At first glance it looks like any other shopping mall. Except for one thing. There’s cops everywhere. They’re outside shops. Inside shops. Fully uniformed gun toting laser gun loaded cops. They stand there all day but won’t speak to you. But you get the real feeling your every move is being watched.
I reckon they got the idea from those guards outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. The ones with those huge big black fluffy socks on their head. I was over there some years back with the family. All I wanted to know was if Liz was home to pop in for a quick cuppa to meet the family. Just looked straight passed me he did. How rude I thought. What a waste of tax payers money. If they can’t be bothered talking to you, might as well just have stuffed look a likes as far as I was concerned.
Well, here in Karratha that’s exactly what they’ve done. But the reality is, I think they had no choice.
Karratha was the centre of one of the longest mining booms in the country’s history. Rents just a couple years ago were astronomically high, typically three times what they are now. But with booms come bust. And so do the stories of the highly paid fly in fly out FIFO workers suddenly finding themselves out of work. Left with unexpected debt repaying the boy’s toys of boats, jet skis, quad bikes, caravans and highly mortgaged houses.
It’s ironic though the state government adopted the same boom time FIFO mentality. Now seriously in debt.
As such the cardboard cut out cops must have proven to be a brilliant government cost cutting initiative. They can only expand on it. Not only could they replace more police, but what about cardboard versions of nurses, teaches, or even social workers? The list could go on.
The boom may be well and truly over. But this city of around 16,000 people doesn’t give the feeling that it’s life is over. More so it would appear it’s just the beginning. Mining production in the region hasn’t stopped. Nor has the energy industry with major gas plants both exporting gas and piping gas as far as 1600km south to supply the rest of the state.
As rents have plummeted back to sustainable levels, once fly in fly out workers are now moving up here with their families. The orange flagged Toyota Prado mining vehicles that once defined the town are now drastically outnumbered by family vehicles.
The burbs have a distinct I’m just renting feeling to it. In the newer residential developments, a quick count suggests a significant one in five or more homes are vacant. With job losses, breaking leases has become common as investors bear the financial brunt.
But despite all this, there’s a definite community feel where young families enjoy the generous expanse of parks, walking paths as well as the abundance of the region’s camping, fishing and outdoor recreational opportunities.
By contrast to the city’s burbs, is the more revitalized city centre. While the outside appearance of the shopping mall could do with a visit by Mr Westfield, the city centre has an emerging modern arty feel to it. Maybe it’s the five dollar coffee prices. Or perhaps the trendy looking new low rise apartment and commercial buildings starting to dominate the centre.
It’s quite a contrast to the normal outbackish look. I often muse how designers come up with such abstract stuff that actually looks quite appealing. Despite the huge cost saving success of the cardboard cop program, I just couldn’t see how a cardboard cut out designer could have worked for them. So the next best thing, as I contemplated over my five dollar coffee, was I reckon they must have grabbed a couple of arty type backpackers passing through. You can pick them. The dark scruffy unkept mop hair, black rim glasses and a few rips in their jeans type. Cheap as too. Throw them a few packs of coloured crayons and Jim Bean and let them go. The results certainly speak for themselves. Karratha has now joined the city elites, with its own trendy arty buildings, complete with all those odd bits of brightly coloured shapes stuck all over the exterior.
Karratha is clearly a city in transition. My son and his family’s decision to move here, along with many other families I met, I reckon is a smart one.