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Oasis of comfort

From ATHOL THOMAS, in Perth

JTROM the air Wes

tern Australia's newest town, Shay Gap, looks like a collection of u

buildings huddled to gether for protection from the harsh Pilbara landscape.

A road slants in from nowhere; another skirts the town. A few trees ap pear to be struggling for survival in the townsite.

There are no streets in the town itself.

Iron ore

In fact. Shay Gap is perhaps the most imagin ative attempt yet to beat the hostility, if not feroc. itv. of one of the most in hospitable parts of Aus ttalia; but a part that is also one of the richest iron-ore belts in the world.

Shay Gap is in the hot country. Its near-neigh bours are Marble Bar and Goldsworthy. which in summer compete day after day to post the highest maximum temper atures on the continent. It lies 120 miles east of the Pilbara's major iron-ore port. Port Hedland.

"The Gap", as its resi dents already call it, is built on powdery brown earth lying between low

cliffs of red rock that seem to cradle the heat of the day long after the sun has gone down. The tem perature can reach 50 de grees centigrade in sum


Shay Gap is another company town; one of throe built by Goldsworih.

Mining, the Pilbara iron ore pioneer. Goldsvvorthy already had a reputation for making the Pilbara bearable for its employees. Among other things it was the first to introduce closed-circuit television.

This device gave i: a much lower staff turnover than any other Pilbara company and attracted married couples — more stable work units than itinerant young men look ing for quick fortunes.

For Ihe new town, the command — to Perth architcct. Mr Lawrence Howroyd was, in e{lcvt: "Put down a place in the desert which people will not only find bearable, but attractive".

The result at Shay Gap is what Mr Howroyd calls a "machine for living", an expression which has over tones of 1984 but which, in fact, is meant to con vey that men who are pre pared to' work the mines

should not have to sweat out domestic discomfort when they are off-shift.

The town has been de signed on the basis that it is a community rather than a collection of indi viduals — recognition that people are driven by iso lation into "togetherness". Because the design was not governed bv suburban block by-laws, it could be adventurous by suburban


One of its revolutionary features is an underground trench that contains all the town's basic services — ir rigation, sewerage, power and telephone and televi sion cables. There is no thing unsightly sticking out of the ground.

Mr Howroyd describes the trench as an umbilical cord.

There are other features that any progressive town, planner would give his eye teeth to be able to imple



The 101 houses (with as many as four bed rooms) are built in groups of 11 in such a way that people can walk in shade from any part of the town to any other.

No resident has to walk more than 200yd to any facility — including the shopping centrc, the school and the club. The average distance anyone has to walk anywhere is 40yds.

Residents are also kept cool with an air-condition ing system based on a communal chilled-water plant. Each house taps the main that ring* the


In addition, each house is pressurised by a fan coil unit; because pressure inside is higher than it ;is outside, dust and mcftt insects cannot enter.

Another refinement .,is the irrigation system, which provides up to 60in of "rain" a year. The watering is done at night from high-level misting


The town is expected to develop a green, park-like appearance — an oasis of comfort in a desert.

The building of Shay Gap from the ground up presented a uniaue oppor tunity for eliminating the motor car from living


The town is completfc3y free of vehicles, yet each house has a lock-up ghr agc. '

Small electric vehicles arc used to provide such services as rubbish id is? posal.