No shoes or high vis for old boys recalling laidback Dampier port

 abc.net.au  9/22/2018 11:00:27 PM   ABC North West WA By Kendall O'Connor

Posted September 23, 2018 09:00:27

When Pauline Hill's husband read about a job going in remote Western Australia offering double his current wage, they thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

"He was reading the Advertiser one day and saw a job advertised for Hamersley Iron, which we didn't know anything about," she said.

"It was in Dampier. We couldn't find that place in the school atlas."

They planned to stay in the mystery town for two years, but ended up living there for 14 years.

"We just loved it," she said.

Thirty-seven years later, Mrs Hill has returned to the Pilbara port town for the second annual reunion of people who lived in the town between the 1960s and 80s.

The idea for the Old Boys Reunion came from Dave Randle, who now lives on the Gold Coast.

"I went to a Pilbara reunion down in Perth and I just felt that it wasn't the right place for it," he said.

"We just went that one step further and made it a Dampier reunion."

"Now that we've got social media available to us [with] all those different social platforms, it's easy. I did this all from the Gold Coast."

No shoes, no high vis

Dampier was built as an exporting hub in 1965 by iron ore miner Hamersley Iron, which is now owned by Rio Tinto.

The town was self-sufficient, with its own hospital, dentist, shops and school.

Trevor Williams was four when he arrived in the town with his family.

He said its isolation made sourcing fresh produce a challenge.

"I remember everything from the shops was frozen, [for example] frozen bread, frozen meat, because we had to get is sent up from Perth," Mr Williams said.

"In the late 1970s a grocery store opened in Port Hedland, which was a few hundred kilometres up the road, and we would jump in the car and drive two hours to get there. That was a real treat."

In line with the laidback lifestyle of the beachside town, school and work uniforms were quite relaxed.

Petina Sharvin, who was born in Dampier and now lives in nearby Karratha, recalled never wearing shoes to her local primary school.

"We used to walk down to the primary school and my feet were a bit like leather back then.

"Sunscreen was also unheard of, that came in a bit later," she said.

Mr Williams said work uniforms were different from what staff wore today.

"We certainly weren't wearing high vis … I'd go to work in a singlet and a pair of shorts. We wore helmets and safety glasses. Things were a bit different in those days.

"My old man wore the khakis but a lot of guys would have worn shorts and singlets.

"You'd come home covered in red dust. You couldn't go to anywhere before having a really long shower after work."

Memories of a 'lovable rogue'

The film Red Dog put Dampier on the map for many people.

The adventures of the mischievous canine were well known to people in the town before his story hit the big screen.

Ms Sharvin said although Red Dog was popular, he tested her patience.

"I remember him coming to our house and just not leaving because he wanted us to get the ticks off him [and to] have a feed," she said.

"Then he would wander off.

"He was a lovable rogue though."

Trevor Williams said the entire town took ownership of the four-legged wanderer.

"There we people, particularly in the single men's quarters, who looked after him," Mr Williams said.

"He would jump on the bus and go to work with the Hamersley Iron guys.

"I remember him getting in a few scraps with other dogs. He wasn't innocent when it came to a few dog fights."

Changing with the times

Shaune McFadden said despite more shops being closed and the hospital long gone, Dampier's appearance hadn't changed.

He said the export milestones at the port today dwarfed what he experienced when he was an apprentice at Hamersley Iron.

"I can remember when Hamersley hit 20 million tonnes for the year, it was huge. We all got plaques to celebrate the occasion."

Figures from the Pilbara Ports Authority for throughput at Dampier port were 14.4 million tonnes for August 2018.

James Orum said the rise in fly-in-fly-out work had also changed the town.

"I think a lot of children lose the opportunity we had to grow up in a mining town," he said.

"That was the best part of my life growing up here. These people have impacted my life and it's been so good to catch up with them, but I think that opportunity is going away now for young kids."

While the town may be quieter, Mrs Hill said Dampier's charm remained.

"It's a little bit run-down with some of the houses, but it's a beautiful place, a beautiful site. It's just lovely," she said.

Mr Randle said the former residents planned to hold the Old Boys Reunion every year in Dampier.

Topics: history, community-and-society, human-interest, mining-industry, mining-rural, regional-development, dampier-6713, wa, perth-6000, karratha-6714

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