|Travelling Australia - Journal 2006
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19 May 2006 - Meekatharra to Newman
Leaving Meekatharra the Great Northern Road continued through the arid shrubland we had passed through yesterday but with more variability in the vegetation. Sometimes extensive grass and scattered mulga plants, other times thick mulga; yet other times bare stoney baked clay. Termite mounds (the taller spired ones) appeared briefly sometimes. Spinifex was occasionally be seen in patches. There was a remarkable amount of green grass around, presumably the result of recent cyclones. At one point we saw a brown snake crossing the road.
The sky was nearly all blue, with some high cloud off to the east; there was very little wind. Traffic was very light. We passed about three other caravans all day, there were a few more sedans and 4WDs but road trains continued to make up most of the traffic. This is the main highway between Perth and Newman as well as to Tom Price, Port Hedland, Broome and smaller centres further north so the number of road trains is not surprising. The terrain comprises broad valleys between low ranges so the road has long flat sections in the valleys separated by low hills, with gentle slopes, over the ridges. Highest elevation was just over 600 metres followed by a descent into Newman at 540 metres. Fuel consumption on this good, flat road with no traffic and no wind was very good.
|Pair of Diamond Doves in the roadside scrub.|
|Roadside scrub stretches for many kilometres.|
Variation in vegetation didn't hide the fact that there were few signs of people apart from the highway itself for hundreds of kilometres. When we passed the Capricorn Roadhouse just outside Newman we had driven 405 kilometres from Meekatharra. In that distance the only buildings were Kumarina Roadhouse and three optical fibre cable repeater stations spaced along the optical fibre cable buried about 50 metres to one side of the highway. There were occasional signs pointing down side roads to pastoral properties and signs to one goldmine (Plutonic Mine), one talc mine and one chromite mine. The only other indications of human activity were occasional windmills pumping water for stock; there are no permanent creeks and rainfall is so variable and unreliable that pastoral properties rely on bores to water their stock. Otherwise we had driven through hundreds of kilometres of shrubland.
Arriving at the caravan park the red-brown colour of the soil seemed to permeate the atmosphere and confirmed that we were now in the Pilbara. The difficulty in getting tent pegs into the ground to support the A-liner awning re-inforced that message. We had to use the water trick we had learnt in the Kimberley; this involves pouring water around the peg after it has been driven partly into the ground; in a few minutes the water softens the soil at the bottom of the hole enough for the peg to be driven further in.
Newman was built by BHP Billiton as a company town to house workers on their Mount Whaleback open cut iron ore mine. The ore goes by specially laid train line to Port Hedland. Population is reported to be about 3,500. Newman is no longer a company town and is administered by the East Pilbara shire but there is a single, large employer.