National Geographic : 1975 Feb
Kambalda are flourishing. This 'land of sand, sorrow, and sore eyes' has a new lease on life. "We've found big, proven ore bodies bear ing as much as 8 percent nickel, which is bloody good. Nothing here for the small man; he can't go out and leap off his camel into a heap of pure nickel, and if he did it wouldn't make him rich. It takes a big operation to get nickel out of the ground." This is done in two ways: by the standard shaft method in which tunnels branch off at regular intervals; and by the decline system, in which diesel-driven vehicles zigzag up and down a one-in-nine slope. The solid geometry of such a mine is impossible to perceive from a personnel carrier jolting down in semidark ness past roaring, lumbering vehicles. The impression is that of an immense multistory car park full of prime movers driven by men in a hell of a hurry. Still, the ore gets out, and the mine workers, when they surface, go home to houses as comfortable as most in the great metropolitan suburbs. THE POPULATED PORTION of Western Australia, except for the Eastern Gold fields, tends to lie along the 4,350-mile coast, extending only occasionally toward the eastern deserts that isolate it from the rest of Australia. That isolation has led to a feeling of separateness from "T'otherside"-the long established and once far wealthier eastern states. But when you go up to the tropic top (as photographer Jim Stanfield and I now did to start our long southward journey through the state), you find people who feel cut off from the whole world. Wyndham and Kununurra, in the east Kim berley area, are as far north as civilization extends. Wyndham is a Faulknerian port on a sultry backwater of Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, where flower-fringed iron buildings creak in the heat and a slaughterhouse reduces raw boned cattle to useful substances, wasting nothing. Kununurra is a new town built to house people who came up to the deep north to work the land made irrigable by the dam ming of the Ord River. Many comforts and conveniences are far away. So are some essentials. "There's no choice. We live as we must, take what we can get." "We bring up our high-school-age kids by airmail." "We pay two prices for everything; one for the thing, one to get it here." So say the settlers, sipping costly cold beer (I said life was hard, not intolerable) in houses where stilt construction, ceiling fans, and lou vered shutters make the year-long summer bearable-just. Still, the impounded waters of the Ord do produce splendid crops: cotton, sorghum, and rice now, sugar in the foreseeable future. And even though the High Cost of Everything makes Kununurra farmers gross rich and net poor, the potential for vast development is there. "It better be," says Ian Oliver, who owns two Ord farms of 640 acres each. "It's all there is. Look: I've been here ten years, and it's mostly been frustration, trying to find out what you could do with the land once it was irrigated. (Continued on page 166) Drinking partners, a carpenter and his son quench their thirst near Cossack, once a thriving port for the Pilbara region. After the searing midday, the father returns to work, building company housing for salt and iron-ore industries in nearby Dampier.