IN THE LONG PADDOCK
Fr Paul Hart PP
Part 2. Pemberton to the Pilbara
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On Easter Monday, 9th April, I began the journey north, leaving the area of the BIG TREES behind, and checked out Pinjarra which was the base for the W.A. cousins at one time. Then it was on to Rockingham and more cousins who lived in a nice spot on Safety Bay. From there it was up to Perth, where I stayed at Mosman Park with Fr. Neville Faulkner (Retired).
While in Fremantle, I spent time noting the great job done where the local municipal authorities remodelled three blocks of the old town site to become a very authentic Australian-style Notre Dame University Campus; and it works well.
Fr. Neville showed me some city sights including Kings Park – one of the real icons of Perth and Western Australia. Later, I also took in Hillarys on the harbour with its Marine Research Station and Aquarium, and had lunch with my nephew who is one of the resident marine biologists.
From there it was up the coast to Two Rocks – the former base of Alan Bond’s America’s Cup exploits – to see Mum’s surviving brother Dom & his wife June, both 87yrs, and doing well with local help.
Back inland I headed to New Norcia, but managed to get myself lost for a while around Gingin. Fortunately, I made it to the Monastery for 5pm Prayers and a silent monastic meal with the five resident monks. This monastic town is full of Heritage buildings and sites and is generally well kept, with high hopes of continuing to be a special Town.
The next stage was getting serious, because it was off through the wheat-belt northwest to the coast at Jurien Bay and on to Leeman for a week with Fr. Peter Downes.
Fr. Downes is now retired, but is still celebrating Mass in his former parish of Three Springs. I first met Peter at a Cursillo Conference in Sydney in the late seventies, while he was still a farmer at Mingenew. Perhaps he was inspired by the Cursillo movement, and with a renewed enthusiasm for his faith went and studied for the priesthood in Perth and was ordained in 1986 for Geraldton Diocese.
On Sunday, I went with him on a tour of his duty areas. We started by heading 100km due east into the morning sun for an 8am Mass, and then we went on to two more centres (out of five) and back to Leeman. He averages about 300km every weekend, even though there are very few people attending the Masses. He is giving real, selfless service to the far flung families in that area of the Geraldton diocese. It is a notable contribution to his diocese, considering he is ‘officially’ retired.
Then I turned the ‘Astra’ north and started up the coast to Geraldton, a city approaching 40,000, but still fairly quiet. Here I stayed at Bishop’s House and had a wonderful experience of celebrating 7.30am Sunday Mass in the “Australian” Cathedral.
There was a special feeling among that good-sized crowd and something touching about this unique place of worship built by Monsignor John Hawes. It is one of perhaps 20 or more churches and other notable buildings produced by Monsignor Hawes in the diocese. He had a gift for using natural colours and local sandstone, it has made them very appealing. We could say he was ahead of his time in being very environmentally conscious when undertaking his architectural projects.
The Geraldton Visitors Centre was informative and helpful to tourists such as me. The Old Gaol was well presented, but not marketed very well; however the Museum was tops. A first class job has been done on reclaiming the foreshore and shifting the railway right out of sight.
HMAS SYDNEY Memorial up on the hill is a real icon of the city. It is in the shape of an open-air dome with perhaps 645 seagulls shaped within it, symbolising the souls of the lost sailors. At the front, it is possible to look directly out to sea towards where the Sydney went down. On the wall behind, are the names of the 645 sailors who lost their lives. Beside the central dome is a huge bow, symbolic of the ship, and on the other side is a bronze statue of a mother with her hand holding her hat against the wind as she creases her brow looking seaward, searching the horizon. The effect is awe-inspiring. Geraldton was the Sydney’s final port of call before being sunk in a mutually destructive battle on 19th November 1941 by the German Raider ‘Kormoran’ about 300km due west of Geraldton. It was not until 2008 that the wreck was finally discovered.
After Geraldton, my journey was north again via the Chapman Valley where I found good agricultural land and I arrived at Northampton with a further two Hawes-built heritage buildings.
Now the driving was getting hot with very little shade along the Pilbara roads, and because I was low on fuel, I missed out on having a look at the Hamlin Pool Stromatilites. Next stop was Carnarvon after being pushed off the road by a giant scraper thundering along on the road from one of the mines.
Carnarvon is a real oasis, with plantations growing many fruits and a huge variety of vegetable gardens in a strip on the Gascoyne River, with others utilising underground water. Here I had a good chat with Fr. Bronislaw the parish priest of Carnarvon. The next morning it was an early start for Karratha and Wickham – another mere 656kms.
The priests in Geraldton had suggested I stay at presbyteries in the north, because most priests were on their own and it was usually more than 500km to the neigbouring parish. Fr. Bob of Wickham was away but had posted a key to me at Leeman.
Wickham is a town, including a church that was built and is owned by the mining-company, the Robe River Group. Iron ore trains from Pannawonica Mines rumbled past the town day & night to Cape Lambert port. The only tour I could get was from nearby Roebourne through the Cape Lambert loading facilities and we finished with lunch at Cassock, a now abandoned port of earlier days.
Thereafter I visited Dampier where I found the “Red Dog” monument; I saw the North-West Shelf Gas Visitors Centre, the Burrup Peninsula, huge salt trucks, and Mt Tom Price ore trains heading to the port. Fr. Steve Casey from Karratha – the accommodation Town of the region – took me out to Millstream National Park a beautiful spot some 200km inland. On the way we saw only 3 animals and five ore trains, each one about a kilometre long, heading for Dampier Port.
Millstream is the fresh water source for the Pilbara towns and mines; it is a sensational place for camping, swimming and walks (in the dry Season – April to November). I found it a big highlight on my trip. I even had the chance to meet one of the friendly locals.
After a week in the Wickham-Dampier-Karratha parish, I headed further north up the road just a short 250km to Port Headland. As usual, I went directly to the Visitors Centre, and was disappointed to find it was closed with a sign “No Tours.” At that point, no one had been advised when the seasonal tours would restart after the wet season.
Port Headland is a very flat area with tidal flooding rising between five and ten metres every six hours. A new town has now been built 20 km south-east called South Headland. The main street stops at the port loading facilities and the ships are 300-500,000 tonnes – each!
The Port has salt farms and receives the ore trains from the Mt. Newman Mines which are almost 500km inland. At night, on looking out to sea, the approximately 25 huge bulk ore carriers at anchor in the port are lit up like Christmas trees ten storeys tall and give the appearance of a whole new suburb that some locals have come to call ‘North Headland’.
The whole of the Pilbara area is in the Geraldton Diocese, but because of the great distances, it is very difficult for people to have a sense of belonging, and almost no one – except the priests – head down to Geraldton for anything. Karratha & Newman are 1000km distant and Port Headland is 1327km. These towns are in what is known as the “fly-in-fly-out” territory. Only tourists drive such distances for pleasure.
It is a rugged and desolate part of our “wide brown – but often very red – land” of Australia, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit the Pilbara.