I Called Into Mars On My Way To Heaven

It was just like the pictures. Rugged. Rocky. And what vegetation there was, it did not escape the thick layers of red dust that defined the landscape. I was once sent a pictures of Mars. Alongside that picture was a photo of the place I was now at. I could see the similarity.

Port Headland. The busiest port in the country. Ships are lined up for days waiting to get a spot at the wharf. A few hundred kilometres north from the iron ore centre around Rio Tinto’s Tom Price and it’s rail connected port at Dampier, here is another huge operation. It’s where the rest of the major iron players, BHP, Fortescue and where Gina Reinhart has finally realised her father Lang Hancock’s dream to build his own mining operation. Mind you he hasn’t done too bad collecting royalties from the other players in the mean time! Combined, it’s another massive network with more huge two kilometre plus iron ore trains transversing the inland country carting more of Australia to waiting countries via this mega port operation. Hence the odd bit of red dust layered all over the town.

True, in some cases the place may look like an uninhabitable scene from Mars. But being quick to judge can be short sighted. I grew up in a place that to the outsider also thought we were from another planet. It was a railway siding town in the middle of what used to be called the Ninety Mile Desert. Half way between Adelaide in South Australia and the Victorian border. To top it off, the Aboriginal meaning for the town is “barren woman”! It featured a grain silo along the rail siding, a station master, a cop and a pub. So it pretty well qualified as a town. My dad back then bought the run down general store and turned it into quite a thriving business in its day. However to the Melbourne cityites stopping only long enough to get a drink, “Oh”, they’d gasp as they swiped away the flies in the soaring summer heat, “how could anyone possibly live here?” But what they didn’t see was the community spirit, the friendships the sense of belonging that was so strong within the town. I expect Australia’s version of Mars is no different. I was just a superficial traveller passing through who wasn’t there long enough to feel it. Though I did experience a small piece of community caring. The not for profit seafarers tour, funded by these tours, provides a service to bring the ships crews on and off to shore during their brief stay.

From Mars, Heaven was just another five hours up the road. I’d heard about this staircase to heaven in Broome. Turns out the staircase only gets you to the moon. But at least I was hoping it could give me a glimpse as to what’s up there.

Staircase or not, to the thousands of visitors that swell the town to three times it’s normal population in peak season, it would certainly feel like Heaven compared to the colder south.

Amongst numerous resort properties, our caravan camping park was one of many. Specially allocated streets in our park are temporary home to the great Southern Grey Nomad species. They can be seen migrating along well worn migration paths to this northern habitatat where they nest, eat and drink for around four month’s a year. For at least the last 15 years, they socialise together at the same time of year, same street, same lot, each year.

Regardless of the term of stay, one thing about staying on a park like this, particularly sharing the camp kitchen, is the interesting diversity of people you meet. There’s the Project Manager and his wife who’s on an outback flying holiday. Tent in the back seat they’ve been hopping their way around the outback from one airstrip to another taking in some of Australia’s most spectacular scenery. Or the cop and his family who have taken their kids out of school for a few months, swapping classrooms for invaluable travel experiences. The parks temporary resident hairdresser from Queensland homeschooling her daughter on their twelve month travel adventure. Or just the hundreds of other Grey Nomad varieties stopping over for various times enjoying the heavenly warm climate or the endless white beaches.

I’m not going to mention the FiHi index here. Suffice to say we would have been better off sitting in our camp chairs in the shade outside our tent, esky by our side and simply casting our fishing lines down the bitumised park street. Bait or none, it still wouldn’t have made any difference. “You need a boat mate”, was the best advice we could squeeze out of these FiHi Index 9.5 old blokes cleaning their impressive sized fish. Unlike the majority of sociable and up for a chat other residents, this old blokes club was clearly guided by a highly secret handshake code policy of say nothing, give absolutely nothing away. And that’s exactly what they did!

But there’s more than fish to make heaven. It was time to take the staircase. It only appears limited times a year and our timing was perfect. But as it turned out, as one of nature’s many delights it was just a picturesque illusion. I guess I’ll have to still earn my way to the Pearly Gates after all.

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