After a week’s journey up the inland road we reached the town of Port Hedland two days ago. Anything north and east of here is new to both of us as even Roddy, who has travelled extensively in Australia, has never been to Broom or the Northern Territory. Seven years ago Roddy lived in Port Hedland for a while intending to absolve his probation as a graduate teacher. He abandoned the idea after a term. I flew up to stay with him until the end of term and we enjoyed a great trip south via Karijini National Park and Monkey Mia to Perth. Hedland Senior High School does have the reputation of being a school with some problems and one of the teachers at Morawa warned me not to go there, as there had been physical attacks on teachers recently.
The front and the back of the house Roddy stayed in when he was a teacher. He stayed in the back and a French couple of engineers stayed in the front. They were here for a few years only in order to earn big dolla!
There is something fascinating about this town. It is extreme! Extremely hot, extremely dry and the beaches are extremely dangerous as the ocean is full of deadly box jelly-fish, big sharks and saltwater crocodiles. The port serves the huge ships bound for China with their bellies full of iron-ore, salt, nickel, manganese and newly discovered lithium. The bar of the Pier Hotel used to be famous for its statistic of a murder a week; apparently it is still ‘full of characters’ but a little bit safer nowadays.
The Pier Hotel and the Esplanade Hotel
Nowhere are the roadtrains bigger, heavier and longer: Most trucks pull four or even five trailers full of iron-ore from the numerous mines here in the Pilbara. The roadtrains are over 53 metres long and take ages to overtake, mind you, they overtake us most of the time – it’s a both hands on the wheel job! Several times we have seen their last trailer swinging threateningly from side to side. Besides the roadtrains you also see mining trains. These are pulled by either two or four engines, consist of up to 632 carriages and are up to 6km long, typically 4km. Everything is oversized. Sometimes an oncoming pilot vehicle informs us of oversized vehicles following, or even instructing us to pull over onto the shoulder as the oversized monster takes up both lanes. Some of the roadtrains carry four trailers full of bagged ammonium nitrate, which is used to blast the rocks in the mines; let’s hope none of them are ever hijacked!
Industrial salt won through evaporation:
Seeing the huge toothed shovel wheels of the mining equipment gouging the minerals out of the earth feels violent as if the earth were being raped, which it is, really. Humanity at its worst. However, Port Hedland is also emblematic for man’s ingenuity and will to survive. Many a man and woman has made a fortune from working in the mines in various capacities and Western Australia is rich because of it.
A bit too close for comfort – that’s with us sitting off road on the shoulder…
Fittingly we booked ourselves into the Landing Resort campsite, which is primarily a workers’ camp used and subsidised by the mining companies. It has a mess and free washing machines. Miners eat for free – they don’t have to pay for anything while they work on a site – and we paid $20 for an as-much-as-you-can-eat buffet with a large choice of foods. We parked our van and made friends with our neighbours, a couple from Mission Beach in the Northern Territory, Cate and Andrew. We hit it off instantly and spent two evenings having dinner together in the mess. Both are retired, Cate having been a librarian and Andrew a Primary teacher. Both very interesting and educated people with a wide range of interests. Like us, they are on to their second long-term relationship round, met online and have had their very own health scares.
Atmospheric campers opposite:
After the first evening with Cate and Andrew, Roddy told me back in the van that he had found a new sign from the old friend or lets call him the old foe. A pea sized lump at the exact same place as the first metastasis, identical in feel and size to it. I felt The Fear return, threatening to rise and surround me like a pressured wave, making it hard to breathe and stay afloat. Roddy had known for five days but wanted to observe it first before telling me so he was very calm and even up-beat about it as is his nature, his way of coping. I have now had a day of struggling with the news, of crying, of heavy breathing for all the wrong reasons, and of feeling exhausted, but I feel better today, trying to take the Roddy approach: a mere fleshwound or a Mercutian “A scratch, a scratch!” (without the Mercutian ending)…
He contacted his oncologist, Dr Van Hagen, yesterday morning. He advised us to take it easy and to make our way down to Perth. He will arrange a PET scan and for the lump to be cut out. The approach to any further treatment will then be decided. This melanoma is a bastard. There might have been one tiny fucker of a cancer cell hiding in his flesh having avoided the scalpel, waiting, biding its time, waging war against the chemical weapons of the $10,000 a shot immunotherapy in its arsehole way, waiting to re-emerge. We have never been ignorant of the statistics and have never been naïve about a cure but you need to believe that you might be one of the lucky ones and we have not given up this thought. Even if we are not, we still believe firmly that we will keep going, doing the things we like. As Roddy put it so eloquently this morning, “I’m happy, I feel well, I have you, we have a wonderful life together and I am sexy!” Can’t say fairer than that!
A positive mind-set must be conducive to dealing with the bastard and even if it’s not, at least we shall have the best time together that we can possibly have. Now we are driving the 1646km down to Perth – over 4 days, as we stick to about 90km/h and don’t drive in the dark due to kangaroo infestations.
Leaving PH was like zooming out of ‘civilisation’ – as the town frizzled out there was a turn-off for other coastal mining towns such as Karratha, then a sign telling us the next service station/roadhouse was 220km away and then a sign for the next town, Newman, 445km away. Finally, a sign cautioning drivers to watch out for stray animals such as kangaroos and cows on the road for the next 260km. Welcome to the wilderness again in more ways than one.
So it’s hello Perth friends, bye roadtrip, hope to see you again in the near future. In the meantime, we will either stay at a friend’s house or on a campsite in Fremantle or Karrinyup as our flat is rented out. I might do some relief work whilst in Perth and will attend hospital visits with my humsafar. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.