This post has been kindly provided by fellow blogger Mandy McKeesick (see her excellent blog “Rocky Springs Rambles” at www.rockysprings.wordpress.com ). Nullagine is 100 kms south of Marble Bar in WA, and “conglomerate” is a kind of rock found in the region. Those who have visited Katatjuta (“The Olgas”) near Uluru will be familiar with “puddingstone” conglomerate.
It was 1992 the first time I walked into the Conglomerate Hotel at Nullagine in the eastern Pilbara of WA, and found a small crowded bar, a dark oasis from the heat in a sleepy dusty little town. The bar was filled with older prospectors from the nearby gold diggings – sun hardened men who preferred their own company and only came to town for supplies and a “skin-full” at the pub. And here was I – dressed in my boots and bush gear, not overly burdened with height, female, on my own and looking for a beer. The once talkative group stopped speechless, put down their drinks and stared. I wondered how I was going to survive Nullagine.
At the time I was working as a geologist on an exploration camp one and a half hours from Nullagine. A trip into town once a week was a good excuse to stock up on food, make phone calls to family and meet the locals. The boys in the bar were a tentative lot but gradually the ice thawed and I got to know them. All nationalities were represented – Aborigines, Americans, Europeans, Asians – and characters every one.
Over time the atmosphere at the Conglomerate changed from the one I had first encountered to one of a more paternal nature. When a case of prickly heat had swollen my feet so that I couldn’t even get them into my boots, the old boys helped me out, even changing a flat tyre, which I usually managed quite easily. I felt humbled by these small acts of kindness. This paternal nature had its good and bad points. When a strange, younger man came into the pub the old boys would surround me in a protective ring. Even my husband-to-be had to pass the test and was duly “interviewed” by the prospectors. Thankfully he passed!
I spent two years on that project, spending up to four weeks in the bush before returning to base in Karratha. Of all the places I have worked and visited, Nullagine and the Conglomerate Hotel will always be fondly remembered. They epitomise the outback – a joke, a rough smile, a kind word, at home in the harshness that is our folklore and our reality.