The Iron-y of Karratha

Millstream Road
Tom Price to Karratha Road

I spent today in Karratha. A balmy 32C. My bones were warmed. The people there, friendly and welcoming.

But you know, it’s not the most attractive place. Housing is at a critical shortage and it seems unless you know someone and that someone has a spare room – you can’t find anywhere affordable to rent. Certainly not on a government salary.

There is one shopping mall.

There is a hospital but if you’re pregnant – forget it – you either fly to Perth or travel two hours to Port Hedland.

It takes months to see a dentist – even if you have a toothache, there is one gynaecologist, there’s even a month long waiting list to get a haircut. And if you’re car breaks down… well I hope it doesn’t.

Casual labour is at a premium. Try and get a taxi driver or a cleaner. The teachers in the local high-school have been asked to clean their own classrooms (they are paid if they do). And don’t mention the basic cost of living. Food. Petrol.

Because the agreements the big companies struck with the government when they first developed the area 30+ years ago are still in place, Rio Tinto, Woodside, etc pay less in local taxes than small businesses.

And because the shire gets funding based on numbers of rate-paying residents and so many of the workers in the North west are Fly-in Fly-out workers – the shire cannot afford to improve many of the services.

This town, and many others in the area are sitting on a goldmine… or rather an iron ore mine and natural gas line. The government collects millions of dollars in royalties and yet a trickle gets back to the people that live there.

So when I hear the State Government whine about WA supporting the whole of Australia at the moment – about how the Commonwealth take more than their fair share of the taxes raised – I think about how the residents of Karratha must feel watching all that money roll out of town and watching a debate over a Ferris Wheel and whether or not it should be erected on the Perth foreshore.

At least they’ve got a nice road.