Red Country – Inland and the Pilbara

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is

Words and Music by Donovan Leitch

We are camped at Tom Price and the campground is a beauty. Grassy spots and modern facilities. But it is its position that draws the breath. Some three kms out of town the campground sits at the foot of what the locals call Mt Nameless and which at 1,128 metres above sea level is the highest mountain in W. A. accessible by car – well 4WD to be precise. Its name is a bit of an insult to the original inhabitants who call it Jarndunmunha or “place of rock wallabies”. And rightly so for as the eastern Guruma people point out the mountain has had a name for hundreds of years. In 2007 it was agreed to have a shared name which seems a little bit of a cop out to me. Jarndunmunha has a special feel to it. The annual Nameless Jarndunmunha Festival continues however.

When you travel you meet a lot of different people. And when you travel in your home be it caravan, campervan or campertrailer you spend a lot of time parked up beside these people. One of the joys of traveling like this is that you continue to meet up with these fellow travelers along the road. One couple we shared two months in lockdown with in Jurien Bay and have met from time to time on our northward journey is Peter (the Egg) and Nancy Lewis. They are retired,”traveling Australia” and are both outgoing and generous. Good fun and very good company. But there is a sadness that has come into their lives. In February Peter was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. He still fishes, drives a little and is active but his speech has deteriorated and he is slowing down. Life has this nasty habit of cutting down the good ones. The one great favour among many that they did for us was urging us to go inland to Karijini National Park. So we did

Camping at Bullara Station
Sunrise Bullara Station

After Exmouth we spent a night at Bullara Station. Originally stocked with Merino sheep for wool and meat in the 1950s Bullara is now a third generation cattle station of 100,000 hectares running Droughtmaster cattle. And as is the entrepreneurial way the current owners Tim and Edwina Shallcross have developed a sizeable camping experience. Away from the coast and under the stars we had a delightful evening “in the bush”. We even enjoyed damper made in a Dutch Oven and some bush poetry by a retired policeman from Melbourne who sets up camp at Bullara for several months each winter. We were able to wander the station tracks amongst cattle, goats and scrub, enjoy the sunset and sunrise from a hill and move on feeling privileged to have shared the working station. Scout did comment (quietly) that a couple of days of dust and flies may have been enough.

We headed to Tom Price after an overnight in a free camping area at Beazley Creek River some 450 kms into the Pilbara. Australia has a well developed freecamping system in remote areas to cater for the many travelers moving between towns and tourist areas. Most provide gravelled, shaded campsites and longdrop toilet facilities. Stopping is usually limited to overnight. These are great for breaking long 600 – 800 km journeys between popular destinations.

Tom Price is a Rio Tinto mining town on the edge of the Karijini NP. Iron ore is the thing here and to say everything is red is an understatement. In fact the famous Red Dog of Louis de Bernieres novel and now a film is a Pilbara boy. Mining in Australia of course is hugely in the black for the moment with decent prices for iron ore and coal with China for the time being still a major buyer. The industry is a large employer in W.A. and Rio Tinto one of the biggest. Most of the properties in the town are owned by Rio Tinto and rented to mine workers and their families. The town Tom Price was named after Thomas Moore Price an American mining man with Kaiser Steel who in the early 1960s was instrumental in opening up the Pilbara Region to mining. The town is very pleasant, if dry and affluent with the average age of 31 years and average wage well above the country’s average attesting to its purpose. Locals we spoke to all seemed to come from elsewhere, intended to stay for 2-3 years and were grateful for the chance to set themselves up. Every second person was a diesel mechanic. And luckily for us a windscreen installer as we had a badly cracked windscreen from stone damage. We ordered the new one from Perth and headed for Karajini NP for a couple of nights.

Just over 625,000 hectares in the Hammersley Range Karajini is W.A.s second largest national park after Karlamilyi also in the Pilbara but very remote. The tableland is marked by mountains and buttes piled up pancake like and red. Very red. Erosion over time has formed a number of spectacular river gorges through which it is possible to hike and swim in the breathtaking pools which form in the gorges. We camped at Dales Campground and were quite literally under the stars. The camp has no power supply and being so isolated there is no light pollution. The night sky is spectacular. Lying and looking upwards it seemed almost possible to disappear into one’s own soul. Is there a God? This could make one a believer.

We returned to Tom Price and found our windscreen had arrived. Two days and 1,500 kms from Perth. Great service. We found out later over a long and noisy night how this is done. Now for Broome.

2 thoughts on “Red Country – Inland and the Pilbara

  1. Dear Margaret and Mike:- Apologies for not making contact for the last 2 chapters of Mr Gato, but we have not been all that well, Me with a virus, which will take a few weeks to completely recover and Andrew with an infection. Anyway we are both on the improve and want you to know we are enjoying all your travelling experiences and have learnt so much about W.A. from you and thanks for the photos, they add so much to your stories and give us a good picture of the areas you have visited and camped at. So primitive at times plus all the dust —- how do you cope? Very little news this end as we have been mostly unit bound except for food shopping. We even had to postpone Andrew’s 88 birthday celebration last Saturday with 21 of the family, as I was not at all well. All so disappointing. Keep on enjoying ever minute, we think and speak of you often. With love from both of us as always. Thea.

    Sent from my iPad



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