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Tom Price And Karijini National Park

Tom Price

Tom Price is another town which owes its existence to an iron ore mine. This mine, and smaller satellite mines in the region, now belong to Rio Tinto.

The town took its name from Mount Tom Price, a source of very high grade iron ore. The mountain was named after Thomas Moore Price (1891 - 1962). Tom was an American (but a good bloke never-the-less) who assisted Lang Hancock to survey the Hamersley Range from Lang's aircraft, landing frequently for a closer look.

Now here's the twist; Tom didn't discover Mount Tom Price, nor was he the one who discovered iron ore in the Hamersley Range of mountains. Tom didn't develop a mine, either. What he did achieve was, in some ways, more sensational. Tom was a man of unbounding energy and enthusiasm, a veritable human dynamo. He might not have moved a mountain but he did shift a government.

At this time the State Government of Western Australia was doing what politicians do best - prevaricating. Was the ore in the proposed site in the Hamersley Ranges sufficiently rich in iron? Was there enough of it? Was the sulphur content too high? Could they justify spending money to develop, not just a mine in that remote region, but port facilities at Dampier and a railway linking the two? Lang Hancock believed it was worth developing but was unable to convince the Government. Then along came Tom Price, fresh from surveying the region and bubbling over with enthusiasm. He completely sold Premiere Brand and his cabinet on the concept; he moved a government and changed Western Australian history more than even he could have imagined. Then he went home to America.

Back home, Tom was taken ill and his illness was followed by a serious infection which frustrated him unendurably. News had come through about an even richer ore body close to the original site, a whole mountain of it. He couldn't wait to return to Western Australia. Ignoring his wife's pleas he returned to work at Kaiser Steel while still running a high fever. Within hours he was found dead at his desk. However, his input had started the ball rolling. The new find was named Mount Tom Price in his honour. Later the town, which developed to service the new mine, adopted the same name.

Tom died too soon to benefit financially from the mine but Lang Hancock became extremely rich. As every Aussie knows, his wealth didn't buy him much happiness. His wife died and he married his Filipino housekeeper, Rose. The marriage fascinated the press, Lang being considerably older than Rose. Lang fell ill and Rose moved him out of his luxurious mansion in Perth's most affluent suburb and into a small lodge near the gate. As it became clear old Lang was not long for this world, a vicious and very public battle broke out between Rose and Lang's daughter, Gina, both striving for as much of Lang's estate as they could lay their hands on. God knows, there was more than enough for both and poor Lang was almost forgotten in the fray.

So there you have it. A very abbreviated history of the origin of Tom Price, the town. Tom Price, the man, did, in one respect, move a mountain. As a direct result of his input much of Mount Tom Price went to Japan. Some came back in the form of Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Nissans, etc.

Mount Tom Price

This picture was taken from a look-out above the town of Tom Price but looking the other way. The picture shows a maintenance truck on the railway (left), a car and caravan passing along the road (right) and the dark mass of Mount Nameless looming beyond.

Dominating the Tom Price skyline is Mount Nameless. How did a mountain come to be called Nameless? The story I heard is that Japanese visitors to the mine were taken to the summit of the mountain which offered sensational views over the mine, the town and the surrounding landscape. On asking the name of this mountain the Japanese were told, It's nameless. Ah, Mount Nameless, replied the enquirer. And so it became from that moment forth.

Some Aborigines are very upset about this name. They'd already had a name for the mountain for thousands of years, they said. Their name is about twenty letters long and is unpronounceable. They had their way in changing Ayers Rock to Uluru; let's stay with Nameless.

We drove to the top of Mount Nameless (4WD only) not once, but twice. We didn't have the camera the first time, it was a spontaneous act so that my darling wife and I could stand on the highest point in the area and watch the sun set together. Who says I'm not romantic? And my reward? I drove too fast on the dirt road. She froze in terror because I drove too near a few steep drops. It was too cold to get out of the car and look at the view. Well . . . I tried.

The second time we went earlier when it was warmer and I drove up the mountain very slowly and stayed away from edges. Too little too late. But this time I took the camera . . .

Before and After

How the landscape would have looked ...

... before a mountain went to Japan.

Town and Park

The town of Tom Price and ...

... though hard to see, the caravan park.

We rather liked Tom Price. It had just the one service station which didn't take advantage of its monopoly by inflating its pump prices. We pulled in to fill up the day before we planned to leave and found all the diesel pumps out of action; the service station had run out of diesel. Therefore the town was out of diesel. The next service station was at Paraburdoo, eighty kilometres away. We didn't care, we had fuel enough to reach Paraburdoo and some to spare - assuming Paraburdoo had diesel. There isn't a caravan park there.

As it transpired, on returning to the caravan we discovered that water was dripping from the front left corner. Investigation revealed that the water heater was leaking. Said investigation demanded that one remove a panel then lie on the floor with one's head and one extended arm in the lower section of a small cupboard with a torch. Such uncomfortable contortions revealed water leaking from the lower input pipe connection. Or was it? Since the heater was enclosed in a polystyrene jacket, the leak could have originated anywhere, the water filling the jacket until it flowed out from the lowest escape point which was where the input pipe connected. Ho-hum. Buy a Jayco, folks, you'll never be bored.

Okay, first we had to eliminate the connection as the culprit. To remove that the hot water tank had to be drained. The only external drain point was accessed by removing the sacrificial anode which should be replaced at regular intervals - but which I had conveniently overlooked, probably in common with 95% of caravan owners. Anyway, there wasn't anything left of the anode but white sludge in the bottom of the tank.

But that's enough doom and gloom. Let's take a break and go and see the Karijini National Park.

The Karijini National Park.

We decided to take the plunge and booked an organised tour of the Karijini Park (pronounced Carry Genie). When our bus hit the corrugated dirt road we were s-o-o-o glad we hadn't driven in. We hadn't gone far when some total idiot towing a camper trailer came the other way at a ridiculous speed, churning up a dense cloud of choking, brown dust and scattering stones. He made no attempt to slow down as he approached the bus, leaving our driver unable to see anything ahead. Stones thrown up as he passed rattled against the bus, one hitting the windscreen and chipping it. Our poor driver was most upset; it was a brand new windscreen that had been fitted less than 24 hours earlier.

Barring that one incident it was a wonderful day.

Termite Mound

This, our guide told us, is fossilised dinosaur dung. Would a tour guide lie?

2,500 millions years ago the whole of Karijini National Park had been under the ocean, then all sorts of mayhem broke loose. Continental shelves collided, earthquakes erupted and one way or another Karijini was not a good place to be. The sea bed rock was forced upwards with tremendous force causing it to buckle and form numerous vertical fractures. As it finished up above the sea, the usual processes of erosion began and the fissures were were gradually opened up by water and wind. As a consequence Karijini, as we see it today, is riddled with deep and spectacular gorges.

Oxer Gorge

Oxer Gorge from one of the viewing platforms. Another platform can be seen near the top-left corner.


A female English tourist, against all advice, decided to climb down into the gorge. She fell and was seriously injured. Helicopters can't be used in gorge rescues because of the very real danger of precariously balanced rocks being dislodged by the beat and down draught from the rotor blades and causing further injury. A rescue team, consisting of three volunteers, descended into the gorge and secured the woman to a litter on which she was hauled up. Before the rescue team could could be brought up a three metre wall of water came rushing down the gorge from a storm some distance away. Two of the rescuers miraculously escaped but one, Jimmy Regan, was killed.

A memorial to Jimmy Regan from his family stands above the spot where he died.

The woman was treated in hospital for her injuries then returned to England to continue her life.
A Dingo Called Doris

As we drove along our guide told us about an old dingo (Australian native wild dog) which had wised up to the fact that she didn't need to hunt for food. If she hung around the picnic spots in the park the tourists would be enchanted and throw her food. She had been christened Doris by the park rangers. Our guide told us there was a good chance we would see her. As we approached the picnic area, there she was. She was very wary and would not approach humans but skulked around the periphery of a group and look nervous.

Doris the Dingo

Doris the wily Dingo. Dingos don't bark, they howl like wolves.

We descended into two of the gorges via rough steps cut into the rock or partly formed from concrete. The steps appeared to have been cut by men with legs twice the length of poor Pam's and she really struggled at times. Occasionally she would accept help, but mostly she was determined to manage alone.

Tour group

Our group at the bottom of one gorge. Note the variation in the colour of the rock. And where's Pam?


There she is at the other side of the creek, catching her breath.

Fern Pool

Fern Pool was what our guide called the jewel in the crown.

Three of our party - all women - swam in Fern Pool. What does this prove? Absolutely nothing. They wanted to swim, the rest of us didn't.

There just isn't room to show you all the stunning sights we saw in Karijini National Park. Our guide was one of the best; witty, knowledgeable and a good driver. He allowed everyone to go at their own pace and was kind and considerate.

On the way home we just got caught at a level crossing by an empty ore train which meant a long wait. At one point we could see the ore cars stretching from one horizon to the other. We prayed the train wouldn't stop. It didn't.
Back To That B----- Water Heater

With the heater tank drained I removed the input pipe and found the sealing washer was a write-off. A rubber 'O' ring designed for a garden hose connector did the trick. I reassembled everything, filled the tank and pressurised it. Now both the inlet and the outlet pipe leaked. Tomorrow I'll go the hardware and try and find replacement fittings.

Huh! What a joke. They had nothing.

We asked the Tourist Information office for help. We were pointed at a small backstreet business. The gentleman there, Simon, didn't have what we needed but promised to get everything by midday tomorrow. Wonderful! It means another day without water and a delayed departure but . . . hey, so what!
And One Last Thought From Karijini

Two sides of sign

There's always two sides to everything. Some people regarded the back of the sign as fair game

And Back To The Water Heater

As agreed, I returned to see if Simon had managed to get me the parts I needed overnight. Simon had gone to a meeting in Karratha - no parts had arrived. We decided to try Plan B which was to persuade the original fittings that it would be a good idea to work properly. Swapping a couple of perished 'O' rings for new ones (again intended for a garden hose connector) we achieved some success. Both connections were now water-tight. However, water was seeping from under the water tank's insulation jacket. Was there still a leak or was it water trapped there after the tank had been drained? If so, it would dry up on its own. If not, there was still a leak somewhere and the whole water heater would have to come out. What fun.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 79 was completed on 9th July 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.