August, 31 2012
Port Hedland
Bharat Sikka


I grew up a couple of hours south of Perth, in Harvey. I started working in mining when I was 18 at Cadjebut, operating mobile plant equipment. I came here in 2001, purely to work - I’d been living overseas and I was broke. Town was really quiet then, there was mainly a lot of dirty, contractor work, not like the plum jobs that are around now, there was no FMG here, and no smaller mining companies; it was just BHP.

I first worked with a guy from Laverton who had an earth moving business, and we did shoulder grading where you clean up a side of the road, getting it ready for wet season, so you could see for roos.

My claim to fame is that I drove one of those big, ancient rollers from Newman back to Port Hedland, it was like driving a tractor and it had no brakes at all, we’d do three kilometres one side and three the other; it took about four weeks. We would camp on swags by the side of the road. I’m scared of snakes, centipedes and scorpions, so every night I’d get tyres and signs to make a bed as high off the ground as I could, and every time I heard something I’d want to go home. You’d come back to town and look like one of those kids out of Mad Max.
When the Rapid Growth Project kicked off, people started coming to town for work, I got out of earth moving and started doing trade assistant work with Monadelphous and I did that for four years.

I was the only girl and I used to get heaps of, why aren’t you home, making babies? or, your husband lets you do this? I’m like, I’m not married, and it wouldn’t matter what he thought, because I’d still be doing it anyway.
Although you do get a hard time, they are really good mates. It was like having a big crazy mob of big brothers and dads and granddads. You meet a lot of hardworking people; they didn’t really care what you thought about them and they weren’t here to impress anybody, they were just here to work, to make money for their families or themselves.

They were from everywhere, all around Australia; you meet people from places you’ve never heard of. We knew a lot of people who came with nothing; they had no education, no qualifications. A lot of people say they wouldn’t have had this opportunity anywhere else in Australia, so you put up with the dust and the crap that goes with living here. A lot of people would say we’re going next year, and then they’d still be here two years later, stuck in the Port Hedland time warp thing.

My partner, Clayton and I both worked together. The first time I saw Clayton, it was just these dusty feet sticking out from underneath the truck. It is one of those classic Pilbara Stories, I met him in a trucking yard opposite the whore house in Wedgefield - it was the most unromantic place you could ever meet your future partner. We bought the renovators delight; I love our little shack because it has character. When I first moved here, everyone lived in an old fibro, but now there are new houses and new streets. Now we have two kids, Eddie (4) and Angus (2).

My business started when I had Eddie. I decided to grow veggies. I’ve always been a mad gardener; I am often in the back corner of my house, under the fruit trees. I just love how the whole vibe changes when you grow a garden. I started reading what to grow, and when to grow. I had a few attempts, but everything just died, or I was growing the wrong things, it took me about a year to get it going. Finally, I got there, and now I sell heirlooms, the old fashioned varieties that you can use again, year, after year at the Hedland market. People liked that they could save the seed and get all these different varieties and grow things here that were hardier. If I grow beans and they do really well, next year they’ll be better, they’ll adapt to the climate.

I love growing rare types of vegetables and it became a challenge to grow the weirdest thing; there are 100 types of tomatoes, you can grow pink ones, purple ones, stripy ones. For the Thai and Indian ladies I grow okra. I like to think I’ve played a part in changing the culture here, where people would say nothing grows, but then, they’d come to my store and say I didn’t know I could grow this up here. They just need advice and encouragement to know you can actually do it. I nearly thought about not doing my market stall this year, and there was public outcry from some of the customers.

That’s the community spirit here, if you do, do something out of the square, they will really try and support you. They really get behind you; I don’t think in all honesty I’ve done what I could have done in another place.



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