Travelling Australia - Journal 2006
30 May-2 June 2006 - Dampier

Location map In Dampier we stayed at the Transit Caravan Park. This was a small park with no on-site vans, no cabins and maximum stay of three nights (unless it was quiet when a few more nights were permitted). The weather was warm with about 21 to 23 degrees overnight and 26 to 29 degrees by day. The sun shone rarely and most of the time it was cloudy. Rain was trying to fall for much of the time and occasionally a few drops fell.

On our first day in Dampier we drove into nearby (27 km) Karratha for food and petrol. FuelWatch gave a Shell site as selling the cheapest petrol in Karratha (even cheaper than Woolworths or Coles including the discount) so we went there to find the price was so low because there were no human attendants. To buy petrol a credit card was swiped and a nominated pump became available; swiping the card again after fuelling produced a receipt. Lack of service station staff was undoubtedly a major reason for the low price. I suspect credit cards pumps will become more common but with a credit card reader at each pump instead of having to go to a central card reader.

Dampier caravan park had very aggressive resident minahs which perched at caravan doors seeing if food was available and screeching corellas appeared by magic if anybody feeds a bird. But the small frogs which hung around the toilets, showers and any water tap in the park were more memorable than any bird. They didn't make a sound but it was hard to miss them, especially at night. They must be quite hardy animals; we've found frogs inside a washing machine immediately after clothes have been washed. Locals say the frogs shelter underneath the agitator but they are still in the water-detergent mix while the washing machine does its thing.

Dampier was built as a company town to service the port where iron ore from Tom Price is loaded into a series of bulk carrier ships. The town is no longer controlled by the company but the stamp of a central design authority was unmistakable. Equally unmistakable was the red colour characterising the Pilbara. Around the Karratha-Dampier area large heaps of red boulders have been left by natural processes; red boulders were just about everywhere the visitor looked. The rock is naturally grey but the grey weathers to red after exposure to the atmosphere.

Since the port of Dampier was established to export iron-ore, activity has been expanded by the addition of salt exported from the solar salt works between Karratha and Dampier and natural gas exported from a new wharf on the Burrup Peninsula. Gas is piped ashore from offshore production platforms then pumped into specially designed LNG ships for export. On our previous trip to Karratha we had completed guided tours of the salt works and of the iron-ore facility and gas plant; they had been interesting but we didn't repeat the tours. Many of the salt pans near the road were under water after the recent cyclones; those pans were not going to produce salt for quite a while.

It was interesting living near the iron ore loading wharves for several days watching bulk carriers slowly getting deeper in the water as ore was loaded. When they arrived, empty ships floated high with a large expanse of red hull visible; the hull slowly disappeared as ore was poured into the holds and the ships floated low when they were pulled away from the wharf by the busy tugs. The tugs soon let the loaded ship go to make its own way out to sea while the tugs scurried off to meet the next incoming ship. A pair of tugs turned each incoming ship so its bows were heading away from the land (for easy departure) then pushed it bodily sideways to the wharf.