August, 31 2012
Port Hedland
Martin Parr
Photography

John Van Uden

 

I first came to Port Hedland in the 1960’s to deliver a boat domiciled in Onslow. The person who was supposed to take over as the Master of the Vessel didn’t turn up on time, so I was asked to stay for a little bit longer; the wages were good, the pay was good. Forty eight years later, I’m still here. I happen to like Port Hedland very much and the only way I’ll leave it is in a body bag.

When I first came, I spent three years living in the Esplanade Hotel in Room Number 25 and so did the rest of my crew as I became the Manager of the outfit. The Esplanade Hotel was a hotel of business people, whereas, The Pier Hotel was the blood and guts place. Those who drank at the The Esplanade didn’t go to The Pier and those who drank at The Pier didn’t drink at The Esplanade. The marine
contingent, the boat drivers, the shipping agents, the marine contractors stayed at the Esplanade, whereas those at The Pier were involved in the inland railway site. The Esplanade still holds the Australian record for the most amount of beer sold in a two hour period, because there were sessions then. Often two people would fight each other one on one for two hours and when the four o’clock session started, they went and sat at the bar to have a beer together and said, ‘that was good, wasn’t it.’

The rules and the law were extremely different to what it is now, your word was rule, business was conducted on a handshake and nobody reneged on a  handshake. It was a place of honesty, you never asked a person where they came from, or what they did before they arrived in Port Hedland, you never asked them if that was their real name, if they wanted to tell you, they would tell you, but if not, you minded your own business. All of the North West was the same. If you broke the rules, you were outlawed by local society; those who wanted to cheat or lie were run out of town, either by the police or the peer group. The police had a job to do, but more of an overseeing role, rather than enforcement. Social life was just superb, there was always a party happening, and virtually anyone was invited. I was in Port Hedland for about five years before I met June. I met June

 

June Van Uden

I don’t know about that. I was sent up to Hedland with the Education Department. I came up in 1972 as Deputy Principal at Cooke Point Primary School and I was there for 28 years. My mother had also worked in Hedland she came up on a boat when she was nineteen, because she couldn’t find work in Perth, she said. She felt sorry for the chooks because they didn’t have any feathers due to the heat.

My staff at school were very dedicated and keen; there were always games of softball or basketball going on, it didn’t matter if it was summer or winter, the staff would be out there. It was pretty busy because people were coming in and out of town, kids would come in the morning and then in the afternoon, the parents would come and collect them, because they couldn’t get work, or couldn’t get accommodation, so they would head off further North. There would be more transient people when there was a boom. There were always different nationalities, a lot of eastern Europeans, Yugoslavs, Croations, and Thursday Islander people.

When I first came I had to share a house with two other ladies, only men got their own houses. Neither of my roommates were teaching, one worked for Centrelink and the other one was attached to the Health Department. When I first came up, most people working here were given a house; mainly they were four bedrooms, and one bathroom, all air-conditioned at 6 or 8 dollars a week. When we got married, we bought a house opposite the Hedland Motor Hotel.

 

John Van Uden

What June isn’t telling you, is there is a library in Port Hedland, named the Jude Van Uden Library, Jude also volunteers at the South Hedland Library , for Meals on Wheels, and at the hospital. Both of us are now retired. Most of my career I owned a marine and dive company, but when I got a bit too old to do diving, we went into semi-precious stones. We were totally vertically integrated. We had our own mining tenements; we did our own mining, our own processing, cutting, polishing, our own retailing and wholesaling through the Rock Shed in Port Hedland which was made out of Tiger’s Eye. June is good at finding the stones – I find the area and June finds the stones. We traded mainly with Aboriginal people. If you had a
stone in your hand and said ‘this is what I’m looking for,’ nine times out
of ten they would be able to locate them for you. We worked together
in harmony, we had mining tenements together. The Pilbara is truly
remarkable for stones and it has to do with its age, it’s the oldest land
formation on earth.

Everyone in the Pilbara has always been interested in base metal, iron ore, copper, nickel, but we have rubies, emeralds, carnelian, we have so many different types of stone, the whole country is really an open book when it comes to semi precious stones. The other really exciting thing that June and I have done, is to find petrified rain drops – there is only one other place they are found in the world and that’s in New Zealand. It forms through a rain drop coming through a cloud of iron dust and as the drop collects the iron dust and lands in soft silt it makes an indent so when the water has evaporated the iron residue is left behind.

We love the Pilbara for prospecting, and every day there is another place to go, another pool to find, another ridge to climb, particularly because the area is so unexplored, and untouched. My favourite place is one mile gorge, it is magnificent. It’s a series of small waterfalls down a gorge, from the top to the bottom, it’s not really accessible, so when you do go there, you’re by yourself.

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