In Mining Country

The land is expansive, forbidding, warning and I wake early, as usual, to watch it emerge into something recognisable … expansive, forbidding, warning.  I drive into town for a coffee and find the natural vibrancy of the land is already stained with the distinctive yellow and orange high viz clothing of the workers in these parts.  In boom time the tide comes in and it is a sea.  For now, the tide is out and the debris behind is unmissable.

I finish work on my first day and pull into a side access road, just off the main highway.  A glittering disc has already blended into the rim of the earth.  In its wake, shawls of pastel clouds float on a horizon that defies description.  I wait patiently to catch a break in traffic and decide to do the same as the miners.  I end my day.  At the foot of the highway, just above town, the moon is Salome, dancing her dance with gossamer veils until she emerges, naked and luminous.  The miners have seen this before.  They focus on getting home.  Undeterred, she is high in the sky seducing Jupiter, burning bright.  And, I , the observer, am enchanted.

The land around here is either flat or has angry ridges.  This is mineral country.  People come here for work.  In response to their ‘colonisation’, Nature erupts like acne, with rocks strewn across the face of the landscape.  It leaves behind mottled scars that never heal.  This is country that resonates in the words of the Australian Dorothea Mackellar, ‘I love a sunburnt country’.  I do too.  The poem “My Country” speaks to my heart.  I want to cast a soothing hand over the highly subjective and divisive concept of mineral resources.

I drive some 40 km north of Karratha to Wickham.  I am running two hours behind time with only 20 minutes for lunch.  I drive further north to Point Samson for a better meal than what I can find in Wickham.  The seagull and pied magpie lark keep me company.  And, the white powder puff lilly pilly flower mesmerises in sea breeze.  I am 1500 plus km north from home.  This is another land.  Another time.  The landscape here is still untouched.  Spinifex grow among rocks, and clumps of white granite bubble like foam from red earth.  I find peace without looking for it.

I wake next morning in my hotel, flanked by glowering iron ore ridges.  The garden is an oasis.  I walk around and find the omnipresent Willy Wagtail.  He, in turn, has found himself in a puddle of gold.  The brown honeyeater catches my eye, and dipping deep for nectar, he carries me home on his wings.  A white plumed honeyeater with its exquisite tiny yellow face perches within a few feet from me.  He looks at me intently.  I am the curiosity.  I try and focus my camera.  I zoom in closer.  He stares down my elongated eye.  He is perfect.  My hands shake with delight.  I fumble.  I miss the shot.  He’s gone.  But not before leaving his memory.

On the last morning, I linger in the garden.  A yellow trumpet flower is a face with a smile.  A sudden gust of wind and it collapses on itself and smiles brighter again.  I almost say, “bless you”.  I wonder if I have just witnessed a flower sneeze.

I linger longer, a few more minutes among the scores of frangipani trees.  It is already hot and somewhat humid.  The perfume and heat transport me in thought.  The flowers remind me of Broome.  They have sunshine in their hearts.  So I borrow some to take home in mine … to share with you.

Until my next trip …

As always,

a dawn bird


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