No room at the Inn … but maybe a job in the Outback
By Rebekah Kebede
You wouldn’t think you’d have to make hotel reservations months ahead of time in Karratha, a small, dusty town on the edge of the Outback a 16-hour drive from Perth, the nearest city. But with Australia’s commodities boom, Karratha is bursting at the seams and nowhere is it more apparent than when trying to find a place to stay.
(Above photo: A kangaroo stands atop iron ore rocks outside the remote outback town of Karattha in Western Australia. Reuters/Daniel Munoz)
About two weeks ahead of my trip up to Karratha, to do a special report on Australia’s hunt for foreign labour, all hotel rooms within a 60-km radius were fully booked and after more than 20 calls, the travel agent was still coming up empty.
A few more desperate calls turned up a couple of rooms in a town called Roebourne, about 30 minutes away from Karratha at the Ieramugadu Inn, an old motel, which like many others in the area, had become worker accommodations as Karratha struggles to house the influx of labour into town. The bill came to over $200 a night—just shy of what it costs to book a room with a view of the Opera House in Sydney. The amenities at the Ieramugadu were somewhat different: a complimentary can of bug repellent, tin-foil covered windows to keep out the light for those on night shift, and a view of a truck parking lot through a hole in the tin foil.
We had reserved rooms just in time—the Ieramugadu Inn, a group of slightly dilapidated but sturdy buildings, was being shut for restoration the following week.
Jobs are much easier to come by than rooms. During interviews for this story, questions about the exorbitant salaries of those in the mining and oil and gas industries prompted half-joking speculation that I might be considering a career change, as with this exchange with Mark Blayney, the owner of Carr Civil Contracting in Karratha:
Blayney: Do you want a job?
Reuters: I’m not an engineer.
Blayney: Doesn’t matter.
Reuters: Oh, really, what could you offer me?
Blayney: Probably better than what you’re making right now.
Reuters: Ok, let’s say I have a college education.
Blayney: Can you manage people?
Blayney: There you go, see.
Reuters: So what would you offer somebody such as myself?
Blayney: In terms of position or dollars and cents?
Blayney: Are you keen to learn? And you’ve got the right attitude, we’d start you off probably $100,000 minimum plus accommodation and flights and then just give you the experience and how far you go is up to you.
Blayney: Well, are you tempted?
For now, this reporter is still planning to keep her day job.