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A trip to the Outback – Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji in a Baron

A trip to the Outback – Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji in a Baron

Old Feb 28, 21, 6:40 am
  #1  
Hut
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Join Date: Jan 2016
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A trip to the Outback – Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji in a Baron

If you’ve read some of my more recent reports, often they start with Mrs Hut returning from the middle of nowhere, where she works. This might be a bit facetious, she actually works out in the remote Pilbara – mainly in Jigalong, but also visiting Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji.

With the impending arrival of Hut Jr, working in a very remote location isn’t recommended, and so, her time out there is coming to an end. As there aren’t a lot of opportunities to visit, we figured I ought to tag along and see what she sees. Plus, getting about the Pilbara can be hard and she gets to do it in a Baron, so that makes it an easy sell – even if its going to be hot!

We figured I’d fly up with Mrs Hut on Sunday at the start of her usual two-week swing, spend the first week with her and fly home the next Saturday. Permission and permits are required to visit, so once these were sorted – we booked my flights to match hers and I was added to the manifest for the remote charter… It would look something like:


Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz

I should also note that this trip took place in October 2020, so for us in Western Australia – many months since our last community case of Covid. Life had returned to normal in the state’s major city (Perth) and the previous restrictions on movement had been relaxed. We spent quite a bit of time evaluating how responsible it was to make the trip. In the end, and after quite a bit of consideration, concluded the risks of travel were very low – both for us and more importantly, for those we would meet.
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Old Feb 28, 21, 6:42 am
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Part 1 – Travelling North

The first leg of the trip is a commercial flight up to Newman, followed by a relatively short drive out to Jigalong. We arrived at the airport on Sunday morning to find the new aviation normal, a ghost town… The Qantas terminal at Perth airport outgrew the roads around it many years ago, pre-covid this meant long queues at peak times. Now, with a dramatic reduction in demand… things actually work quite nicely.



Inside, there was far more capacity than demand. A skeleton crew looked after security and only a few shops were open. What was most dramatic was the lack of passengers… I hadn’t flown since our trip to Antarctica 10 months earlier and it was a surreal experience. The closure of the borders isn’t really seen in the city where the shops, cafes and pubs are all full. Here, it was a lot more apparent!



Due to the much lower volumes, the Qantas Club was closed and everyone was redirected towards the Business Lounge.

Qantas Business Lounge



We were welcomed into the lounge by the crew who seemed surprised to see some passengers!



Which was understandable as the lounge was very empty! The staff outnumbered passengers 2:1 and it was one of many reminders that despite the normalcy we enjoyed in the city, there was still a pandemic raging elsewhere.

Qantas QF1654
Airbus A320 (VH-JQL)
Perth (PER) -> Newman (ZNE)
Depart 11:18, Arrive 12:50, Flight Time: 01:32



Boarding was called and it was a very empty plane for our flight to Newman.



As we waited for pushback, the Capitan said hello – and was clearly reading from the wrong paper as he got all of the cabin crew names wrong! Once we were moving, we rolled past a reminder of Virgin Australia’s woes… their former A330 wrapped in foil and plastic. Today in 2021, its yet to move since its last flight in March 2020.



Shortly after take-off, lunch came in the form of a slice – lucky we’d sampled the different pizzas on offer in the lounge! There was also the option of water, orange juice, tea or coffee – which for Qantas is a bit of a step down from the usual offerings.



As were carrying our own cake, I was a little tempted for second lunch, however Mrs Hut reminded me that it was strictly for the folks we would be meeting during in the week. I do feel a lot safer after carrying a cake through the airport, a range of staff sought to inspect the cake – to ensure it was safe, of course.



There were just 58 passengers to the 180 seats…



It was a bit bumpy on the descent and on the approach, we got a distant view of Newman and the surrounding mine sites.



On the ground it was a very reasonable 33°C (91°F)...



… and a short walk to the terminal.



It was a bit of a wait for the luggage, before one of Mrs Hut’s colleagues met us at the airport and gave us a lift into town.



In Newman, we picked up our ride and stopped by the supermarket for food. Here, Mrs Hut demonstrated the value of a carefully crafted two-week long meal plan. It was an appetising mix of robust food to survive the flights and nothing that would perish on the hot trips. After stopping for fuel, we grabbed a photo of one of the few patches of greenery in town – the war memorial.



On the way out of town, it was classic Pilbara – big trucks and orange dust.



In the distance there were frequent willy-willys, however as there is a mine over there… this one might have been blasting.



The drive out consisted mainly of lots of very straight sections of road…



… before we hit the Jigalong turnoff.



There, it turned to very straight sections of unsealed road!



Did I mention, there was lots and lots of very straight road!



After a couple of hours, we found ourselves in Jigalong – where after unpacking, we took a moment to enjoy some quality air conditioning!
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Old Feb 28, 21, 9:05 am
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Really looking forward to this report!
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Old Feb 28, 21, 11:28 am
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First off, congrats for the arrival of Hut Jr!

Second, what an interesting trip. First Antarctica, then the Outback. I don't remember reading about Pilbara before so will follow keenly... And I learnt a new expression, willy-willy, which to a British English speaker sounds quite peculiar...

Oh, and a J70 Land Cruiser! Heaven!
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Old Feb 28, 21, 7:38 pm
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I enjoyed your first installment and look forward to more. Yes, a willy willy, please define for us Yanks, too.
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Old Mar 1, 21, 12:13 am
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A willy-willy is basically a kind of mini-tornado. In the Pilbara they range from little dust devils 10m high to strips of red dust stretching up into to sky as you fly over. Especially common in the wet season.
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Old Mar 1, 21, 12:48 am
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Remember the good old days when I was approached re employment with Punturkurnu Health Service. Alas never took them up on the offer so watching this with interest
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Old Mar 1, 21, 6:51 am
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Originally Posted by Kheldar181 View Post
A willy-willy is basically a kind of mini-tornado. In the Pilbara they range from little dust devils 10m high to strips of red dust stretching up into to sky as you fly over. Especially common in the wet season.
Thanks! When I first read it I fully expected the photo to come with a pixelated part... then saw the twirl of smoke in the air and gave a virtual slap to my filthy mind
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Old Mar 3, 21, 3:58 am
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Part 2 – Jigalong



Jigalong is the largest of the Martu settlements and today is home to approximately 400 people. The local climate is best described as hot and accordingly, we spent most of our time during the day indoors.



We were in Jigalong on Monday / Tuesday and stayed in the provided accommodation – which for the middle of nowhere, is quite good! While Mrs Hut was at work, I took advantage of the Corporations newfound love of remote work.



In the mornings and evenings, we’d head out to explore. The local pool was, understandably, where seemingly half the town could be found. It was super refreshing in the afternoon heat and a really great place to spend time – lots of laughter and fun for all.



Around town, most of the houses were quite similar, a solid structure, wrapped in tin and some had working air conditioning to battle the heat.



There was also a well-stocked, if somewhat expensive, store…



… a school…



… and the recently renovated health clinic.



There is also a women’s centre…



… and a welding workshop.



Once the temperature started to abate, we would head off for a walk out of town, past the local sports oval and heading for the nearby river crossings.



While I was visiting, the rivers were dry and looked like water hadn’t been seen for some time.



Just a week later Mrs Hut sent me this photo of a river…



… on her way back to Newman.



We also spotted a few wild horses, but to my surprise – no kangaroos!



We had a much closer encounter with Fitzroy who had made her way from Fitzroy Crossing with one of Mrs Hut’s colleagues. She was full kitten, pouncing on grass, climbing trees and exploring the world. She was also a very feisty feline, chasing much larger strays away!



While we were there, we had a fly out, which is where the RFDS comes to evacuate someone – in this case to Port Hedland.



Pilatus often market the usability of the rear cargo door…



… I was super impressed how effortlessly the door / stretcher / lift combination worked.



After watching them depart, I was less impressed about the performance of the air conditioning in the back of the ambulance!
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Old Mar 3, 21, 4:08 am
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Hut
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Originally Posted by 13901 View Post
First off, congrats for the arrival of Hut Jr!

Second, what an interesting trip. First Antarctica, then the Outback. I don't remember reading about Pilbara before so will follow keenly... And I learnt a new expression, willy-willy, which to a British English speaker sounds quite peculiar...

Oh, and a J70 Land Cruiser! Heaven!
Thanks!

Originally Posted by nancypants View Post
Remember the good old days when I was approached re employment with Punturkurnu Health Service. Alas never took them up on the offer so watching this with interest
Well, should you find yourself checking out the PMAS website you'd find there are a couple of roles going at the moment.

Originally Posted by 13901 View Post
Thanks! When I first read it I fully expected the photo to come with a pixelated part... then saw the twirl of smoke in the air and gave a virtual slap to my filthy mind
Haha, I was somewhat surprised that the FlyerTalk profanity filter let it pass!
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Old Mar 3, 21, 4:41 am
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Great insight into a bit of the world I've never seen!
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Old Mar 9, 21, 6:47 am
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You mentioned the critical nature of a 2 week mealplan...

Is there not food provided at where she works? Sorry if that's a dumb question, it certainly feels dumb, but after reading your comment I couldn't think anything else. I used to work up in the Canadian north...not THIS remote, but at a work camp oil sands site and while it's not for everyone, as someone who doesn't cook I loved it lol. No kids, no wife, I could go up there work for 2 weeks, spend $4 a day on an energy drink and make the best money of my life. The food was never GREAT, but there was always lots of options so if you wanted to be Keto or Vegetarian you could do that pretty easily and they rotated through dishes so you weren't forced to have the same thing every day.
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Old Mar 9, 21, 10:11 pm
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Originally Posted by drvannostren View Post
You mentioned the critical nature of a 2 week mealplan...

Is there not food provided at where she works? Sorry if that's a dumb question, it certainly feels dumb, but after reading your comment I couldn't think anything else. I used to work up in the Canadian north...not THIS remote, but at a work camp oil sands site and while it's not for everyone, as someone who doesn't cook I loved it lol. No kids, no wife, I could go up there work for 2 weeks, spend $4 a day on an energy drink and make the best money of my life. The food was never GREAT, but there was always lots of options so if you wanted to be Keto or Vegetarian you could do that pretty easily and they rotated through dishes so you weren't forced to have the same thing every day.
the bulk of work in remote communities of Australia is health and human services type work, no meals provided. There are a smaller number of mine sites where food (not very good) is, I believe, included
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Old Mar 10, 21, 11:10 am
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Originally Posted by nancypants View Post
the bulk of work in remote communities of Australia is health and human services type work, no meals provided. There are a smaller number of mine sites where food (not very good) is, I believe, included
Damn that's rough. I could pack like a week's worth of sandwich ingredients or something, or like chicken & rice basics, but 2 weeks would be a REAL stretch.
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Old Mar 12, 21, 4:20 am
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Part 3 – Parnngurr

On Wednesday, it was time to head out to the more remote communities. The next leg of our trip would take us to the community of Parnngurr, a 45-minute flight to the north east. While there would be only two of us on the flight and baggage wasn’t an issue, we still travelled very light; only taking just enough food and clothes.



Just before 9am our ride appeared, flying low over town to let us know it was time to head for the airport.

Flight 1 – Jigalong to Parnngurr
Beechcraft Baron 58 (VH-NSM)
Jigalong (YJIG) -> Parnngurr (YCTC)
Depart 09:14, Arrive 09:55, Flight Time: 0:42



Normally, I’d provide a bit of commentary about the airport experience… but with no security, lounge, or boarding process… there isn’t a lot to say! We drove up to the plane, threw our surprisingly light bags in the back and were soon on our way.



It was a bit warm on the ground, but once we were in the air it cooled down nicely. It was noticeably bumpier than on a big jet, but apparently but nowhere near as bad as it gets in the afternoon heat.



Mrs Hut was kind enough to let me have the co-pilots seat and it was great fun. It was super interesting to talk to the pilot on our trip out and it sounds like a fascinating lifestyle! The best part was the low approaches on arrival – to let our ride on the ground know its time to come and collect us from the airport.



After dropping us off, we stayed behind to watch our ride depart – off to the next job.



Our first stop in town was the clinic which is the newest and I must say nicest building in town.



While Mrs Hut got to work, I went for a tour of town with one of her colleagues.



There can be up to 100 people in town, however there were only a couple of dozen when I was there. In the daytime heat we stuck to the vehicle which made for a very short trip around town.



As with Jigalong, we waited until the evening before venturing outside to explore properly. Around town there is a school, a shop and the Martumili art shed, which was closed while we were there.



Our evening walk took us out of town and out to the airport – where taking photos into the light was challenging!
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