Mining a Meteorite
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
In the morning we drove to Port Hedland. The Great Northern Highway wasn't very great. I twice asked Ferd to stop so that I could take a sample or two. One was interesting: a solitary Myrmecia pilosula a venomous jumper ant. Some bloke at Curtin had done research on the ants of the Carnarvon Basin a few years ago. I'd have to see whether this worker was anomalous. One of the others was a bulldog ant, like the one I'd warned Weena about in the Alice a week after we were married. But this was the arid zone where Myrmecia flourished.
We turned off the Great Northern highway onto Port Hedland Road. Port Hedland seemed a bit bigger and a bit brighter than Dampier. We had crossed over the rail tracks, which were now on the left and which seemed to split and re-split until there were at least a dozen tracks and it was a freight yard – ore yard? On our right, we passed a golf course. An unlikely pairing.
"We'll look at the yard and then have lunch," said Ferd. Rob was looking about just as I was. We turned onto a side road, paused at a check point, and drove on a bit. There was now water on the right and we soon came to another enormous ore carrier being loaded, two hatches at a time.
"Could we drive that way?" I gestured.
"Stop here, please."
It looked like a disrupted ant's nest. Red, orange and yellow ore carriers, backhoes and whatever were scooting about like gaily coloured insects. "Does someone keep track of all those?"
"Well, we track the trucks and the drivers and the jobs. I'm not sure whether anyone could point and say 'That's Jeb moving #9 to the wharf'."
"Right. But Jeb's driving and #9's out there and things are getting to the wharf."
"But these trucks move locally. Does all the ore come by train?"
"No. Smaller amounts come by truck. 40 or 50 tonners. I don't see one right now. But these yards are many square kilometres. Do you want to cruise about and look?"
"No. I've got an idea of what goes on. What's on for lunch?"
"Well, there's a McDonald's [Rob muttered 'No way!'] and there's a Chinese place near here and a Thai restaurant at the yacht club."
"Let's go to the yacht club. It'll be away from this dust and noise."
So we did.
After a pleasant lunch of noodles and mango salad, we sat for a while. There were a lot of things I didn't know and didn't understand.
"There was a highway from the south that intersected the Great Northern."
"Route 95. Starts north of Perth and ends up here. Goes through Mount Magnet and Newman." [Mount Magnet is one of the Murchison region's original gold mining towns with the first find recorded in 1891. It is also a tourist Mecca for its wildflowers.]
"Can you drive from Newman to Tom Price."
"Sure. Actually north of Newman – Juna Downs. Kanjiri Drive. The road's pretty good."
"Could we go back that way?"
"Not if you want to get back today."
Ferd pulled out a map. "Here's where you'd get off 95 to go to Tom Price. But when you leave Tom Price, you either go back the way you came or you go through Wittenoom and Millstream. It's all up, down and around the Hamersley. And those are graded, not paved roads."
"I get it. Okay. Can you get us a vehicle for tomorrow?"
"I'll leave you this one at the hotel."
"Great. And those maps?"
"You just looked at one of them."
"Fine. Tomorrow, we'll drive to Broome. We'll spend the night there and then drive to Halls Creek. I'll look at Goat Paddock on Friday and we'll drive to Halls Creek on Saturday. Wolfe Creek on Sunday. What do you think, Rob?"
"You're the boss on this. Any ideas yet?"
"Several. But I'm still short of data."
"OK, then," said Ferd. "Let's get back to Dampier." I called "Stop!" once more on the way back and acquired a nice desert scorpion, Urodacus yaschenkoi, about 6cm. long. That certainly filled my largest vial. "What will you do with 'im?" asked Ferd.
"Probably give it to SciTech for the schoolkids to goggle at. I try to get there twice a week. The ants I'll toss, unless we come across something unusual."
Back at the Best Western, I phoned Weena to check in and keep her informed. She asked whether I'd learned anything worthwhile and I told her that mining iron was a dusty, dirty and noisy business. She told me that from her experience, nickel was, too. She told me that Patrick asked about me daily, but that she kept telling him I'd be home soon. After usual endearments, we got off and I went to wash the dust away with beer.
"And a 36-quart eskimo," I said as I sat down.
"Already taken care of. And I have you booked into the Broome Motel for tomorrow and the Best Western in Halls Creek for the one after."
"Let's drink to that!"
In the morning, I had the hotel cut us some sandwiches and I bought four litres of water. That went into the cooler. I then got two containers of coffee and handed them to Rob. I stowed the bags, made sure that Perk's toy was in my pocket and we were off.
Once we were on the highway, I began: "Rob, I never asked. How much 'extra' ore has there been?"
"All in all, we're not sure. Over this past quarter, over a million tonnes per month."
"So, about 25 to 30 truckloads."
"It's like the joke about the czar's gardener."
"Every week he'd go home with his hoe and rake and shovel in his wheelbarrow. And each week the guard would look through the tools and permit the gardener to leave. Finally, after several months, the guard asked: 'Look, Ivan, I promise not to tell, but where are you hiding the contraband?' Ivan laughed. 'I'm not hiding contraband. I'm stealing wheelbarrows.'"
Rob laughed. "And our guys are moving a truckload a day, but recycling the trucks."
"Yes. Now how and whence?"
"Right. Can you fish out the local map?"
"Sure what can I locate?"
"We'll be past Port Hedland in a bit. Where's the next mine?"
"Let me know when we're getting there."
"Sure. But it's not very big."
"That's ideal. They don't have a railroad, do they?"
"Don't think so, but I'm not sure. They're a BHP consortium. Mitsui, maybe."
"So they must be trucking."
"I get it."
"Hand me a coffee, please." I sipped as I drove. I didn't think we'd strike gold or oil, but I felt we had to actually look. After an hour I pulled off the road. "Time to drain some fluid and look at the ants." I got out and watered a rear tire. I walked about a metre off the highway. There was a piece of a fencepost that had been attacked by termites and several Northern meat ants. I didn't bother with them. Rob had gotten back into the car so I did, too.
"Anything interesting?" he asked.
"Termites and meat ants." A large orange truck rumbled by. "Yours?"
"It said BHP Billiton on the door."
"See. I didn't note that. You don't see the ants."
"Want me to drive?"
"After the next stop."
I drove on. After about 40 minutes, Rob said: "Soon, now." Then we both saw the sign: "Mt. Goldsworthy" pointing north; "Pardoo" pointing north, straight on and southeast.
I stopped the car, looked at the signs and asked: "Does this make sense?"
"Sure does. See the coloured triangles?"
"Blue means exploration; red means producer; orange means past producer; green means raw prospect."
"I get it. Let me look at the tracks." I walked a few paces in each direction. "He wasn't from here? He came from further out. You can see the clods from those enormous treads back here,"
"Let's go further." And now Rob drove, past another "Pardoo" sign.
I pointed at some clods. "See! He came out from [I pointed] here."
"That's the past producer."
"Good. Now let's have a sandwich and then get to Broome."
Broome was clean, sunny and hot. [It can go over 44C (111F).]
Broome is situated on the traditional lands of the Jukun and Yawuru people.
The first European to visit Broome was Dampier in 1688 and again in 1699. Many of the coastal features of the area are named by him. In 1883, Forrest selected the site for the town, and it was named after Sir Frederick Broome (Governor of Western Australia from 1883 to 1889).
The town has an interesting history based around the exploits of the men and women who developed the pearling industry, starting with the harvesting of oysters for mother of pearl in the 1880s to the current cultured pearl farming enterprises.
Broome was attacked by Japanese aircraft on 3 March 1942. The air raid killed at least 88 people, most of them wounded US troops in a B-24 Liberator and Dutch refugees from Java.
We walked around the town a bit. The centre was pleasant and very "Chines-y." There were a lot of food stalls and restaurants. We gorged ourselves on greasy buns as we walked and then sat for nearly an hour in a tea house, drinking tea and nibbling moon cakes.
"What do you want to do tomorrow," Rob asked.
"I'd like to start early and stop for a while at Goat Paddock. Then we can go on to Halls Creek."
"That's the old crater."
"Yes. Millions of years. Whatever lives inside should be much like whatever's outside." I sipped some more tea. "Do you think I can call Perk now?"
I took out the gizmo and pushed the button. "Hollister. This is for Perkins. We've arrived in Broome. Nothing significant to report. Over."
"Thank you, sir. Message will be relayed. Over."
"Over and out." I put it back in my pocket. An overweight bright-red tourist at the next table was staring. "Electronics ties me to the blasted office, even when I'm thousands of klicks away."
The tourist looked embarrassed. "At least you check in," Rob remarked.
"They know we're together."
"True. True. I'll call Mary from the dubious privacy of the motel."
"Don't be snarky."
"We'll fill up on fuel in the morning. It's about 400 kilometres to Fitzroy Crossing. It should take a bit over four hours. Then we'll lunch and try to get to the crater. It shouldn't be far, but there may be no road. It'll be another three-four hours from Fitzroy Crossing to Halls Creek. I'm going to shower, phone Weena and read. You?"