Tag: Western Australia
The only sealed road linking Western Australia and South Australia reopened this morning after being closed for 12 days because of bushfires.
The closure of the Eyre Highway left hundreds of Nullarbor travellers and truck drivers trapped on both sides of the border.
Authorities reopened the 1,600-kilometre highway at 7:00am local time after fire conditions eased.
Frustrated and tired travellers were trapped on either side of the Nullarbor Plain while a bushfire burning near Norseman in Western Australia kept the highway closed to all traffic.
WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Superintendent Andy Duckworth said motorists should be patient as they travel through.
“We appreciate everyone is frustrated and tired so we’ve taken these extraordinary measures over the last few days to keep people safe,” he said.
“The last thing we want now is for people to perhaps be involved in a road traffic crash.”
He said people should drive with care, adhere to the speed limits, be patient if they needed to overtake and be sensible on their journey.
Authorities were staggering the release of traffic to avoid congestion and had flown in extra police officers to patrol the highway.
But Goldfields-Esperance Sergeant Dave Christ said he encouraged people to postpone their travel.
“The advice is to wait at least a day or a couple of days to just give the traffic a chance to clear itself and make your trip a lot smoother,” he said.
The decision to reopen both the Eyre Highway and Coolgardie-Esperance Highway was made after fire conditions eased in the area.
Supt Duckworth said the fires were at advice level but still uncontained.
“There’s still work to be done and obviously as the weather changes so can the situation,” he said.
“We’ll be monitoring and working hard over the next few days, potentially weeks, to get these fires controlled and extinguished.”
Travellers stranded for days
The ABC spoke to visitors from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia who were caught up in the extended closures.
While some were frustrated, most praised emergency services and volunteers in the towns in which they were stranded.
Glenda Allen from Warrnambool was in stuck in Esperance for six days and said she was “absolutely ecstatic” to be heading home.
Adelaide truck driver Glenn Freestone said the closures had “crippled” the transport industry.
“Out of the past month, I’ve been stuck for 22 days,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get back on the road, and hopefully if everyone plays nice we will get there safely.”
An ‘unprecedented’ situation
Coles and Woolworths said the closure had impacted the supply of some fresh produce in stores this week.
The companies used other transport options like rail to bring in products and minimise the impact.
WA’s peak road transport body said while fresh fruit and vegetables would return to shelves in the next few days, it would take much longer for farmers to recover.
Western Roads Federation chief executive Cam Dumesny said closing the vital route for nearly two weeks was unprecedented and would have significant consequences for the state’s economy.
“We have a lot of our produce growers here in WA who were sending their seasonal produce across to the east,” he said.
“Because of this closure, they’ve probably missed a fair chunk of their profits for the season.
“It’ll take some time to stabilise.”
Mr Dumesny applauded DFES, police, volunteers and the communities who supported the stranded motorists.
But he said the state would “need to take a deep breath once this is over and have a hard look at how we’ve managed it”.
“I think there’s some hard lessons we need to learn … how we look after people out there, sustain them and keep them updated with what’s going on.”
Every day, in the soft morning light, hardy souls venture out into the Indian Ocean from Cottesloe Beach.
- Cottesloe Beach installed a shark barrier in November last year to improve safety
- Mayor Philip Angers says there are more swimmers and beachgoers as a result
- Shark prevention measures are in focus following a fatal attack off Esperance
They stroke across the bay, regardless of wind or weather.
Many have wispy white hair and the kind of skin you get after a lifetime in the sun.
They remember vividly when Ken Crew was killed by a shark while swimming in knee-deep water at North Cottesloe in 2000 and the suspected fatal shark attack on Bryn Martin in 2011.
But this year, something is different. Their ranks have grown.
The Town of Cottesloe has put up a shark net and it has attracting ocean swimmers in their droves.
As he emerged from the surf, Chris Chalwell confirmed it was the net that had drawn him here — he was not game enough to swim at Cottesloe before it.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to Cottesloe Beach, I can come down here and I feel quite safe,” he said.
“It’s just fantastic to swim out there with that knowledge, or that hope, actually, that that barrier will work.”
Mr Chalwell said swimming in the shark net was the safest he could feel.
“I’ve actually been lucky enough to see a seal on the other side of the net, looking back at me, saying ‘how do I get onto your side’?” he said.
“So it gives you an idea or a feeling of safety.”
Nets dotted up and down the coast
Shark attacks were again front of mind in WA this week after Gary Johnson was killed on Sunday while diving off the coast of Esperance.
The search for Mr Johnson’s body was called off by police this morning, pending any new information being received.
In an all-too-familiar drill, the attack has left concerned community members calling for more action to protect ocean users, the WA Government restating the measures it is taking, and a grieving family calling for calm, saying their loved one knew the risks.
Until now, Chantal Barrett has only ever done distance swimming at Cottesloe in organised events.
“It almost creates a nice sea lane swimming pool, but you’re always feeling safe as well,” she said.
“It definitely gets everyone outside, being fit, happy, active. I definitely see a lot more people swimming and training down here.”
Other shark nets are dotted along the WA coastline, including at Sorrento in Perth’s northern suburbs, Coogee near Fremantle and in the regional towns of Dunsborough and Albany.
Des Lord, who swims in the nets at Coogee and Dunsborough, was impressed with Cottesloe’s barrier.
“If you see the size of the mesh of the net, you’d probably get some small wobbegong-type sharks through, but nothing more than that,” he said.
The beach nets are part of a range of measures different levels of government have employed across WA to help mitigate as much as possible the risk of shark attacks.
Since February 2019 a smart drumline trial off Gracetown has caught and tagged two great white sharks.
In 2017, the State Government introduced a $200 rebate on shark deterrent devices to make them more accessible to divers and swimmers.
Enhanced monitoring has also been installed at beaches including Gracetown and a SharkSmart app has been launched to better track shark activity.
According to WA Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley, there are an estimated 1,600 endangered white pointer sharks between WA and Victoria.
Tourists think Australia is ‘full of sharks’
Cottesloe Mayor Philip Angers said he welcomed the positive response to the net.
“We’re now getting very strong crowds very early in the morning, like 5:30am, where people would never swim before, mainly because that’s the dusk and dawn period and people are a bit scared,” he said.
“That goes through until about 7:30am, quarter to eight, and then after that we tend to get a lot of tourists and just ordinary beachgoers, who probably don’t want to do laps for the Rottnest Swim but they just enjoy the beach.”
The perceived boost to tourism and local businesses, in particular, has pleased Mr Angers.
“I looked the other day when I was here and I went past so many hire cars,” he said.
“Tourists tend to think Australia is just full of sharks.
“In reality the risk of a shark attack is very low, but I think it’s in your mind and the net or barrier takes that away.”
It is one of Australia’s great outback adventure tracks, but the Tanami Road appears destined to change forever with renewed efforts to have it sealed.
- The unsealed Tanami Road goes for 1,000km between Halls Creek and Alice Springs
- The Aboriginal community believes a $235m upgrade to seal it will bring tourists, and opportunities
- Some tourists believe a bitumen road will take away the “outback” feel
The Federal Government has committed $235 million for upgrades which are set to improve the lives of remote community residents.
But not everyone is happy, with some tourists bemoaning the predicted loss of the rugged bush track.
The Tanami Road stretches for more than 1,000 kilometres between Halls Creek in Western Australia and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
It is a lifeline for the 400 residents of Balgo on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, who rely on it for essential supplies and as a thoroughfare to nearby regional centres.
Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation chairman Nathaniel Stretch believes the upgrades will bring unprecedented opportunities to his people.
“There will be tourists coming faster and more trucks will come in … it will be a good thing for Balgo,” he said.
Mr Stretch has been working to ensure the community makes the most of the change.
“I’m doing my best to develop these places when the bitumen comes up.
“We have to do road signs and make this into a town.”
In the last federal budget, the Commonwealth committed $235 million for upgrades to the Tanami and its feeder roads, which were considered roads of “strategic importance”.
“The Australian Government … wants to ensure more efficient freight networks, improved road safety and better connectivity for communities,” a spokesman said.
“Sealing the Tanami Road will contribute to these goals.”
The Government said planning was underway with the WA and NT governments and would include the development of “investment strategies” and consultations with key stakeholders.
Slow and expensive
Once a fortnight, Balgo receives a delivery of groceries, with fresh fruit and vegetables among the most coveted items.
The 300km journey from the Halls Creek turnoff takes truck driver Radar 10 hours.
“You’re going from 90 kilometres per hour down to 20kph, so it takes a long time,” he said.
“There’s a lot of rough patches, it’s stony, you’ve got to be careful of your equipment and tyres.”
It is an expensive route and not all goods survive the trip.
“When we order glass or a windscreen, we can’t bring it in the truck because the corrugations shake it too much,” Mr Stretch said.
“We buy a flat-screen TV and it only last one to two weeks from the corrugations.”
While residents are looking forward to better access, some tourists are dismayed about the change.
Peter Donald travelled from Horsham in Victoria to see the vast and rugged landscape.
“There’s enough sealed roads around so leave some things as they are and make the most of [the Tanami Road],” he said.
“I think it would be a mistake taking the outback feeling away from the outback.”
Mr Donald said he was convinced the environment would suffer.
“There would be too much rubbish, it would just be like the Hume Highway or any other main road,” he said.
“You get people who don’t respect it and just throw their rubbish out and ruin the whole feeling and whole atmosphere of the place.”
In Balgo, work is underway to preserve the outback atmosphere.
A new tourist road has been carved out, opening up sacred lands for visitors, and there are plans to train local tour guides.
“That bitumen is going to come strong and some tourists will miss the rough roads,” Mr Stretch said.
“But we will still have the outback, that’s why we are trying to maintain the outback from the bitumen.”
The former Prime Minister John Howard declared “how good is the gold price!” at last year’s biggest gathering of gold miners in Kalgoorlie in August.
- Gold is tipped to surpass its 2019 highs of $2,297 in 2020
- Digital technology has made buying gold much more accessible
- Gold production in Australia has slowed, but is expected to be boosted as new mines open
That exclamation went on to set the tone for the rest of 2019 — and most likely this year too.
As the industry met for the annual Diggers and Dealers mining forum, the price of gold had never been higher in Australia.
Gold peaked at $US1,550.30 an ounce in early August and while that’s not the highest price gold has ever been sold for — in 2011 it recorded its all-time high of $US1,917.90 — the exchange rate meant it was a record high price in Australian dollars.
Buying gold in Australian dollars at that time cost investors as much as $2,297.09 an ounce.
With record low interest rates, global trade wars and continued political uncertainty all set to remain in 2020, coupled with falling gold supply, the first year of the new decade is shaping up to be another big one for the precious yellow metal.
Gold mines shifting back into Australian hands
As 2019 was drawing to a close, one of the world’s biggest open cut gold mines, the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KGCM), colloquially known as ‘the Super Pit’, changed hands, heralding a new era for the 30-year-old mine.
An investment you can hold in your hand
Investors are searching for safety in a Sydney basement, with a resurgence in keeping physical gold as bad geopolitical and economic news is good news for the gold price.
Australian gold miner Saracen Minerals bought Canadian miner Barrick Gold’s 50 per cent stake for $1.1 billion and exactly four weeks later, Newmont agreed to sell its 50 per cent share to Northern Star for $1.17 billion.
The two transactions mean the Super Pit is now wholly back in Australian hands.
It also means local companies now control 60 per cent of the Australian gold mining industry, after falling to as low as 30 per cent in 2002.
A leisurely 600-kilometre drive north-east of the Super Pit, Australia’s biggest new gold mine, Gruyere, a joint venture between Gold Road and Gold Fields, officially opened last month.
“I have been privileged to be associated with delivering many new mining projects around the world, but none has been as exciting or as impressive than this giant mining complex in this remote location,” Gold Road chairman Tim Netscher said at the opening ceremony.
“This is one of the largest gold mines built and commissioned worldwide over the past decade and you don’t get much more remote than this.”
The mine is expected to produce 300,000 ounces annually over its 12-year life.
A week earlier, a smaller operation still in its infancy, the Beacon Minerals-owned Jaurdi Gold Mine west of Kalgoorlie, was also opened by WA resources minister Bill Johnston.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s a modern-day gold boom going on in Western Australia,” Mr Johnston told ABC News.
“We’re seeing all these new gold mines opening up and there’s more exploration going into the ground as well.”
It comes at a time when Australia’s gold production slowed in the September quarter to 78 tonnes — a 5 per cent fall from the quarter before, according to data collated by gold mining consultants Surbiton Associates.
Australia’s gold production reached an all time high of 321 tonnes in the 2018/19 financial year.
“The local gold industry, with its costs predominantly in Australian dollars, is benefitting from the changes in the exchange rate as the Australian dollar continues to weaken against the US dollar,” said Surbiton Associates director Sandra Close.
Outlook for the yellow metal in 2020
Making money out of money isn’t easy these days — with the RBA cash rate at 0.75 per cent, term deposits aren’t delivering the returns investors once relied on.
Profits were sought in equity markets in 2019, with the ASX rising more than 20 per cent over the course of the year.
However, JP Morgan global market strategist Kerry Craig said that’s unlikely to continue.
“The outlook for earnings growth is quite muted, that does translate into quite weak equity returns, not negative, but much lower than we’ve experienced in 2019,” he told ABC News.
While gold is down about 5 per cent from its mid-year high, the political turmoil of the US-China trade negotiations, Brexit and Hong Kong saw prices rise about 18 per cent overall in 2019.
Always a winner in times of economic uncertainty, gold looks set to continue its forward march in 2020.
“Low/negative rates make a case for holding gold as a risk diversifier given slowing growth and trade risks,” UBS analysts wrote in a 2020 outlook note.
The Commonwealth Bank expects to see further upside, with gold prices going as high as US$1,600 an ounce — at current exchange rates that’s more than $2,300.
CBA’s director of mining and energy commodities research Vivek Dhar said the main driver for gold prices over the long term is US yields.
“We are currently forecasting the US Federal Reserve to cut US interest rates by 50 basis points next year,” he said.
“That should push long-term US real yields lower, therefore supporting higher gold prices.”
An ancient commodity goes digital
Buying gold became a whole lot easier last year when it became available digitally.
Gone are the days of lugging around heavy gold bars — although that is, of course, still an option.
Brisbane-based gold dealer Ainslie Bullion launched Australia’s first gold and silver-backed cryptocurrency in September, just as gold reached its record Australian dollar price.
Buyers can invest in gold tokens with a few taps on their smartphone, making gold much more accessible.
“Ainslie Bullion’s product Gold and Silver Standard saw 5,000 trades worth over $2.1 million in the first two months and nearly double that ‘over the counter’ through Ainslie,” said Ainslie Bullion director Paul Engeman.
He argues gold is a worthwhile asset class to invest in above many others.
“While some argue gold has no place in a portfolio because it doesn’t yield [return an income stream], they miss that when compared to Australian shares, property and term deposits — with each including dividends, rent and interest respectively — gold and silver have easily outperformed all three over the last 15 years in capital appreciation and preservation alone.”
The Perth Mint launched its own digital gold in 2019.
“Our aim is to make gold accessible to as many people in as many places as we possibly can,” The Perth Mint’s chief executive Richard Hayes told ABC News.
The Reserve Bank is widely tipped to cut interest rates again in early February, which is likely to see the gold price push higher again.
“Low interest rates reduce the appeal of interest-bearing securities,” explained Mr Dhar.
“These securities compete for capital with gold. Therefore, in times of falling interest rates, gold looks more attractive and is generally worth investing in.”
Buying gold could be a popular item on new year’s resolution lists, as global interest rates continue to fall and uncertainty continues.