The Argyle Diamond Mine tour left at 7:15 am. Every seat was taken because these bus excursions from Kununurra occurred only 4 times a year. Otherwise, visitors had to fly in and pay about $750 per person for a guided tour. We paid about $100 per person for a roughy 200 mile trip with 2 stops at the Doon Doon Roadhouse, a multi-course meal at the mine, a visit to its museum, etc. The trip there was semi-beautiful with the Deception and Saw ranges often in view as were vast stretches of Indian sandalwood under cultivation.
Keith our driver, a retired pharmacist who knew the area well, kept up intermittently interesting commentary. The commonly seen Boab trees that grew only in this part of Australia lost their leaves in the winter. Yawn. Aboriginals watched for bright yellow flowers on native wild Kapok trees to follow the breeding cycle of freshwater crocs. They relied on croc eggs for food. Yuk. Only 1% of crocodiles made it to maturity due to predators like eagles and, apparently, Aboriginals, who could gather as many eggs as they wanted.
The only vehicles sharing the road with us were nickel and iron ore mine trucks. Keith told us that the blue, red and white ones carried nickel and the blue and yellow ones were loaded with iron ore. Appearing exactly every 20 minutes with stunning regularity, they were heading for the port of Wyndham.
Keith told us we were about to drive over a new bridge. Yawn. But then he told us about the annual mountain bike challenge on the Gibb River Road from Derby to El Questro that drew an average of 750 contestants enduring heat and hardship over slightly more than 400 miles of severely corrugated, unpaved road.
As we neared the dirt road up to the mine, the talk became more about the mine. Rio Tinto, its owner by contract until 2020, began extracting diamonds from a pit that became 1 ½ miles wide and ¾ mile long before Rio invested $3.6 billion in tunnels to move the operation underground. Of the 400 employees at the facility now, only 25% were local Aboriginals. Most of the others lived in Perth, 1,367 miles away, and worked 12 hour shifts with 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. This is surely one of the longest work commutes in the world. The mine had its own airstrip and workers paid nothing for commercial flights. Nice job perk but an industrial, incredibly remote work site.
Things quickly became eerily interesting. No photography was permitted in diamond recovery areas, and we were warned that if we dropped our cameras or anything else not to pick it up. We would be in a world of hurt involving security personnel if we forgot. And our guide while at the mine, Ted Hall, was an Aboriginal who had a lot tell us about his people and the impact of the mine on their lives.