30/07/2009 - 00:00

Awe-inspiring northern exposure

30/07/2009 - 00:00


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Karratha should be an obligatory destination for Western Australians who want to understand their state.

Awe-inspiring northern exposure

AT the risk of sounding a touch parochial, I'd like to propose that all red-blooded Western Australians include Karratha in their next family holiday.

I've been to Karratha many times on work visits, but early this month I spent a few eye-opening days there with my children.

Our holiday included the tourist meccas of Coral Bay and Broome, which were filled with thousands of families, whereas in Karratha we were a rarity.

I wasn't surprised by the lack of tourists in Karratha but I am disappointed that so few families visit the town and its surrounding region, for several reasons.

First and foremost, the region continues to be amazingly busy and prosperous. It's one thing to read about the engine room of the state's economy and quite another to witness the resources boom first hand.

Second, the region has some wonderful attractions, particularly on the Burrup Peninsula and the Dampier Archipelago.

Third, it provides a real-life education on social and environmental issues, particularly those affecting indigenous Australians.

Driving from the boomtown of Karratha to the bleak township at Roebourne, just 30 minutes north, is always a shock to the system.

Doing so with children is more confronting; even before we reached Roebourne, my children noticed the sudden appearance of abandoned car wrecks near the highway.

Driving through Roebourne, or past the large regional prison on the way to tourist spots like Point Samson or Cossack, unavoidably leads to a long discussion about the problems facing indigenous Australians, including those on the doorstep of the resources boom.

The problems are deep-seated, and proximity to the resources boom doesn't seem to be helping.

However, major resources companies operating in the region are joining with the sate and federal governments in investing in the local community.

They can invest, confident in the knowledge that the big projects that define the region have a profitable long-term future.

Indeed, it was about 45 years ago that Hamersley Iron, now Rio Tinto, started large scale port development to support iron ore exports from Mt Tom Price.

Twenty years later, the North West Shelf venture started the development of what has become Australia's largest resources project.

Iron ore and gas are still the mainstays of WA's resources sector, and the development of these commodities will increasingly be focused around Karratha and the neighbouring port at Dampier.

Dampier is Australia's largest bulk commodity port, shipping nearly 134 million tonnes last year.

China's CP Mining is giving the region, and the industry, a further boost by investing $5 billion in its Sino Iron project, about an hour south.

The scale of this project is apparent from the amount of traffic on the highway, which is filled with four-wheel drives, road trains and buses ferrying workers.

It's a big contrast from the scene a couple of hours south, where the highway is filled with caravans and camper trailers. Very few of those vehicles make it past Coral Bay or Exmouth.

The ancient rock art on the Burrup Peninsula has made development there highly contentious but my view is that there is a harmonious co-existence.

Some of the best examples of rock art are just a few hundred metres from Burrup Fertilisers' giant urea factory.

Further out the peninsula is the NW Shelf venture's gas plant and Woodside's $12 billion Pluto gas project.

Some people might characterise these sites as merely big factories; to my eye they are staggering in their scale and stunning in terms of the engineering and construction task.

The Burrup is poised for even more development, with Woodside announcing last week it is close to proceeding with a stage two expansion of its Pluto gas project.

Dampier will also be the supply base for the even larger Gorgon project, to be built offshore on Barrow Island.

All of the bankers, engineers, lawyers, caterers and others in Perth who owe their jobs and high incomes to developments like these should take their families north to see it first-hand.


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