse. I was expecting primitive conditions but found the
opposite. The camp ground was neatly kept with hot showers and
toilets and wait for it – a shop that sold fresh food. It even
had an internet kiosk. I settled in for the night in one their
small rooms, called a dongalow. From a distance they appear like
an old shipping container divided up into small rooms, but they
are small rooms with just enough room for a bed, a small
refrigerator, table, TV and an air-conditioner. I headed down to
the camp shop. They advertised pizza on their menu. I suggested
to the young woman behind the counter that it was probably
frozen pizza and they’d just put it in the micro-wave oven. She
was very indignant that I’d suggest that they’d serve a frozen
not. All the ingredients are fresh. Nothing is frozen. We make
the dough ourselves,” she said.
sorry, but whenever I’ve ordered something this far out in the
Never Never, it’s always been frozen. Please accept my apology,
I’ll have a Napolitano, with plenty of anchovies, thank you” I
The TV was a
luxury that I hadn’t experienced such a luxury for many weeks.
Normally I only watch the news and current affair programs. But
I turned it on and was glued to any rubbish which came on. I lay
on the bed, cracked open a can of beer ate my pizza and watched
TV until I fell asleep.
I was up and away well before sun up, my next destination being
Port Hedland 300 kilometres south. Just after sunrise, I passed
two dead camels on the side of the road. What had happened I
never did find out, but did they stink! I was going to turn back
and get a photograph. Let’s face it, it’s not often that you see
two dead camels on the side of the road. I took my foot off the
accelerator and then realised how bad the smell really was. I
put my foot down again and kept going.
I arrived at
the iron ore loading and salt
producing town of Port Hedland
just before midday. Last time I was here was back in 1969 when
I’d hitched up from Perth on my around Australia hitch-hiking
trip. I remember the town as being primitive, The large scale
mining and exportation of iron ore had just started. Up until
the mid to late 60’s Port Hedland had been a small pearling and
also a port town for the gold rich area of Marble Bar, about 300
kilometres inland. During my last visit, railways and port
loading facilities were in the process of being built. Now it
up and running, but when I arrived in the town, nothing
as far as the buildings in the town had changed. The town
appeared just like I remembered it back in 1969. Everything was
and still is covered in the fine pink dust from the iron ore.
Even the white feathers on the pigeons’ heads are pink.
into the tourist
information office to find that a tour of the
port and iron ore loading facilities was just about to leave. I
climbed aboard the bus for the tour. I asked the tour guide
about the future of Port Hedland town centre. She said that the
town centre was in the way of future expansion of the port
facilities so BHP Billington
wanted to move everyone out,
demolish it and extend the port. Not a lot of people lived in
the town. Most people lived in the new satellite city of South
Hedland which has the largest shopping centre outside of Perth,
so the locals told me.
Hedland there are two ways to head down to Perth - the inland
route or the coastal route. The coastal route via the Great
North West Highway is 1761 kilometres and the inland route via
Newman, Meekatharra, Mount magnet and Cue is 1660. I’d come up
the coastal route back in 1969, so this time I decided on the
stop after leaving Port Hedland was the mining town of Newman, a
6 hour drive in Hewie. I set off from Port Hedland at
4.30 in the morning stopping half way at a roadhouse for fuel.
About 200 kilometres from Newman I reached the Hammersley Range
and a steady climb up through the Minjina Gorge, I thought I’d
make it up in top gear but had to drop back to third for the
last kilometre. This may seem unusual talking about going up a
hill on the main highway around Australia but it was the first
hill that I had to change back a cog since leaving Charters
Towers. Just as I reached the top with a downhill run in view,
Hewie started to splutter with another vapour lock. I
thought for a minute that he wasn’t going to make it but once he
made it to the top, I put my foot down and got the speedometre
showing 45 MPH on a downhill run. This quickly cooled the engine
down and the oil pressure returning to 50 PSI, quickly solving
the vapour lock problem.
the mining town for the nearby Whaleback Mine which is now the
largest open cut iron ore mine in the world. It is estimated
that there are over 30 billion tonnes of iron ore in the
Hammersley Range. A private railway hauls the ore from the mine
into Port Hedland. The total yearly production of ore is in the
vicinity of 30 million tonnes a year.
closed company town, Newman was opened to the public back in
1981 and now welcomes visitors. Checking into the local
campground, I bunkered down for the night in another dongalow. I
turned on the air-conditioning, but it didn’t work. I went over
to the ground office and they gave me a key to the dongalow next
door. The air-conditioning worked but the mattress must have
been about 30 years old and sagged in the middle. Easily solved,
I moved the whole bed and mattress from the non air-conditioned
room into the air- conditioned one and moved the old mattress
out into the other room.
On the road
again the next morning at 4.30am, I made a quick stop for a cup
of coffee at a truck stop five kilometres south called
Capricorn. Named Capricorn because it is where the tropic of
Capricorn passes through. I thought to myself how the pleasures
of a cooler clime lay not far away. The next stop was another
truck stop at Coomerino for a steak sandwich. When I ordered the
sandwich I jokingly mentioned to the lady behind the counter
that I wanted it just like the truckies eat. She told me that I
couldn’t use the word “truckie” as someone from some important
government office had turned up and told her to get rid of any
signs that used the word. Evidently she had a burger advertised
called a “truckies’ burger”
to be joking,” I told her.
“No way, I’m
serious! Whoever they were told me that they wanted to try to
give truck drivers a better name.”
enough. I suppose it’s a bit like bikies to bikers and surfies
to surfers. I personally hate the words, “indigenous” and
“Aboriginal”. Both the words, indigenous especially, sound like
they were invented in some government office over in Canberra. I
much prefer blackfella and whitefella, both words have a sound
of endearment attached to them, don’t you think?”
I sat there in the small restaurant and
talked with a truckie - sorry, truck driver and his wife and two
small daughters. They were on a run from Perth to Port Hedland,
but he’d had stopped due to air in his fuel line. He was using
the roadhouse compressor to pump the fuel through and was
worried he’d burn the small compressor out before he could get
the fuel line primed and back on the road again. I wished the
luck and headed out to Hewie, a signpost ahead read.
leaving I opened the tool box and got out my small points file
and gave the ignition points a clean before leaving on the four
hour drive, south to Meekatharra
Meekatharra is an
Aboriginal word for a place that the rain misses. I settled in
for three nights here at the Commercial Hotel. The room was
large with TV and fridge and faced onto the veranda overlooking
the main street. The publican had just hired two new young
women, very pretty fair haired German backpackers to do
alternate shifts behind the bar. They were having trouble with
the language, especially the way the locals spoke. But the
contrast between them and the local graziers, cowboys, diesel
fitters and miners was a contrast like chalk and charcoal.
Furthermore the walls in the bar room hadn’t been painted for
many years. But now, with the new young women behind the bar the
place didn’t need painting, their beauty and white blonde hair
made the whole place shine. And no doubt put a smile on many
faces of the regular drinkers.
Much of the two days I spent at a small
communications office working on my web site. None of their
computers had Microsoft Office or Frontpage when I arrived. The
woman who was in charge searched through a box of CD ROMs and
found a trial copy of Frontpage, she installed it for me. It
worked, so I spent two days in front of the cathode ray tube.
When I tried to leave the hotel early next
morning, I almost couldn’t. The place was so well locked up I
found it almost impossible to find my way out. I searched around
for half an hour until I found a fire escape on the top floor
which went down to the court yard at the back of the hotel. I
wondered how I would have got out of the place if a fire had
started in the middle of the night. Once in the court yard I
found that the large exit gate was also locked. Furthermore
Hewie was across the road in another large enclosed car
park, with a seriously big lock, keeping out would be thieves.
Fortunately a key on the bundle of keys on the key ring I was
given on arrival fitted both locks. I finally arrived at
Hewie only to find that someone had slid their hand down
between the hood and the door, opened the car and gone through
the glove box. Not to worry, there was nothing in there worth
I stopped at a garage on the way out and
topped up with petrol. I also added a litre of water to the
radiator as the last time I added water was back in Port
Hedland. As I walked into the shop to pay I greeted a young
Aboriginal who walked out the door and proceeded out onto the
road heading south, like myself, but he was walking. Back on the
road again I spotted him with his thumb out just a few hundred
metres down the road. I stopped and moved all the junk off the
passenger seat and managed to find room on top of my luggage for
“You’re the first car to come along. It must
be my lucky day” he said.
“When I saw you walk out of the service
station I thought top myself he’s hitching so I was expecting to
see you on the road. Where are you headed?
“I’m headed for Cue. My name is Adrian, and
“Kerry, where do you live, Meekatharra?”
“I live at Cue. I’ve just been up here for a
couple of days to visit my grandmother. I caught the bus up, but
thought I’d give hitch hiking a go coming back. This is the
first time I’ve hitch hiked, if it’s as easy at this I’ll forget
all about riding the bus again and just hitch hike,” he said.
“I used to hitch hike a lot when I was your
age. So now I find it pretty hard to drive past a hitch hiker. I
feel very guilty if I do. I’d say that hitch hiking is better
now as there isn’t the number of hitch hikers on the road as
there was twenty of thirty years ago. When I used to do it,
you’d often walk to the end of the town only to find two or
three other people also waiting for a lift in the same
direction,” I said.
“When I told my grandmother that I was
thinking about hitching home she thought it could be dangerous.
You don’t know who you’re getting in with,” he told me.
“My parents said that to me when I was your
age, now people are still saying it. I laugh when they say how
it may have been all right years ago but these days hitching
would be dangerous. As if there are more murderers, serial
killers and crooks about these days per head of population. I
always try to tell them that people are just the same today as
they were yesterday. Most people are good in this world and
would rather help someone than hurt them. That’s how I always
used to think when I went on the road. Not once did I ever run
into anyone that I thought was going to hurt me. My biggest
worry was that I’d get a lift with a bad driver who’d have an
accident and I’d be killed or injured.” I continued to rave on,
then looked around to find that he was sound asleep. I suppose
we all talk to ourselves at times.
He was still asleep when we arrived at Cue. Now
nearly a ghost
town with a population of around 300 people, Cue was once a
wealthy gold mining town with a population of over 10,000
people. The gracious sandstone architecture of the buildings is
a reminder of the old days. Apart from a general store most of
the shops on the main
street are now empty. It was Sunday
morning. There wasn’t one car in the main street. Just one
solitary gentleman in his mid fifties stood up
from a seat in
the gazebo on the grassy medium strip that runs down the
of the main street. He stood there watching as I parked, then
over to greet us. With one eye tightly fixed on Hewie’s
number plate, he said
that thing all the way
over from the east coast!?”
just what I was expecting you to say,” I told him as I opened
the bonnet for him to see the motor ticking over.
all the way with that little engine, look at the size of it.
Norman Kempton is my name, yours….”
He went on to tell me that he was on his way
to Karrathra, a city near Port Hedland, to deliver a car and had
stopped here and booked into the local bed and breakfast for the
“I spoke with the manager of the B&B and told
him I was going out for a walk down town and have dinner at the
pub. I came back just after nine o’clock and the whole place was
all locked up, I couldn’t get back in again. I searched all over
the place for an open window and knocked and bashed on the front
and back door, but no one came to let me in. There is only
myself and another couple staying there so you’d think someone
would have heard me. I ended up having to sleep in my car” he
said. I proceeded to tell him how I was locked in up at
Meekatharra last night……
“Come back to the B&B. They should be open by
now. Be my guest for a cup of tea. They locked me out, so the
least they could do is provide a friend with a cup of tea.
You’ll like the place. It’s the old Murchison Hotel. Someone
spent around $1.5 million dollars doing the place up, then went
broke, so I heard. The new owners bought the place at auction
for a song,” he said.
At the hotel, now a B&B, it was obvious that
cash wasn’t spared in the hotel restoration. We sat and drank
tea with the other two guests and two other people who we
thought were the two owners. But they were only the owners
friends who were managing the B&B while the real owners were
I ‘d parked Hewie out the back of the
hotel and on the way, had passed a caravan just near the back
door. This is where the temporary managers were sleeping. It was
obvious why Norm couldn’t get back into B&B the night before. He
was bashing on the front door while the managers were in their
caravan out the back. Norm wasn’t a happy camper. His room for
the night that he didn’t get the chance to sleep in was $75 and
when he asked for a discount due to the fact that he was looked
out, they refused, and made him pay the full amount.
It was 10 o’clock before I hit the road
again. That afternoon we (Hewie and I) arrived in the
town of Mount Magnet as the speedometre on Hewie rolled
over to 20,000 miles. I’d come a distance of 6,777 miles since
Ballina. Mount Magnet has a population of about 1000 people and
like Cue was once a gold mining boom town. Today the town
survives on being a service town for the numerous small mines in
the area, which are kept alive by the presently high price of
gold. The town is also a service town for the surrounding
pastoral area which boasts the biggest sheep stations in Western
Australia. I spent the night in a dongalow at a miner’s camp a
couple of kilometres out of town. As I drove into the camp I was
greeted with a sign warning that poisonous snakes had been seen
in the area. I didn’t see any but wondered where they were, as I
walked to the shower block and loaded the car in the pitch black
darkness, without a torch, the next morning.
That night an electrical storm and dark
ominous clouds appeared, giving the hope that the rain was going
to pour down. But, as usual, it didn’t - just a few drops which
the dry earth soaked up almost as fast as the rain drops landed.
My first stop after leaving Mount Magnet was
This was once a gold mining town that had now
become a ghost town, except for a solitary roadhouse and a few
mines still scratching a living from the high gold prices. I
filled up with petrol and went in to pay with my credit card but
the credit card machine failed to work.
“It appears they’ve had some rain down the
road from here. When the credit card machine stops working it’s
always a sign that there’s been rain. If the phone goes down,
they’ve had a good shower maybe even a flood somewhere” the
“I was in Mount Magnet last night. We had a
sprinkle” I said
“Well, you got more than we did here” he
heat that is so much part of the days further up north, was
gradually disappearing. The morning was cool and a light breeze
had sprung up from the south. There was a light covering of
cloud. The coolness and the lack of sun was a blessing. Sunshine
is the essence of life but day in and day out for months on end,
it not only is hard on your eyes and skin but is it also hard on
the soul. I’d often dream of a cool steely grey overcast day
with constant drizzle, no hat or sunglasses, a light cardigan.
But I’m not in the United Kingdom where this is the norm, I’m
here in Australia. I was born here in Australia and grew up in
Sydney and lived much of my life in northern New South Wales and
southern Queensland. The climate here is sunny with the
occasional full day of rain and sometimes a little longer. But,
then out comes the sun again. That to me is easy to live with
rather than constant sun or constant drizzle. I often wonder how
the immigrants from the UK endure the dry sunny climate they
came to here in Australia. They come from a cool, damp and
overcast climate in the U.K. to a hot dry and sunny climate here
in Australia, especially if they live in Adelaide or Perth where
many UK immigrants headed in the days of mass immigration.
southerly breeze was a headwind but not serious enough to slow
Hewie down. The oil pressure always hung around the 40
psi in the hot weather but in the cool air it was back running
at 50 psi again. Driving conditions were very pleasant and the
scenery started to
change from the dry flat arid country to
rolling hills with more trees. Wildflowers grew profusely along
the side of the road. They were so beautiful that I stopped on
numerous occasions to photograph them. But I couldn’t get the
camera to come up with an image that displayed their real
beauty. I was well into the “wheat belt” by the time I reached
the wheat belt town of Dalwallinu. I was enjoying the drive and
there was little traffic. I’d planned to stop somewhere for the
night but continued on until I reached Fremantle, late that