Waiting for the Fremantle Doctor

Photo by Alamy
I fanned myself with a leaflet and expelled a sigh of exhaustion as the mid afternoon heat claimed the remaining energy from my body.  “Don’t worry,” said Ulyss, “the doctor will be here soon.” We were 20 degrees south of the equator and I hadn’t quite acclimatised to the heat of Port Hedland in Western Australia. 

We sat on the wooden veranda and looked across the dusty road to the lush mangrove swamps rooted in white coral sands and beyond to the cool turquoise of the Indian Ocean.  We couldn’t swim in it, of course. This was croc country now and dipping a toe in the water could result in a swift death roll followed by drowning. I resisted temptation and resigned myself to a few hours relaxation while watching the frantic manoeuvres of the honeyeaters contrast with the impassive patience of a fishing heron.
An early morning wander around the town had revealed a mixed and relaxed community; a busy port dominated by mining, salt and iron, and art galleries incorporating work from indigenous people to local miners.
Dunes of blindingly white salt, sandwiched between a cloudless sky and azure sea dominated Port Hedland’s horizon. The salt mines, surprisingly a major tourist attraction, covered 90 square kilometres and a closer look at the process of turning water into salt added terms like ‘pickle ponds’ and ‘saturated brine’ to my vocabulary.
Although no longer a talking point in the town, as a visitor I was very aware of a fine red dust which covered everything from road signs to roof tops, even the cyclone status board didn’t escape.  A guided tour of the iron ore plant and an insight into the mining industry revealed the source of the red dust and with it, assurances of no risk to health.  We were proudly shown monstrous rust coloured metal structures on rails, grounded to the ochre earth and silent like an abandoned fairground.  Bucket wheel reclaimers, we were told. 
It was starting to become uncomfortably hot.  Heat radiating from the dusty roads, shimmered like water and shade suddenly became extinct.
We followed the red dust trail back to our accommodation, where we relaxed on the veranda and watched the industrial drama unfolded at high tide. A couple of tugs guided a 200m long vessel through the narrow channel of the harbour navigating a huge sandbar at the entrance. The ship was fully laden which allowed only a five centimetre gap all round.  This was followed by a flurry of smaller ships entering and leaving the port until the window of high tide closed for the day.
“Ah! That feels nice.” I said to Ulyss, as a gentle cool breeze provided some relief from the heat.  The Fremantle Doctor had arrived, a soothing southerly wind which originates in Fremantle and alleviates the discomfort of hot summer days.   “Hmm, yes,” she agreed, as a red coloured pigeon landed in the garden.


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