Itinerant work crews, campers and station hands are welcomed around the 10m long table in the homestead each night for happy hour. If you are not staying for a meal you need to clear out at 7.15pm so workers can eat heartily and sleep well before getting back into the Pilbara dust and dirt at daylight.
It is also a place where retirees drift back from around Australia to spend a few months helping out in return for food and accommodation and where backpackers lob in for a crusty and sometime scary taste of station life.
Alison Coop from Forrestville in Melbourne is one of the former. She’s a can-do Australian woman who worked as a cook on outback tours for eight years.
Before she retired she worked for 13 years on field locations for crews shooting movies and television series in regional Australia.
“We would supply the vehicles fitted out for whatever they needed – a makeup trailer and a wardrobe trailer, stuff like that. They would bring the makeup and clothes but we would supply the on-site rooms they needed.”
She worked on shoots for the Ben Elton Stark movie at Coober Pedy, the All The Rivers Run television series with John Waters and Sigrid Thornton and the Neighbours location shoots from its early days until 2009.
“We did a lot with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. A lot in Queensland. It was fun but hard work. We did 14 to 16-hour days. You do get over it.”
She explored the Gulf Country after she retired and lobbed into Indee when she roamed around Western Australia in 2011, sleeping in the back of her car.
Indee was short-staffed so she stayed a month, upgrading to a room and looking after the visiting travellers and camp facilities. The next year she returned for the March to August tourist season. She skipped last year for other commitments but is back again this year.
“It’s a good team here, a good atmosphere,” she says. Alison has a gentle charm and friendliness that makes her very much part of the welcoming package.
She tells visitors how to get to Red Rock – a kind of mini Ayers Rock overlooking the Turner River – with its rock pools and rare Aboriginal etchings. Colonies of rare pebble mice are also on the station: they are nocturnal so unless you want to sit in the dark to watch them gather all the rocks for their complex housing units you have to be content with viewing the little rock volcanoes they build.
Ore trains rumble in the background. BHP and Fortescue have built rail lines through Indee to the Newman area; Gina Rhinehart is building another to the new Roy Hill mine. One could surmise that they disturb the bucolic mood of cattle station life but a sense of industry is everywhere in the Pilbara and Indee has an energy created by work crews and travellers accommodated in converted containers and campers in an assortment of caravans, motor homes, tents and sleeper utes and vans. (Hot showers, washing machines, camp kitchen for $20 a night for two people.)
Indee’s massive lounge room is filled with memorabilia. Tea, coffee and biscuits are waiting during the day; at night camaraderie grows as a changing line-up does the BYO thing – nibbles provided – at the long table.
Craig, one of the young blokes on the drilling crew was having matrimonial problems. His wife had expected him to be home with the kids for the long weekend but a drilling project took priority.
Drilling life doesn’t always suit married life, Craig’s father-in-law Dave cheerily confided. He and Mrs Dave parted company 12 years ago.
“And the last 10 years have been the happiest in my life,” he said. “I go where I want when I want. I drink as much as I want to and don’t have to worry about suiting anyone else.”
Driller Doug said he was not in a position to give advice to Craig. His marriage and a long-term relationship both fell apart, mainly because the demands of drilling mean little time at home.
At the top of the table is Big John Spencer, a semi-retired former farmer from the east who came travelling through the Pilbara with his wife Julie last year. Their son was working at nearby Wodgina mine, where 76-year-old station boss Colin Brierly still puts in two days a week. One thing led to another and they stayed on at Indee, returning this year. John does mechanical stuff and Julie cooks.
“You don’t get paid but it costs nothing to stay and it’s interesting,” John mused. “I’m not ready to do nothing yet.”
That was lucky for a young Irish couple travelling Australia last year. They put in a few weeks working at Indee and were driving an old open Cruiser converted to a bull ute. They approached the gravelled crossing of the double BHP line in the wrong gear and the wrong revs. Stuck. And of course a 2.6km ore train soon materialised in the distance.
When John and Julie came around the corner, the Irishman was still trying to push the ute off the rails and his partner was running down the line in a futile attempt to stop the engines and 248 wagons.
Big John summed up the situation quickly and put his foot down. “I didn’t really stop to think. I just put my foot down.”
As the train bore down, John crashed his ute into the back of the jammed Cruiser, shunting it out of the way with a few seconds to spare. It took a while for the full impact of what had happened – and the disaster that could have happened – to dawn on all players.
“Julie was OK but she cried all the next day.” BHP concreted over the crossing. The ute, with the radiator stoved in, was parked in one of the station’s spare parts bays. And of all the people who leave Indee with stories to tell, the Irish couple have one of the best.