Shay Gap was a mining town east of Port Hedland. It was space age back in the day and revolutionary. That’s just what mining companies did to keep their workforce local.
One of its revolutionary features was an underground umbilical cord trench that contained all the town’s basic services; irrigation, sewerage, power and telephone and television cables. Nothing unsightly sticking out of the ground.
The houses (with as many as four bedrooms) were built in groups of 11 in such a way that people could walk in shade from any part of the town to any other unlike the Radford design of South Hedland back in the 1970s. No resident to walk more than 200 metres to any facility, including the shopping centre, the school and the club. The average distance anyone has to walk anywhere is 40 metres.
Residents are also kept cool with a centralized air-conditioning system based on a communal chilled-water plant. Each house pressurized by a fan coil unit, so pressure inside is higher than it is outside, dust and most insects cannot enter. Another refinement was an the irrigation system, which provides up to 60 inches of “rain” a year. The watering is done at night from high-level misting devices, to develop a green, park-like appearance — an oasis of comfort in a desert. There was a vacuum sewer also.
The building of Shay Gap from the ground up presented a unique opportunity for eliminating the motor car from living areas. The town was completely free of vehicles, yet each house had a lock-up garage. Small electric vehicles were used to provide such services as rubbish disposal. We are not sure how much of this was maintained throughout the life of the town. Sometimes it was more expedient to go back to conventionalism over time.
However, architect Lawrence Howroyd won an Award of Merit in 1974 from the Prince Philip Prize for Australian Design. As is always the common story of mining towns, by 1994 it had been totally demolished and removed.
Now; There is absolutely nothing to remind people that once there was an award winning, experimental town in the desert. Even before Shay Gap, GML were a little maverick in their approach with the geodesic community domes at both Goldsworthy mine and Finucane port in the 1960’s.
Written by a Port Hedland resident, name withheld, 4 February 2021