September, 22 2010
Dampier Archipelago
William L Fox

Our third stop on the tour is East Intercourse Island, according to local lore either named by William Dampier upon his visit in 1699 as a place to converse with Aboriginal peoples or, per what I was told on our first trip, for the meeting of land- and ocean-based transport systems. The 2.5 kilometre-long conveyor belt feeding the pier carries 800,000 tonnes per hour, and either interpretation of the name can easily provoke the notion that the traditional owners were, to put it politely, being taken advantage of. I can't help but think of Loreen Sampson's painting of the ore cars carrying away her country.

Larry and I walk up to the high point of the island, Queens Lookout, atop of which like a cherry on an ice cream sundae sits the Bureau of Meteorology dome that's providing the images Christian and I were looking at, the false rain reading. We can clearly see the dust boiling up around the ‘spaghetti bowl' across the harbour, despite the massive sprinkling. Turning around to survey the island and its ocean setting, it looks like a piece of Mars has been set down amidst the Indian Ocean. The island is a sterile red chunk of the planet sitting incongruously in a semi-tropical sea.

We end our tour by driving out to the Woodside visitor centre to watch an excessively cheery public relations film about the building and operation of the natural gas plant, which processes the gas piped in underseas from the North Shelf Project. Janine rattles of another string of numbers; an estimated 100 trillion cubic feet of gas eventually to be brought to shore in a 40-inch pipeline that's 134.275 km long. That would be the same pipeline we'd cruised over on our first trip. I make a rough conversion: a hundred cubic miles of gas and equivalent in energy to about two-thirds of a cubic mile of oil. I don't know how to envision such a physical volume, but remember that as large a figure as it is, it represents less than a quarter of all the energy needs of the world for a year.

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