September, 21 2010
Dampier
William L Fox
Writing

Driving west out of town after lunch, we cruise through the newest pods along the plumb line of the town. The houses are wood, brick, and steel with steeply pitched, gutterless roofs raking low toward the ground.  Metal fences surround the houses on three sides, and metal grillwork is bolted over windows and doors. It's all cyclone-proofing against wind and flying debris, and even the hospital is built part way into the ground to protect it. We continue on the main road toward Dampier and pass the Rio Tinto storage yards and locomotive workshops. At four pm we're out on the salt flats. Mollie and I stand near the twin railroad tracks as an ore train rumbles by with its high overtones of metal wheels rubbing on steel rails, iron dust blowing off the heavy mounds of ore in the cars--part of that radar return. White salt, red dirt, blue sky, blue evaporation ponds mirroring everything. So many parallel lines are here: the highway, telephone lines, drainage ditches, culverts, power lines, railroad tracks, vehicle tyre prints in mud, strand lines of evaporative levels in the ponds, our footsteps. It's a photographer's paradise of colour and form.

By five o'clock the line of traffic coming off Burrup and into Karratha is an unbroken stream that lasts for more than an hour. Before sunset we grab a break in the traffic to drive over to the Dampier overlook, a grassy lawn ringed with palm trees and situated above harbour. It's a handsome sight with yachts and motorboats, tenders and trawlers, and across the harbor the big port operations and salt piles. If the salt flats were all about lines, the harbour is a series of layers. Mollie brings the smell to my attention. The ocean usually comes to your nose salty and fresh, but here there's an undercurrent of bunker fuel. "Corrupt," she says, meaning there's no unsullied nature here.

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