Reflecting on four decades of growth
It is unwritten law that it takes 10 years of living in Karratha to be able to call yourself a local, and given the nature of the town’s workforce, those people are few and far between.
For Sue Middleton, her journey in Karratha started in the early 1970s, when her husband got a job working for Rio Tinto.
“My first thought of Karratha was: ‘Where the hell has he bought me,’” she said.
“The airport terminal was a little green tin shed with planks of wood for tarmac.
“Our house had little cement slabs out the front and back doors and that was it, beyond that there was just red dirt.
“It took about 15 months of living here before a transportable shop and police station with one cop was brought into town.”
Mrs Middleton’s journey in Karratha came to an end this month, having moved back to her home town of Ballarat to be closer to family and medical facilities.
Over the years, her family experienced the best and worst of a rapidly developing Karratha, from starting sports teams to becoming marooned between flooded roads.
“My son and three of his mates started off the Falcons Football Club, called the Cardinals back then, with Frank Butler as coach,” she said.
“We went up to Wickham one day for my son to play football then went out to Samson for lunch. We went to leave after seeing storm clouds rolling in, but ended up getting stuck at the Nickol River for 12 hours.
“One time we went to Perth with some friends after cyclone Trixie (1975). We left Minilya and the road had washed away to Carnarvon, so we had to return to Minilya but couldn’t get back there either.
“We were stuck there for three days, which was fun. There were a couple of young guys on motorbikes, a few cars, two trucks and a prison van there.”
As happened to many in those days, Red Dog forced his way into the Middletons’ life.
Mrs Middleton’s daughter, Lisa Ferguson, remembers the “old boy” sitting on the Hamersley Iron bus as it dropped workers home every day.
“He would quite often turn up at your house and us kids would run inside to get something for him to eat,” she said.
“You would go back outside 10 minutes later and old Red Dog was gone.
“When he died I was 14 and they bought out a limited edition bottle of port with his life story on it.
“I saved up my pocket money for months and dad bought me one of the bottles, which has still never been opened.”
Mrs Middleton said there were many aspects of Karratha she would miss, but there was one thing she would be happy to see the back of.
“The Shire started putting their bloomin’ traffic lights and roundabouts everywhere when the boom started,” she said.
“Driving around and seeing all the street signs with our names on them brings back memories of the good old days, though.
“I will miss the lifestyle — I think it is nice and laid back here."
Although Mrs Middleton has left, her family name has been immortalised in the name of a street, Middleton Way, in Nickol.
Sue Middleton under the sign of the street named after her family.