It is a 4 and a half hours drive from Esperance to Kalgoorlie, which gives you limited time to explore once you get there, so we made an early start (8am) and chose not to make any stops en route. We drove through Norseman – gateway to one of the harshest tracts of land in the world – the Nullarbor. Interestingly, you can play the Nullarbor links golf course – a total of 1365 kms starting in Kalgoorlie WA and ending in Ceduna SA – a par 72 (www.nullaborlinks.com).
We moved from coast, through the bush and out into the wild “Golden” Australian Outback, with only the odd passing road train (max. length 53.5 metres) for company. The Outback wasn’t so much gold as deep red – and it heated up dramatically as we moved inland reaching 36 degrees by the time we arrived in Kalgoorlie. The aboriginal population here is 7.5% – double the State average – this was the first time I had seen any of the indigenous people in WA in two weeks of the trip.
Tip for Future Travellers:
Aim to arrive in Kalgoorlie on any day other than a Sunday – it is shut! The Super Pit Lookout over the massive gold mine usually opens from 7am to 7pm, but that was shut today too owing to electric storms(?!). We didn’t have time to do a Super Pit Tour here, which may have been interesting. There is a rather splendid looking Tourist Information Office here in the Town Hall. If you wanted to gamble, you would be fine here – the only licensed Two Up shed in WA is on the Goldfields Highway. No worries getting hold of a beer here either – even on a Sunday – and you’d probably be OK for a short term room let and a massage too(?!). There aren’t that many restaurants in town. There is one at the Palace Hotel and the York Hotel (both shut on Sundays). we were left with the option of either the counter service at the Kalgoorlie Hotel or the Dome. We opted for the Dome, which was maybe a mistake. It serves an uninspiring fast food style menu and isn’t licensed. The uninspiring starters were slapped down with the mains, giving you a choice over which to let go cold first. The best thing about the meal was the sparkling water we drank with it. There was live music at the Kalgoorlie Hotel, but we were too tired to join in the fun there.
The Historic Goldmines Museum was open (fortunately), but it shuts at 3pm. The museum houses the State’s largest collection go gold bars and nuggets on display in its vault and gives a really good description of how mining started in this area, what life was like for the miners and their families and how it all impacted on the indigenous aborigines (not at all well, of course, sadly). The gold mining destroyed the woodlands (where they had existed inn harmony with nature and the seasons for so long) and destroyed their food sources in the process. Difficult times lay ahead as land right laws and evangelical missions were established. Children could be forcibly separated from their families and sent to missions (see the movie Rabbit Proof Fence for more on this unfortunate piece of history).
The gold rush of the 1850s marked the end of Australia as a prison camp and it’s beginning as a nation. Tension between races/nationalities grew during the next decade and eventually gave rise to the White Australia policy, which effectively forbade the immigration of non-European people until the 1970’s. After WW2, Australia became convinced that it had to fill up its empty spaces to protect itself from being occupied by someone else, so in the years after the war, it threw open its doors and its population expanded rapidly from seven million in 1945 to 18 million by the end of the 20th century. People were welcomed from all over Europe – particularly Italy and Greece – and the impact on the culture, cuisine and the whole rhythm of life was immense.
In Kalgoorlie, the gold was discovered in a horse’s hoof by one of the three Irishmen prospecting here when he was changing the shoe. In 1893, he found 100 ounces of gold and his life changed forever – and so did the whole of Western Australia. The population of Kalgoorlie grew from 48,000 in 1890 to 180,000 in 1934.
It takes 20 tons of rock to have sufficient gold to make a single gold wedding band – no wonder they are so expensive then!
At one time, water was more valuable than gold here. 5 million gallons a day were needed to serve the miners and the mining operation. That wasn’t possible until the giant pipeline was constructed which carried water from its collection site 569 kms away (there isn’t enough rainfall in Kalgoorlie to build it any closer than that). An outstanding feat of engineering – but the man who invented it (C Y O’Connor) was driven to suicide by those doubting his project would work and never lived to see the first water drawn less than a year after his death.
In 1896, rocks containing gold tellurides (which had been mistaken for pyrite or fool’s gold) were strewn on cart track and walkways and used as building stone until an assay test confirmed their value. For a short while, the streets of Kalgoorlie really were paved with gold!