Karratha: a little mining town with a big heart

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Hi! I'm Sandy (although lots of people call me 'Auntie') and my husband works offshore in oil/gas. We've been together for 30years, many of them as a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) family. In that time we've raised two daughters (both now at uni) and moved more than 19 times! I wanted to write for Mining Family Matters to show you can survive FIFO.

I see that our wonderful ladies from Mining Family Matters have spent some time in the Pilbara.

I had the pleasure of living in Karratha for about two years. And I soon discovered that you can't judge a book by its cover!

We had been living over on the east coast and the man of the house was offered a job in Karratha. Why not give it a go? We'd heard some 'over-extended' stories about the place and I did wonder what I was heading into. So I did my homework via the
internet and gathered as much information as I could. Still, there was the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

We had a week to drive 4500km across the top of Australia. Towing all our worldly possessions in the trailer, we set off on another one of life's adventures. We were well prepared: people had told us how expensive wine was over west so I made a quick trip down to Dan Murphy's and stocked up on three cases of manmade nectar. We were over-prepared with extra water, fuel, a fan belt and a roll of that magic tape that can withstand soaring temperatures.

The trip over the top and down was amazing. What a magnificent, diverse county.

We headed for Port Hedland and soon discovered what was in the norm in the Pilbara: things are overpriced! Accommodation was hard to find. What we did find was clean and they were extremely friendly.

I had been informed by more than one person that you didn't shop in Karratha, it was better to drive up to Port Hedland. After checking out the array of shops in Port Hedland, I was thankful that I wasn't a shopper! There is hidden beauty in
Port Hedland but to be honest it is not a place that I could call home.

Next we headed to Karratha, about 200km south. Arriving in Karratha, you first drive into an industrial estate and this is not a good impression. (The words from the man of the house were: "My God, where have I brought you to girl?")

Driving a little further and I had really started to wonder what I had given up ... and where I was going to. Then I remembered my motto: no expectations; no disappointments.

Found our new home 3x2 with everything provided. Right down to the towels and cutlery. Clean and new, what more could a girl ask for?

The man started work and I soon had everything unpacked and placed in its new home. Got out and explored. And then what was I to do with myself? Damn, I had better find a job.

That wasn't hard and I soon slotted into the routine of work. I actually ended up working with an amazing group of people.

The thing about Karratha is that most people leave for work in the early hours of the morning, so during the day the neighbourhood is like a ghost town. There is a chorus of beeping from reversing vehicles between 4 and 6am every morning. Then everything comes back to life in the evening. There is actually a huge population of young families and having older children I didn't fit into these circles. Work was the place for me.

We soon realised there is a lot to offer in the Pilbara and so much to explore. Burrup Peninsula and the Aboriginal art, Point Samson and the best fish and chips. The most amazing sunsets and sunrises. The viewing of the Stairway to the Moon out into the Indian Ocean. Where do I stop?

We got out and explored the vast area. Went to the visitors' centre and watched a safety video which enabled us to drive on the private rail roads. And who needs a 4WD? Not us, our trusty Holden can go anywhere. We socialised with a 4WD group and explored amazing places of beauty. You know it is all just down the road! About 150km to the west then 100km to the north and we witnessed the most stunning billabongs, rivers.

One man-made sight not to be missed is an iron ore train. Usually about 1.5km long. What a sight. If you come across one at a crossing you just turn off the engine and wait for it to pass. As sad as this sounds, by the time I left Karratha I could tell where the ore had been loaded. Each load was piled differently!

There is a real sense of community in Karratha. People are friendly and get involved. There is the controversy with the FIFO workers, and sure there are the rat bags who work there and don't want to fit in. But aren't they anywhere? There is a small percentage who don't show the respect that the area deserves.

You can buy most things, too. And if a shop hasn't got it, they will order it in, and it only takes a day or two from Perth. You might pay a little more. Also you discover what you can buy online.

Karratha is one of those places you love or hate. I loved it! I'd move back there tomorrow. 

More from Auntie Sandy:

If you've got a question for 'Auntie' Sandy or would like to make a comment about FIFO living, we'd love to hear from you. Click here!