The Weekend Australian

Off the grid amidst the sounds of silence in Karijini National Park.

I am leaning against a slab of sun-warmed rock that is more than 2500 million years old on an island in a gorge in a national park in the remote northwest of Western Australia.

Itʼs not what youʼd call a stressful city environment. The only crowds in Karijini National Park are the flocks of corellas wheeling and screeching like socialites at a cocktail party. Heavy traffic means a caravan lumbering along a corrugated road and a smart phone is a Telstra public booth thatʼs eluded vandals.

But itʼs not relaxing enough for my guide, Pete West, the owner of West Oz Active. “Weʼre going to sit here for five minutes and weʼre just going to be silent,ʼʼ instructs West. “Call it meditation, call it what you like.ʼʼ

Iʼve come a long way to be silent. Three days earlier, I joined the tour in Exmouth, 700km away. Our group made the big jump inland to Karijini in one day with West behind the wheel of the minibus for the whole journey.

Iʼd feared this leg of the trip for one reason — roadhouse food. Wholemeal bread is still cutting-edge at the remote fuel stops that dot Western Australia.

But West has a weapon in the catering department, and her name is Karen Suzuki. At a roadside stop in the precious shade of a stand of eucalypts, Japanese-born Suzuki soaks rice noodles in water, then tosses them with poached chicken, fresh coriander and sesame oil. We perch on camp stools in a semi-circle and marvel.

Back on the minibus, the Pilbara rolls by and I pass the hours thinking about Gina Rinehart. Her father, Lang Hancock, was flying low over the Hamersley Range in a storm in 1952, so the family legend goes, when he first spotted iron ore here. Rinehart has since developed her fatherʼs Pilbara leases into multi-billion-dollar mining operations such as Hope Downs and Roy Hill. Westʼs tours are utterly dependent on mining. Without the commercial flights to and from Paraburdoo, which exist only because of the industry, heʼd have no customers.

Karijini National Park is split in two by Rio Tintoʼs Marandoo mine and by the rail line that takes the ore northwest to the coast.

We draw nearer the Hamersley Range with each hour. In the late afternoon, snappy gums, bloodwoods and mulga catch the light and a great carpet of golden spinifex glows in the foreground. West briefs us on the next two days: “Weʼre chasing disconnection, weʼre chasing quietness.ʼʼ

This is an excerpt from The Weekend Australian newspaper article published on March 09, 2014. Continue to read the article online.

Published March 9, 2014

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