Inspiration for Iron Mountain

A bogged vehicle and the ladies who stopped the iron-ore train

In 1969 Mavis and Ronda, the younger of her daughters, set off in the family Holden to travel from Melbourne, across the Nullarbor and on to the remote Pilbara region of north-western Australia; it was the iron-ore country that Mavis wanted to know about.

From Dampier to the new town of Tom Price was 182 very rough miles of isolated track; there were no settlements and no pastoral homesteads close to the track. The advice was simple – keep to the railway line.

"It was not easy to keep to the line. Sometimes there was a plethora of tracks and it was difficult to know which one was indeed keeping to the line. Thirty miles before the 150-mile Camp the wrong lead was chosen, although the choice was certainly the one closest to the rails rather than one of several which appeared to flutter away into the spinifex. It led the car very quickly into the sandy pebbled trap of a dry creek bed which also, for some distance, followed the line. The vehicle bogged in sand. It was 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The temperature there in the creek bed was probably above the century mark.

It was unbelievable that the car was stuck where there was nobody, and unlikely to be anybody. We found the shovel and toiled to free those back wheels, but as fast as the sand was dug out the stones fell in...

Then we heard the sound of a train, an up train from Dampier. We knew it would be an empty ore train climbing the steep grade to Tom Price for its next load. It was the only possibility of succour. The bog was two or three hundred yards from the line. There was a rush to stand beside the rails and wave frantically as the train clanked towards us and then away from us. The driver and his greaser waved back in friendly fashion but made no attempt to stop, the long line of empty trucks clattering out of sight over a bald and stony hill.

The afternoon seeped away...

Then came the rumble of a second train; this one a down train from Tom Price. Again we raced from the car to the line. Somehow, the two men in the cabin must be alerted that these two women were in trouble. It would not be easy. The down train would be travelling at a much faster speed than the up train; hurrying by they could miss the sight of the women. But almost at once we realized that this train was not coming fast. We tensed to wave and scream. The driver saw us, waved back. But still the mile-and-more stretch of 200 laden ore wagons continued to roll forward, albeit ever more slowly. Now we understood that it was indeed slowing to a halt. But it took almost another half-mile to bring that 20,000 tons of ore to rest and a little time for the two men to walk back to us. They came grinning, greeting us with: "You’ll be known in the West as the women who stopped 20,000 tons of ore!""

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 234-236.

See also Iron Mountain, first published in 1970.

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Cliffs and ocean.

The cliffs at the head of the Great Australian Bight - Mavis is in the left of the photograph, 1969.

Rectangular metal building.

Mavis outside the cabin reserved for Company officials visiting Mt Tom Price, 1969.

Dirt road passing tree with white bark on rocky hill.

The Pilbara - iron-ore country, 1969.

Huge truck with MTC shorter than the wheel.

Mt Tom Price - Mavis dwarfed by a Dart iron-ore truck, 1969