As we rolled back into the Pilbara, Pannawonica’s pies, a fright with firewood and frustration over fire put stones into a day that should have been all diamonds.
It sparkled in brilliant sunshine. Rain had speckled and splashed the reds and oranges of iron ore country with emerald grass and a buff frosting from flowering spinifex.
We popped into the mining town of Pannawonica in the morning with our favourite travelling indulgences, pies and coffee, on our mind. We are suckers for flat whites and local bakery pies in small towns, rating them out of 10 when we succumb. The pie evaluation scale has as a 1 the lumpy Scottish lady on the microwave-heated cellophane pack around cardboard pastry and stew.
Pannawonica lets you know what it’s about with its welcome sign: “Please drive carefully. Let our minors become miners.” And like all mining towns, it is neatly laid out with no garish advertising signs. So subtle is its signage that is it bloody frustrating trying to find something like a supermarket.
Find it we did. We picked up a minimum of supplies (think about double your usual cost for most goods; the meat on sale coyly did not display any prices apparently on the assumption that you commit to buying before you faint at the expense). We asked about pies. At the delicatessen next door, we were told.
Even “next door” it was difficult to find but we were pleased to learn the pies were just coming out of the oven. Happily we ordered flat whites that turned out to be passable and settled down to munch our local pies. Aaaargh. The lumpy Scottish lady beamed on us from the cellophane.
A little less cheerily we headed for our destination, the Millstream Chichester National Park on the edge of the Hammersley Ranges. All our pamphlets and maps showed the park had three camp sites and we had decided we would camp at the Python Pool, a little further on than the others but apparently a salubrious spot.
First we had to stop on the dirt road to gather firewood, which took an hour in the flood debris of a gully. As Tony hitched the wood on to Isabel’s bum, I climbed into the passenger seat. My eyes widened as a semi loaded with a grader sailed around the corner towards us.
Robust dust swirls and billows. What flowed from the semi’s wheels did better than that. It rippled and rose like slops of velvety paprika custard. Isabel was going to be engulfed. I squeaked at Tony to shut the driver’s door. He was on to it. Then I realised I couldn’t put up my window.
Isabel’s interior was saved from a russet snowstorm by a small miracle. The semi’s front wide load sign was falling off. Tony signalled to the driver; he slowed and the paprika custard subsided as he reached Isabel. Tony produced a couple of zip ties; the semi went west and we eased Isabel east.
Around Australia national parks compete to confuse visitors. Some say it’s a conspiracy because they really don’t want people in their parks. That was what we were figuring about Millstream after we arrived at the self-help entrance. We had an annual parks pass and couldn’t see where to note that or where to register for camp sites.
We drove 7km north to the visitors’ centre to talk to someone who could put us straight. The centre was in a wonderful old homestead but unmanned. We spotted an unobtrusive notice: the Python Pool camp was closed. Damn. Well, we would go back to the entrance, try again to register and stay at the Crossing Pool, our second choice for a campsite. We drove back 7km, studied all the confusing signage and spotted another modest notice saying the Crossing Pool was closed. That left only the homestead site open for camping. We found another discreet piece of advice saying camping fees were to be paid at the entrance to individual campsites, so we drove back 7km to the homestead and alighted at the entrance sign with a fee box. Another sign said fees were not to be paid there any more; they would be collected by a camp host.
As we drove around looking for a camp site, sad realisation dawned on us at the same time. Unlike the other sites, the Millstream homestead campsite does not allow campfires.Time for a beer. I flicked open the pamphlet I had picked up at the visitors’ centre. It said camping was available at the Python Pool, Crossing Pool and the homestead. Time for another beer.