I was not quite 18 when I arrived in Port Hedland in May 1966. I had come from Inverell in New South Wales but I had been working in Sydney when my brother sent out an S.O.S. for me to come work for him at his newly purchased Mobil Garage. He paid my way over. About a year and half later he and his family left and went to live in Perth. But I was stuck, I had met Roger.
Roger's ancestors arrived in the Pilbara by ship in 1863. They sailed from Portland in Victoria in a small barque vessel and landed at Cossack, then known as Tien Tsin. Roger's great grandfather developed Pyramid Station near Roebourne, then in the 1870's came overland and established the Pippingarra Boodarie run on the outskirts of Port Hedland.
I worked at the Town of Port Hedland for most of my career; in the 1980's I worked as a reporter for The Pilbara Times where I finally achieved my journalist qualifications. I finished my working life with BHP Billiton in Public Affairs at the community office. When our first grandchild arrived in 2005 I knew it was time to retire.
I like the Pilbara very much. When I arrived in 1966, Port Hedland was a real frontier town. No air conditioning but lovely, big fans hovering from high ceilings over wide verandas. It was an exciting place to be and the local people were so interesting. There were people called, Diesel Dick, Smokey Dawson (Marble Bar icon) and Stirrup Iron Jack. There would be cricket or football, played out on the stations just about every weekend or a party at one station or another.
Roger’s mother and father, by the nature of what they did in the town, were always entertaining ministers or governors, even governor generals. Everybody wanted to see what was happening in the Pilbara, which was comparable to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, in terms of economic development for Australia.
This was different to the scene most nights down at the Esplanade and Pier hotels, where it was every man for himself and a tiny population of women. Unattached girls were very spoilt. Back then, it was 70 guys to one girl. The live bands were fantastic and definitely no skimpys in the 1960's. Most weekends we’d go to one of the tidal creeks for fishing and crabbing. Inevitably, we would get stranded, push the boat in the mud for hours and scare the sea snakes.
From an early age I rode horses competitively and for pleasure. I used to keep three lovely mares here in Port Hedland. They were bred on Mt Florence, Roger's mother's family station. Mt Florence still has horses but they are not used for mustering anymore and run wild. Up until the 1970's stations relied solely on horses to muster the sheep and cattle. Mt Florence always had a thoroughbred stallion for breeding purposes.
The Pilbara is still home but when your family lives elsewhere it's not the same. I’m happiest when I’m near our kids and grandkids. They come up a few times a year and we live half the year in Perth. We leave Port Hedland in early October and return in May, in time for the Pilbara race round.