Tag Archives: Pilbara

Some motels are crummier than others

Picking motels from the internet has its pitfalls – especially as you pay when booking. We chose to be careful and booked a motel room in Karratha online from Port Hedland. We’re staying two nights so we can do a day trip to Millstream in the Chichester Range. Nice place. I’ve been there before.

We found the address – but not the motel. Rather than go and ask at the rather inauspicious hotel where the motel should have been, His Highness assumed a mistake had been made in recording the details. To cut a long story short, I ended up asking at the aforementioned hotel, at the front bar. I had my doubts pretty much immediately, walking over sticky carpet to a bar where a handful of chaps in dayglo safety jackets perched on barstools. The barmaid didn’t know, neither did the bloke she was chatting up – but the other fellow sitting beside him did. Next door, it seemed.

We eventually found a tiny sign for the motel – but we were sent back to the bottle shop in the pub to book in. When Pete mentioned a sign in the road for the motel might have been nice, the manager fellow said the council had complained because the sign was 10mm too long. So we booked in. This place is clean, but very, very tired. The faux floor boards are peeling, the bedspread needs replacing and a few glasses to go with the chipped, not matching mugs would have been nice. Need I add that the internet wasn’t working? We found out why the faux floor boards were lifting when we had a shower. The water oozed through and soaked into the backing, so you squelched your way across the floor.

An ore train on its way to the port

We’ve stayed in some pretty ordinary motels in the past and this isn’t the worst, but it sure is up there, especially for the cost. Still, we can live with it for two nights.

Having said all of that, there’s always a bright side. We ended up chatting with a fellow inmate, and sharing a table for dinner at the pub’s restaurant. It was unanimously agreed the food and the company were both excellent. And I sold a book. We promised to catch up with Mick in Perth, where I would sign To Die a Dry Death for him.

Spinifex covered hills with the Chichester range in the background

Millstream turned out to be HUGE disappointment. It’s changed in 30 years or so. Hell, I probably have too. A little bit. But the Chichester Range and Python’s Pool made up for a lot.

Back at the motel, the room hadn’t been serviced. But dinner was every bit as good on the second night as it was the first.

At LNG info centre

We said goodbye to Karratha with no regrets. It’s a town of transients who come here to work. Looking at what they work at was certainly interesting. The massive ore trains, the mountains of coal and salt and the LNG plant offered lots of work, but the demand has waned a little. I get the real impression that people can’t wait to get out of here. We can’t say we disagree.

Sandfire Flats – a highlight of the day

Moving on down from Broome. It’s about 620km down to Port Hedland – a pretty comfortable drive. Just as well, because there’s not much to see. We’re back to flat scrub as far as the eye can see. Round about the half way mark, we reach Sandfire Flats roadhouse. Gee, that brought back memories. I was there in 1975, just before Gough Whitlam was sacked (Australian politics, folks, please ignore if you don’t get the reference).

Back then, the road to Broome was unsealed. It was a wide, red-dirt track riddled with pot holes and the trip from Port Hedland was wearisome in the extreme, especially in a bog-basic land cruiser with roll-down windows air con in the breathlessly hot November days leading up to the Wet. Covered in red dust, we rolled into the road house about 6pm, intending to eat a hot meal and then go off to the Eighty Mile Beach to camp for the night. My companion, who I’ll call Steve (not his real name)  and I staggered into the dining room, having dodged the (mainly black) locals in the rudimentary bar, where the air was blue with profanities, body odour and beer fumes.

We sat down and waited for a while, searching the walls for some sort of a menu. A girl aged maybe late teens appeared at the table and giggled at us.

“Um. Can we see the menu?” Steve asked.

She giggled. “There’s mutton. With vegetables.”

Steve and I exchanged a glance. This ‘waitress’ was either pissed, or flying high on dope. “Is there anything else?” I asked.

She giggled, shaking her head. “Nope.”

Well, what do you do? We ordered mutton and vegetables for two. After a short wait, two plates arrived, stacked high with greasy meat floating in congealing fat, soggy potatoes and overcooked frozen peas and carrots. Steve ate his and some of mine. But he couldn’t stomach the toilet. He came back to the table rolling his eyes. “It’s disgusting,” he said. “I’d rather risk a bush.”

Camping on the Eighty Mile Beach was very much better. I remember lying on my back counting satellites passing overhead in a magnificent Southern starscape. The stars fairly blazed in a mild night. The following morning we went out to the edge of the advancing tide. It lapped at our heels as we walked back to the beach.

Back to 2013, the toilet is clean, the sandwiches are a reasonable cost but (needless to say) the landscape is much the same. But now we’re heading South, you can see the blush of spring. . There’s been some rain here, too. The river beds contain large pools, which isn’t the norm up here at this time of year.

If anybody’s interested in what we do to amuse ourselves on these long hauls, we listen to news radio – when we can get a clear signal. Very often we can’t – another minus for the new car. An aerial in the back window is fine in the city – not so hot in the outback. We can listen to a CD, or plug in the iphone. But the iphone reception isn’t good. Many tracks jump. “I spy” isn’t a good option in these parts. But we do buy newspapers each day, and do the crosswords. I write and call out the clues while Pete drives. Keeps the mind busy.

So here we are at Port Hedland, which basically ships ore from the Pilbara iron mines to Japan, China and India. It’s red, industrial and not very picture-skew. So tonight is a shower and a bed. Tomorrow, I might have something a bit more interesting to show you. Stay tuned, Mouseketeers.