Today was about reliving our time in Shay Gap, Western Australia. For Fraser it was 1984 to 1987 and for Di it was 1986 to 1987. Shay Gap was where Fras started his mining career as a Grade Controller and Di did a couple of months relief work in the Medical Centre. Prior to that Di had been working at Port Hedland Hospital, about two hours away.
Di left Port Hedland to return to New Zealand for a holiday when a couple of months relief work came up at the Shay Gap Medical Post. She continued living in Frasers accomodation in the single persons quarters after her work finished for a further two months before she got a job at the mine. She was doing a huge no no by remaining in the town without a job and had to stay under the radar. Today at our reunion we recited the tale to Jan Weir who was one of the town administrators thinking she was aware of this period and it appeared she was not. This created a few Ohhh’s but lots of laughs.
As it was a company town that was owned and run by the company they also set social boundaries. All visitors had to have permission by the Town Administrators to visit and stay and hence Di was totally illegal.
The event today, was held at Frogs house and then progressed onto an Indian restaurant. Frog had organised a rolling slideshow on his TV of pictures over 30 years ago when we were all so young and many of the guys at their buff stage. The old saying of “Youth is wasted on the Young” was never more so true than tonight. We are all into our 50’s and 60’s now with achy knees, hips and sadly some of our crew are no longer with us.
Remember when we would hear our parents saying “do you know what happened to so and so”, well that was all of us. We were lucky as Frog has a great memory for names so he was able to recite many of the forgotten faces to us. It was funny watching some of us go up close to the telly screen peering at the photos trying to discern who was in the picture with all bar a few of us without reading glasses. We were a room full of grey heads yet none of us wanted to admit we were old. Most are now grand parents with children scattered around the country and some around the world.
It was one of those reunions where we all slipped back into our roles as though no time had gone by. Shay Gap was a unique place and had a positive lasting memory on all of us. Having said that, most of the time we were all working out ways of leaving it. It was a privileged life where you had good wages, reduced housing costs, subsidized living and no TV. There was Mine Television but it was snowy and poor so you ended up making your own fun by doing a lot of sports, drinking, travelling around the desert, drinking..and well, you know the story.
There was an outdoor picture theatre which was most entertaining at times and confusing as the projectionist who had probably imbibed in a one too many beers would play the reels in reverse order.
It was also very typically Australian where everyone had a nickname. Not sure how Frog got his name as he was Peter – I’m sure Peter can send us a message letting us know. Fraser was Mal and Thermie. Mal because there use to be a Prime Minister called Malcolm Fraser and Thermie because when he got sunburnt he looked like Lobster Thermadore. We had the tallest guy at the mine called shorty and the shortest guy called lofty. A guy called Russell who use to stutter was called starter motor as when he announced his name over the two way radio he would say “Rrrrrrrrussell calling” and the list went on. That is oh so politically incorrect now but back then we all had back bones.
The mine started operation in 1970 and the town was gazetted in 1972 and was built based on a design by Perth Architect, Lawrence Howroyd. The houses and other buildings were an unusual moulded style that many of the residents referred to as ‘space age’.
At one time the population hovered around 1000 people. The town closed in February 1994 after the Mine ceased operating in December 1993.
It wasn’t all fun and games but there was a great community spirit that lives on to this day with many reunions held along with a Facebook page.
Following the closure of the town in 1994 it was sold and moved out and the picture above shows how it was rehabilitated back to its original state.