HEMA Map reference 78/E4
20 44' 24" S 116 51' 01" E
|Climate data for Karratha|
|Average Temp high C||36||35.3||36.1||34.2||30||26.5||26.3||28.1||30.6||33.8||35||35.8||32.3|
|Average Temp low C||26.8||26.7||25.7||22.6||18.1||14.9||13.8||14.3||17||20.6||23||25.5||20.8|
Bureau of Meteorology
Buildings of note
April: Dawn service. Easter: Pilbara pursuit. July: Bowls festival. August: FeNaCING Festival, Golf open. November: Art and craft market.
Cape Lambert stockpiles
This is a warm
area with temperatures which peak in the high 40s. Over 260 days per year
are over the 30C mark.
Karratha Station was, for many years, the focal point of the area. Life on the station before development came to the Pilbara is described by Tish Lees in her book 'Lonely for my land'.
Flying foam massacre
Like the battle of Pinjarra, this was yet another controversial clash between European and Aboriginal cultures during the early settlement of Western Australia. It took place in February 1868 on the Burrup Peninsula near Hearson's Cove.
After the spearing to death of Constable Griffiths, George Breem and a native known as Peter at Nichol Bay on February 8th, a punitive raid led by Alex McRae is said to have massacred 15 Aborigines in retaliation.
A highly emotive and somewhat fanciful account of this clash titled 'Flying Foam Massacre - A grey period in the history of the Burrup Peninsula' written by M. R. Dyson is a demonstration of how history should not be written. The tone of this book is such that one would be led to expect that the author is ready to give up his house and land to the Aborigines for al the wrongs they suffered and expects the rest of the population to do likewise.
No matter what our morals and ethics today, they do not apply to the early history of Australia, and making judgements about incidents like this is not at all helpful to those trying to uncover what the real events were.
This is simply another instance where the Aboriginal people in an attempt to defend their own territory ran afoul of European fire power and the determination of the settlers to put down any sort of resistance emanating from the natives.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that societies that lack technology are almost always at the mercy of those with the means to take what they want. It is pointless for arm-chair historians to moralise about what was right or wrong over 150 years ago.
As with the battle of Pinjarra, this clash has been wildly exaggerated with claims that 40 or more Aborigines were killed.
The iron ore industry
Dampier, Karratha and Wickham are just the shipping end of a vast conveyor belt of iron ore that reaches the coast from the mining towns inland. The iron ore shipped each year exceeds 150 million tonnes and brings in revenue of around 8 billion dollars. With the growth of the Chinese economy this is set to double and triple over the coming years.
Not just an 'iron town'
The iron ore industry often overshadows other industrial development in the north west but the region supplies much more than just ore.
Off shore oil exploration started in the 1960s and a small company named Woodside (after a small town in Gippsland) started looking at the prospect of finding rich new oil fields along the north west shelf.
Well after well was drilled with scarcely a sign of oil but there was plenty of gas. At the time gas was hardly a sought after commodity. There were some industrial uses and a small market for energy and lighting but the main difficulty was in transporting gas.
LNG (or liquid natural gas) was produced as early as 1877 but technology at the time was not sufficient to allow the gas to be stored or transported. Once the gas is cooled to -161C it becomes liquid and at this temperature it's volume is reduced by 600%. In the 1940s some attempts were made to produce LNG but a large industrial accident saw the idea fall into disfavour.
After it became evident that the north west shelf was going to reveal little else but gas there was a great deal of effort put in to working out how to make it payable. At the time there were no LPG powered cars on Australian roads and no ready market to sell to.
The oil crisis of the 1980s changed all this as oil prices soared. Gas was now seen as a cheap viable alternative to crude oil based fuel but there were some enormous hurdles to overcome to get the gas to shore, transport it and then market it.
The gas field lies some 135 kilometres north west of the town of Dampier and is 3500 metres below the sea bed. All the joint venturers now needed were immense gas platforms built out at sea in an area renowned for its fierce cyclones, an undersea pipeline, a fleet of specifically manufactured takers, and LNG processing plant, a pipeline to Perth (crossing 24 rivers, 383 roads and 13 rail lines) and all the associated infrastructure needed to keep the project going.
An estimated 10 billion dollars later they would then need a market to sell the gas to.
The first gas came ashore in July 1st 1984 and LNG became one of Australia's major export dollar earners. As of 2007 the North West Shelf is responsible for over 40% of all Australia's oil and gas production and annual sales are estimated at around 10.5 billion dollars. Current platforms are Goodwyn, North Rankin and Cossack Pioneer and there may be as many as 315 personnel spread among these platforms at any one time. The LNG is exported via 9 purpose built ships.
Another major industry in the area is Dampier Salt. The solar salt fields can be seen on a drive between Karratha and Dampier. Sea water is let in to a series of shallow ponds that are then left to progressively dry out. The salt is then collected and stock piled. The first salt was shipped from this facility in April 1972. Only 20% of the over 4 million tons produced annually, is used for human consumption with the rest being used by various industries.
Unfortunately the mining boom has brought with it a massive rise in the cost of rental and house prices. This means that many people on low wages (like shop workers) are finding it harder and harder to stay in the town. If the trend of profiteering is allowed to continue the town will suffer a shortage of essential services as only the highly paid mine company workers will be able to afford to live there.
For those who would like to find out more about what this region was like prior to the mining boom we would recommend reading Tish Lees book 'Lonely For My Land'. Request a copy from your local library or visit Tish's website.