President's Report - May 2008

Greetings All,

I am writing this column in Karratha, in the Pilbara region of northern WA, where I have spent the past two weeks enjoying the "winterless north" - every day has been sunny with maximum temps between 31 and 34, and overnight minimums not much below 20. In fact, I will email the column from McDonalds (aka the Golden Arches Restaurant) which is the only wireless network site I can find in Karratha. For a town of some 14,000 people, it's extraordinary that there is no other internet cafe.

Karratha is also a VERY expensive place to stay, courtesy of the mining boom. The nearby port of Dampier not only exports iron ore from the huge Rio Tinto mines further inland, but also liquefied natural gas from the offshore gas fields owned by Woodside. As a result, nearly all available accommodation (including motels and caravan parks) is taken up by people associated with the mining industry. Typical rents for houses are between $1000 and $2000/week, and the two- bedroom cabin I am staying in is costing $240/ night - equivalent to a 4 star hotel in many places.

The nearby Burrup Peninsula, which gained national heritage listing last year, contains possibly the largest gallery of indigenous rock art in the world. It should be as well-known as the spectacular gorges of Karijini National Park (a day's drive to the south), but unless you know where to go, you won't see the rock art because there are no signs, maps or publicity brochures. Maybe this is just as well, because the rock art needs to be protected from the inevitable wear and tear, not to mention deliberate vandalism that comes with tourist hordes.

On this trip I have ranged as far south as the iron-ore towns of Newman and Pannawonica.  Once again, accommodation was expensive and hard to get. However, in Pannawonica, an unexpected bonus was the price of fuel, which is heavily subsidised by Rio Tinto. On the day I was there, diesel was $1.35/litre and unleaded fuel was $1.31/litre, compared with around $1.86 and $1.69, respectively, in Karratha.

As reported on a previous trip to the Pilbara, this is pretty much a Peugeot desert. I spotted a 407 sedan at a roadhouse near Karijini NP, and a 306 sedan in Newman, otherwise it's very much Toyota country, with my rented Rav-4 blending easily into the local traffic. Sadly, I cannot spend all of winter in the Pilbara. On the other hand, we have some great club activities coming up over the next few months, including the Battle of Waterloo event on the lawns of Old Parliament House (Sunday 15th June) and our annual Bastille Day dinner on the 12th -July.

Keep on Pugging,

Brad Pillans

Picture of Brad