Category: Tom Price

The Tom Price Dreaming

Get a job in Tom Price.  Work in the mine.  Iron ore.
Chase the Tom Price Dreaming.  Great money.
You think it’s going to be a frontier town:
heavy-set blokes killing each other in the Pub.

It’s not like that.

Gotta get your head around the place.
It’s an outer suburb of Perth:
as far out as you can get.  Suburbia set in spinifex;
twisted mulga; hard shale.

Clay you can’t dent with a pick-axe.

Take a joy flight, Cessna buzzing like a sick V-Dub.
Brick and tile nestles in an iridescent oasis.
Trees and lawns and ovals.  The bowling green.
Swimming pool an opal mirage in the heat haze.

Lush curves of reeds snake from the shit-farm outfall.

The people are good.  Solid people with a sheen of money.
Mums with prams gossiping in front of the Farmers variety store.
Littlies yahooing on the 20 cent ride-on in the mall.
Blokes who like a few beers after their shift.

Barbies at the weekends.  Four footie teams.

Young marrieds chase the Tom Price Dreaming.
Good money.  Real good money.
Stick it for five years you can own a house back in Perth.
Or Melbourne or Adelaide or Newcastle or Wellington.

But five years become seven, then ten.  The kids are in high school.

Tom Price gets into your blood.  Walk down the street.
You know everybody.  Everybody knows you.
The money’s good.  Too good to leave.  At least just yet.
Got to get yourselves set up properly.

Do it right.

Five days off after night shift.  Hop in the new Landcruiser.
Head off to the Gorges.  Or Millstream.
The coast is only 300 kays away.
Do a little fishing.  Drink a bit of beer.

Six weeks holiday a year.  Two free flights to Perth.

The boys want dirtbikes.  You’ve always wanted a good guitar.
A pool would be nice.  Maybe a boat for when you hit the coast.
Scrimp a little you can send Tracey down to Perth.
Year 11 and 12 at St Hilda’s.  Or St Mary’s Anglican.

A bright kid.  Deserves the best.

And so you’ll stay a little longer.  Get yourselves really set up.
Now you’re the President of the Bowls Club.  On the Tidy Town committee.
You’re still making good money.  Money you can’t make in Perth.
Or Melbourne or Adelaide or Newcastle or Wellington.

The Tom Price Dreaming eats the Dreamers whole.


I don’t normally explain my poetry – it should stand on its merits.  But Tom Price isn’t like this now.  This is about the period I was there – 1980 to 1986 – and then it was a purely residential company town, highly unionised, and the working conditions were great.  8 hour shifts, and if you “worked back” you got 8 hours extra pay for 4 hours work.  The money was insanely good.  And the town was a real community – no fly in-fly out.  You lived there, and every community facility you could possibly imagine was provided free of charge by the company.  That’s all changed.  The money is still great, but you are on 12 hour shifts with minimal breaks between shift changeovers and that has radically changed how the town functions.  And the live-in population has halved, and the people I’ve spoken to tell me that the sense of community is gone.  But in many ways, while I was there Tom Price was a paradise.  Stunningly beautiful scenery, good people, and a wonderful place to live and work.  I miss it, even though I have no desire to work in the industry any more.

The Gorges in Karajini National Park - again, one small part of it

The Gorges in Karajini National Park – again, one small part of it. Paradise.

Tom Price - looking from near the mine towards the town

Tom Price – looking from near the mine towards the town -it’s off to the left in the photo

The Tom Price open-cut iron ore mine

The Tom Price open-cut iron ore mine – or one tiny part of it, anyway


For Evil to Triumph


In Tom Price I wasn’t the town drunk;

I was one of dozens fighting for that title.

Not all in the same division:

call me a contender in the welterweights.

And sometimes after a hard bout in the Animal Bar,

When the VB cans had been getting through my defences,

I’d throw in the towel and wander home

beneath the velvet desert sky and stars like shards of ice.

And the park bench by the big aviary, or maybe

the old gum tree by the library, would look at me

and say “Alec, mate, you just got hammered.

What you need is a bit of a sit down and a rest.”

And I’d take the advice and sit down for a while

to let the world stop spinning.  And next thing I knew

(if it wasn’t the dawn corellas going apeshit in the trees)

there’d be a flashlight in my eyes.

“Jesus, Alec, you again.  Come on, on your feet, son.

Let’s get you home.  SCU 23 isn’t it?”

And they’d prop me up and get me to the police Landcruiser

and drive me the 400 metres to the single men’s quarters.

“Don’t you spew in here Alec, you spew in here

And so help me you’ll clean it up with your tongue!”

And I’d fumble the key into my door; they’d say “See ya mate.”

And that’d be it.  Good blokes, on the whole.

                        *          *          *

You didn’t often see Aborigines in Tom Price;

something about it being Sickness Country, so people said.

But anyway, a family drove in, in an elderly Holden;

red dust holding the red rust together.

And people didn’t quite stare; more flicked their eyes

and then away – you’d hardly notice if you weren’t looking for it.

The big lady in the faded floral dress noticed alright.  She stood up proud,

gathered the kids, and marched them into the Farmers store.

Got the trolley, put the fat grinning bub in the seat,

wiped his nose, and set off shopping.  But the old bloke (check shirt, stubbies,

RM Williams boots gone out at the sides, thin as a rake and twice as hard)

he headed for the pub to wash 300 Kay’s of bulldust from his throat.

And a couple of hours later I saw him under the big gum tree by the library.

Akubra over his face, a can of VB beside him.  Snoring quietly.

“Hello brother, you and me both, eh?” I thought, as I raked up leaves around him,

and I figured his missus would come and get him, and give him hell for drinking the cheque.

                        *          *          *

The Police ute pulled up and they got out.

The good blokes who helped me home.

No words spoken; a quiet nod.  Picked the old feller up

and threw him in the back of the ute, like a cockie with a dead sheep.

I heard him slam against the steel.

I heard his boots rattle against the weld-mesh cage.

I heard him groan, and call out something I couldn’t catch.

And I did nothing.

I watched the ute head north.

Not south to the lockup.

North to the road out of town.

And I did nothing.

I’ve never found out what they did with him.

You don’t go asking awkward questions of small-town country coppers.

Do you?  I didn’t.

I said nothing.

Oh God, I hope they only dropped him 20 Kays from town, “to teach him a lesson”.

They would have left him, wouldn’t they?  Oh God, I hope they left him.

I hope at least they left him in one piece.

Because I did nothing.

I never saw the rusty Holden leave town – it was shift-end,

and time for the Animal Bar, and another 15 round stoush with the VB.

And a bloke said “Did you see the coppers sort that boong out?”

And I said nothing.

Sometimes I wonder if I could have done anything; anything, just something.

But I did nothing, and when next the coppers helped me home I was suitably grateful.

And one of them said “You know, Alec, you’ve been giving the grog a bit of a nudge lately,

Don’t you think you should do something?” And I just grinned and I said nothing.

Nothing at all.