Day 51 to 53
22 September to 24 September. Marble Bar and Newman
We packed up and left Port Headland early. On the way out we saw an iron ore train stopped and was able to work out that the train was 130 cars long being hauled by two locos. We have subsequently learnt the the double one we had seen the day before with 4 locos was 270 cars and 2.7 Klms long with a total payload of 38,000 tonnes of ore. That is big.
We headed down the Marble Bar Road for a drive of some 250 Klms. On the way we stopped into Doolena Gorge which was not far off the main road. Then back on the road arriving at Marble Bar in the early afternoon. A very small town but with a delightful caravan park, with grassy sites down near the dry river. We booked in for two nights. That afternoon we drove around and had a look at the relics around town and then adjourned to the Ironclad Hotel for a beer or two. Next morning we went out to look at the old gold mine out of town. Marble Bar was founded as a result of gold but its other claim to fame is that it is the hottest town in Australia. In 1923/24 it recorded 160 consecutive days where the temperature did not drop below 38.7 Degrees (100 in the old scale). It reached 39 the two days we were there, and the locals described that as comfortable. Hot is when it gets to 48 degrees. I'd call that bloody hot. The last night we were there the temp did not fall below 30 which made for a very uncomfortable night.
Up here when you do get cold nights the temperature may be 14 degrees at 6.30am but by 10 o'clock has rising to 30 or 34 degrees. Once the sun is up it gets hot very quickly. Also the humidity may be 100% early but quickly drop to 10% by midday.
In the morning we went out of town and had a look at a large outcrop of jade. It was this outcrop that gave Marble Bar its name. The person who discovered it thought it was Marble, but in fact it is jaspa. It is a protected site and if you take a sample of jaspa from this area the fine is $50,000. So there are no signs of people chipping bits off…. How refreshing.
We then went out to look at the relic of the Comet Gold Mine. It is the only relic left.
While out at the gold mine we looked in on the museum that is out there as well. It has many interesting artefacts and storys. When gold was first discovered at the mine site it was yielding 10 Troy ounces of gold to the ton. A very rich body of ore. Once they got down a bit the yield dropped off to 40 grams a ton, low but still profitable. The mine closed in the 1950s but there is a chance it may reopen in the future.
At the mine we saw a large piece of jasper which had been cut through the middle. It appeared to have gold seams in it, but they were actually asbestos. Witernoon, the home of the largest asbestos mine in Australia is south of here just outside Karajini National Park.
The other interesting thing about this area is that it is the home of the Invisible Air Base. It was the best kept secret of WWII. The airbase was manned by Americans and Australians from 1943 to 1945 and was set up as a result of the Japanese bombings of Broome etc. the bombers were American Liberators and they would set off on 15 hour return bombing trips of Japanese installations in Java and Timor. They are reputed to be the longest bombing runs in WWII. The base was camouflaged and despite many attempts was never found by the Japanese. The men who were stationed there worked under extreme hardship. There was no refrigeration and water was a scarce resource. They lived on bully beef and other powdered and dried food. Some of the American airman came straight here from enlistment after training and spent their whole service there.
Next morning we set off to take the back road to Newman, so that we could visit Herring Gorge on the way. We arrived at Newman in the early afternoon and booked into a tour of the BHP Mt Whaleback mine. Newman is a real mining town and there is not much to do there. Next morning we were up, packed up our gear and headed down to the information centre for the mine tour. The tour was fantastic. The bus took us to a look out in the middle of the mine where we could see all that was going on. The guide gave us facts and figures till they were coming out of our ears. So that we didn't miss any she gave us a hand out that summarised them all.
We learnt that the mountain they have mined looked like a whales back… hence the name.the mine is the largest single open cut mine in the world being 5.5 Klms long and 2 Klms wide and to me it looked 500metres deep, right down to below the water table. In fact the original Mt Whaleback was 805 metres above sea level and they were mining down to 135 metres. We took a gps reading on the lookout, the highest point left and it was 711 metres above sea level. The iron ore seam is estimated to be 1.6 billion tonnes. The ore is very rich being 68.8% pure. In fact after the ore is crushed it is mixed with less rich ores to create a blend that is wanted by their customers. Any ore that is below 50% pure is discarded. When this mine runs out in 20 years they will then move to the next close by mountain and start on it. Owned by BHP they expect to mine 295 million tonnes of ore this year. They pump 46 million litres of water out of the mine each week. I wonder what that does to the water table.
Once the tour was finished, we were given tea and scones and we then set of to our next destination… Karijini National Park.