It’s a bit of a long story, how I got to Shay Gap and I won’t bore you with it here, I’ll bore you some other time; some other blog. For now I’ll keep it brief.
The man that I’d worked for and who’d taught me how to run a pub had to retire; his ticker wasn’t the best and the publicans life was killing him.
I stayed on at his hotel in Waroona down Bunbury way in Western Australia, and showed the new licensee the ropes and got him acquainted with the locals, it was a one pub town, no clubs so it was the town centre and meeting place. Once the new bloke had settled in I decided it was time to move on. This is way back in 1973, forty years ago. How time flies! 😦
All I knew was that the Pilbara was way, way, up north but why not?
So I rang Poone Bros., these were the people that ran the mining towns in the early iron ore boom times, and went up to Perth and had a chat with their ‘Personnel Officer’ back in the good ol’ days when the term “Human Resource Manager” hadn’t forced its way into the language. I’m a person not a resource!
We had a bit of a chat I told him what I’d been doing and he told me what the job entailed then added that I’d probably know more about it than he did anyway so when could I start. I told him I was ready to go in a couple of days.
I called into Poone’s a couple of days later picked up my papers and plane tickets and headed out the next day for Shay Gap way up there on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert about 70-80kms north of Marble Bar, the hottest town in Australia, and one of the hottest in the world.
Nearly 1600 kilometres north to Port Hedland, the sea port for the iron ore shipments, then inland I think it was on a Cessna 421, (I recall it was a small twin engine 8 seater) for the 180-190km to “Shay”.
Wow! Here I was some 1800km from civilization miles from anywhere stuck in the middle of a desert. What the hell had I let myself in for?
A Toyota Land Cruiser was there to take me into the township, so I collected my gear said cheers to the pilot and off we went in the Cruiser in the searing heat, with the air-conditioning full on, i.e. we had all the vehicle windows down.
I was greeted by the Shay Gap Township Manager, another Poone’s man, Poone’s ran everything except the Police, (one sergeant), bank (one bank, the ANZ) and post office, which in those days was run by the government.
He gave me a complete run down on the town then took me to my accommodation. It was literally out of this world. Shay Gap was truly a space age town.
This town was unique, in the fullest sense of the world. There’s never been a town like this before or since. It was designed by the Perth Architect, Lawrence Howroyd, who studied the way the Arabs lived and survived in the searing heat and winds of the desert and came up with the concept that became Shay Gap.
The buildings were all connected to one huge air-conditioning system pretty much in the centre of town (it wasn’t a very big town, more on this later), there were no brick or timber buildings, every house, every building was moulded, don’t ask me what the material was it looked like moulded fibre glass or the material used to make surf boards; it had that look about it; all windows were double glazed and moulded in as well. The buildings were pretty much airtight once the doors were closed.
My accommodation consisted of a quarter of an hexagon building. Each unit was self-contained except there were no cooking facilities and they were for single male staff /managers.
We didn’t need cooking facilities as all our meals were provided in the staff dining room. We did have one building set aside for recreation and meeting purposes where it was possible to make a cup of tea/coffee, toast a bit of bread everything we needed including a laundry. No laundry facilities we were responsible for doing our own.
But these buildings were fascinating; my unit, everything inside was moulded the wardrobes cupboards writing desk all seamless and moulded and spotless. Straight out of “Star Trek” except “S.T” hadn’t been thought of back then.
The bathroom minus a bath was moulded except for the lavatory, I’m sure if Mr. Howroyd had been able to mould that too, he would have done so.
Speaking of lavatories the sewerage system was a new style vacuum system that used plastic type pipes, when the lavatory was flushed there’d be one huge ‘whooshing’ sound as about a cup of water flushed the pan and sent the pans contents into oblivion. (I was reliably informed by the man who should know that at the end of each day the amount of effluence that came out of the pipes was not enough to fill a milk bottle. Then again he could have been having me on I suppose).
There was three other types of accommodation in town. The buildings for the larger 3 bedroom family homes, which were like two giant moulded shoeboxes the top one set at 90° , a smaller one storey moulded shoebox probably one bedroom and the single men’s quarters, which resembled a glorified moulded jail block.
Probably a jail cell would have had more room than the single men’s cell, they were very basic. A bed a cupboard/wardrobe small table and chair and that was about all. Still the men worked twelve on / twelve off seven days a week alternating between day and night shift every fortnight; they were really just a sleeping room.
The picture I’m attaching will give you some idea of the buildings, you can see the double storey cell block, the double decker 90° houses, you can see the larger amenities blocks which housed the store and post office, the ‘Club’ and the mess and ‘Wet’ canteen. All in all it looks very bleak, but it wasn’t and I shall tell you more about “Shay” in the coming days and or weeks; I came to love this place and the people that made it and made me “The Bloke That Ran The Boozer At Shay Gap’; I was once asked by an old chum to write a book entitled just that!
A task beyond me.