10 May 2023

Road trip on a whim brings John back to Weipa after five decades

| Cape York Weekly
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JOHN Murphy was having a few beers with his neighbour Kim MacDonald last week when they decided to go on a road trip from Cairns to Weipa.

Both had worked in the mining town before, but several decades apart. Neither had been back to visit since leaving.

“We live on Lake Street in Cairns near the hospital and we were having a few beers and decided to come up,” Mr Murphy said.

“That was four days ago,” he said from the Weipa Bowls Club on Friday.

Mr Murphy was one of the original Comalco workers, arriving in Weipa as a young man in his early 20s in 1969.

He stayed two years after working as a grader operator.

“A lot has changed since then,” he said in his first trip back in 50 years.

“You weren’t even allowed to drive to Cairns back then – no one had their own car in Weipa.

“Even if you did want to drive, it would take a couple of days. It was just a bush track back then.”

Mr Murphy said he didn’t have a lot of memories about his time in the Cape, but did manage to get his pilot’s licence while working here.

“The aero club from Cairns used to come up and train us,” he said.

“I ended up working as a pilot for Ansett until 2001.”

It would be a year that changed his life. Not only did he lose his job, but he would spend a chunk of it in hospital after being run over by a taxi in Cairns.

“I remember waking up in hospital in Brisbane and the TV was on and there were planes crashing into the (twin) towers,” he recalled.

“I went out again and don’t have another memory until January the next year.”

Mr Murphy said his legs were crushed in the accident, but his life was saved by a quick-thinking doctor who was on his way to the hospital when he came across the incident.

“I’m lucky I can walk,” he said.

And have a beer.

“Back here in Weipa you could only have two beers after work at the camp (in Rocky Point),” Mr Murphy recalled.

“You could have more but you’d have to go down to the Stubby Hut at Evans Landing and that could be a pretty dangerous place.”

For Mr MacDonald, who drove the corrugations in his Toyota RAV4, his memories of Weipa are more recent.

He spent several years in the 2000s working as a contractor in the Western Cape.

In 2008, he successfully negotiated the Western Cape Regional Partnership Agreement between local, state and federal governments, Rio Tinto, 11 Indigenous Traditional Owner groups and other community organisations.

“It’s definitely changed a lot, even in this shorter amount of time,” the former journalist said.

“I can tell you one thing, I won’t ever be driving back here again. The road is appalling.”

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