Vivid memories of carefree days

Last June Joseph Bassford did what he and his parents before him did many times over the years — return to Port Hedland.

Initially, the travel and time away was to accommodate the work requirements of his father, a plant mechanic.

As an adult, it was college study and the chance of an apprenticeship with a local engineering company that lured Joseph back.

In 2020, it was the position of chief operating officer of Pilbara Meta Maya Group of Companies, which acts as a development corporation for the regional Aboriginal communities of the Pilbara, that saw him return.

For Joseph, Port Hedland has always been a town of opportunities — and so many vivid memories of carefree years growing up there with his mates, when they ran barefoot, and fished and camped, and pretty much pleased themselves what they did and when they did it.

And then later as a young man when the fishing trips took them further afield and farther offshore courtesy of a mate’s boat.

Born in Port Hedland in 1977, he went to primary school in South Hedland, moved away with his family but returned in time to complete years eight, nine and 10 at the local high school.

“We travelled quite a bit because of my father’s work,” Joseph said. “In my childhood we left in 1979, came back in 1988, left in 1990, and came back later that year. I don’t know why he kept coming back, but I did the exact same thing.”

After one stint away Joseph returned to study electrical engineering and worked as an apprentice in a job which enabled him to travel throughout the Pilbara working on various mines before landing a job at BHP, at the HBI plant.

Along with many other workers he was made redundant when the plant closed.

“But the Pilbara was still in me and with my wife and children we moved to Wickham,” he said.

A series of jobs followed until, after an absence of 13 years, he returned to work for Pilbara Meta Maya Regional Aboriginal Corporation.

He now has experience in operation and maintenance for the mining, construction and renewable sectors with significant experience in asset management spanning 15 years.

He is also a member of Port Hedland Industries Council’s Community Industry Forum.

Joseph has remarried and has a two-year-old. His wife, an engineer, and child remain in Perth.

Recognising that the amenities and facilities are “light years” ahead of when he was growing up, Joseph sees there is an opportunity now, with planning changes for the West End, the Port Hedland Voluntary Buyback Scheme and the development of the Spoilbank Marina for significant improvements in Port Hedland.

“To attract people to town you have to have affordable housing,” he said.

The other constraint in town is access to childcare; and he laments that it is one of the reasons his wife stayed in Perth.

For Joseph, returning to Port Hedland meant coming “back to my homeland”, but he recognises that it is a hard town for some to get used to.

“If someone new comes to town it’s good to see the locals wrap their arms around them and show them where things are,” he said.

“If you manage to get past the first 12 months, you’re here for 10 years. People will stay for the long term.”

Those who stay will have their own Port Hedland stories to tell, just as Joseph fondly remembers the Port Hedland of his youth.

“As a kid I remember going barefoot, running around in the dirt on our bikes. We knew were all the neighbourhood kids were by the number of bikes out the front of the houses,” he said.

“During summer it was hot as hell. But when the cyclones came through it was brilliant. All the creeks and ditches would fill up with water.

“We’d catch frogs, go fishing, camping. If you didn’t have a boat, you’d know someone who did. Pretty much every weekend we’d go out.

“Those memories are very vivid for me.”

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