Indomitable is the word that springs to mind for this lady, stout of tongue and body. She is one of the treasures of Carnarvon, along with the heritage jetty, a tumble of old trucks and trains and an iconic satellite dish that helped track Apollo space missions.
Decommissioned after helping keep tabs on the disappointing swoop-by of Halley’s Comet in 1987, the dish was saved by the citizens of Carnarvon. A space and technology museum was built beside it celebrating the achievements of the 300-tonne dish, almost 30m in diameter. Opened in conjunction with NASA in 1966, it sent out Australia’s first satellite television broadcast as well as helping put man on the moon.
Opened by Buzz Aldrin in 2012, the museum is open 10am to 3pm daily on a seasonal basis. We were unseasonal so missed out but we did get to meet Sas the Cornish Coffee Pot driver (above, at the end of the jetty).
Her late husband was a Cornish merchant navy engineer who criss-crossed the globe. After he and Sas were married in the 1960s she spent a decade travelling with him until the zeroed in on Carnarvon as the perfect place to settle and raise a family.
“The weather here is as good as it gets,” said Sas firmly. “When my husband first came here he said this was it.” With a monthly mean average between 23 and 33 degrees, Carnarvon is often 10 degrees cooler than Exmouth in summer and 10 degrees warmer than Perth in winter.
Its average annual rainfall is a bit lean – 223mm – but that means lots of sunshine for Carnarvonites and visitors. Irrigation from the Gascoyne allows 176 plantations to grow tropical fruits and 70% of WA’s winter vegetable needs, picking 30,000 tonnes from more than 1000 ha of river delta land. Most produce heads south in a transport industry started by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith but Carnarvon also has a farmers’ market with fresh produce.
The downside is the wind. Trees leaning to the lee testify to its relentlessness although a local scoffed when I took photos. “Wait till you get to Geraldton,” he said. “That’s where the wind really bends the trees over.”
Carnarvon’s strength seems to lie in a strong volunteer base that preserves heritage and loves the town with a passion. Sas is part of that core.
Her marine background might explain the passion she has for the One Mile jetty and its history. She’s a bit cranky that Busselton down south was given a heap of money for its jetty and Carnarvon missed out but its interpretive project is still going ahead. A 2012 completion date on the sign has been crossed out and replaced with 2014.
I wondered if Carnarvon’s grant had been deferred because of the $60 million being spent on its levee banks to save it from periodic disgorges from the great Gascoyne basin but I wasn’t going to argue. I nodded gravely at the injustice.
Built in 1897 to cross shallow sand and mangroves, the jetty served Carnarvon’s wool and pastoral industries. It was the first port in WA to send out live shipments of stock, with sheep and cattle walking the long mile along the jetty to the ships bound for Freemantle.
Actually it’s not a long mile. It seems a really short one. We walked it instead of riding the Coffee Pot train and were left with a bit of a suspicion that the name One Mile sounded so impressive that someone cribbed on the measuring tape. Would they? Nah. But you have to wonder where they actually started measuring.