Upon arriving at Cape Preston, after going through multiple, various and excessive site safety inductions, we were allowed to enter the largest scale diesel and gas combination power unit in Australia. This was a rare opportunity, although the plant is nearing completion it had not yet been commissioned. Once the plant begins commissioning the site becomes volatile and significantly more dangerous and the amount of people on site will be restricted to the bare essentials. They certainly will not be allowing guest tours for the aesthetically inclined!
When we enter the offices and the guys introduce themselves as photographers working towards an art exhibition of images of the industrial landscape of the Pilbara the idea that we might find this place interesting to look at, let alone aesthetic, seems to baffle everyone on site.
Darryl, the construction manager, offered to be our tour guide. Initially apprehensive he quickly warmed to the idea of spending an afternoon admiring the project that he has spent the last 18 months constructing. He took us immediately to high ground, scaling the silver scaffolding surrounding the high turret, so we could look out beyond the plant over the whole project that is transforming the Cape. You could see in the distance the row of white cylindrical plants where large balls will crush the magnetite into grit whilst adding water, turning it into slurry which will get pumped through pipes underground to boats coming in at the tip of the Cape. It will then be sent to China. It is estimated that there is one billion tonnes of magnetite at this site and the power plant we stood on has an expected life of 25 years.
Nine weeks on and one week off, that is a standard swing for the key staff on this project at this stage of its construction. On this topic Darryl's colleague comments: ‘That's what I do, I build shit.' Later another worker is asked, ‘So do you have a missus?' to which he responds ‘Yeah, half-on, half -off.'
The plant is like a fortress or castle, being so new it is yet to be muted with an encasement of red dust; shining silver with hints of bright yellow, blue, red and green. As we climb back down Darryl tells us that during the cyclone season it gets 68 degrees on the ground and 98 per cent humidity. Reaching the red floor once again I look up and see steel sheets of metal that encase the turbines: sprayed with the mark ‘Made in Thailand'.