Kalgoorlie is located 595 kilometres east of Perth and can be reached by a long day’s drive, by train or by air. A lot of workers come on a ‘fly in fly out’ basis, so there are quite a few flights coming in and out of the airport.
The town itself dates back to 1893 when Gold was first discovered here. Now more than a century later it is still a mining town, unlike almost any other town in Australia.
Mining and particularly gold is a ‘boom and bust’ industry, based on first finding the gold, then discovering how much gold is there, and then taking it from the ground to then refine and eventually sell it and make it into coins, ingots, jewellery, fill teeth and a myriad of other uses. The price of gold also varies, and when the price is low, and the cost of mining higher – then the gold mines close down, waiting for a higher price or a better cheaper processing method.
While prospectors still exist, and pan creeks and rivers or run water through their sluices to find the elusive metal, it is the big gold miners that have the equipment, manpower and resources to take on the big gold mining operations.
In Kalgoorlie, there is the ‘Super Pit’ – a massive hole in the ground – 3.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide and 370 metres deep. It is one of the biggest open cut gold mines in the world – and has over the years produced some 50 million ounces of Gold. Based on a value of $1000 to $1300 per ounce, that is a lot of money! (See www.superpit.com.au )
Most people have heard about the Gold of the Incas, the Spanish Galleons carrying that gold, the gold rushes of California and then in NSW and Victoria in the 1850’s which brought prospectors from all over the world to seek their fortune. While “Gold Fever” may not be a physical disease, it certainly swept the world like a fever, with newbie Prospectors leaving the homes, work and wives and heading for the goldfields in the hope of making a fortune by striking gold.
Some people recover from ‘gold fever’ very quickly, while others die of exhaustion, heat stroke, mine cave ins, thirst, hunger and other causes, but for many ‘gold fever’ takes over their whole life.
Patrick Hannan (1840-1925) was born in Ireland and arrived in Victoria in 1862 and over the next few decades he spent time prospecting for gold in Victoria, NSW, New Zealand, South Australia and also here in Western Australia where he initially tried his luck in Southern Cross in 1889. Four years later he was in Coolgardie and in the same year (1893) he and his partners, Thomas Flanagan and Dan O’Shea found 100 ounces (just over 3 kilos) of gold at Kalgoorlie – the area to become known as “The Golden Mile”. Thousands of prospectors soon heard of the find, and the Gold Rush to Kalgoorlie began. Patrick Hannan continued his prospecting for at least another 16 years or more, and eventually retired to live in Melbourne. The suburb of Hannan and Hannan Street in Kalgoorlie are named in his honour, and there is a statue erected there too, and also the original one in the Town Hall.
Mining requires water, and Kalgoorlie is a very dry area, with the riches of gold coming from Kalgoorlie, so the Government at the time commissioned C.Y O’Connor to build a pipeline from the coastal Helena River to Kalgoorlie. (See Perth History page). This 30 inch pipeline (76cm), built in 1896 ran across the country for 530 kilometres from a new dam weir at Mundaring to Kalgoorlie with some 20 steam powered pump stations along the way – bringing water to the town and the mines – a truly remarkable engineering feat. Today water is still taken by pipeline to Kalgoorlie with updated pipes and some 40 pump stations.
The original pipeline ended at Mt Charlotte Reservoir and Lookout – which you can visit and look over the town from there.
Gold also brought wealth to Kalgoorlie itself and the town flourished with new buildings such as the Town Hall built 1908 and a number of hotels in and around the main street. The opulent York Hotel built in 1900 with its imposing façade and central staircase is just one of a number of classic buildings that are still here in Kalgoorlie. A somewhat less imposing building is the Questa Casa Bordello, “The Pink House” on Hay Street which is still operational, but also has tours each day (See www.questacasa.com.au )
Mining is certainly the mainstay of Kalgoorlie, but the great hotels, racetrack, and two up school also reflect Kalgoorlie’s enthusiasm for having a good time! Two up (a game where people bet on the outcome of flicking coins up in the air and calling heads or tails) is legal only in Kalgoorlie. Elsewhere it can only be legally played on Anzac day around the nation.
Kalgoorlie with a population of over 30,000 people has lots of places to stay, places to eat, a golf club and museums – where you can see and find out more about mining and the hardships as well as the good and bad luck stories.
In August the ‘Diggers and Dealers’ conference brings miners, stockbrokers, spruikers, investors, media and others together to talk mining, investment, and the latest amazing opportunities to strike it rich!
Some of the places to see include the WA Museum of Kalgoorlie Boulder at 17 Hannan Street. Here you will find the tiny British Arms Hotel as well as an Underground Vault – with lots of information and displays involving gold.
Head to the Kalgoorlie Boulder Railway station on Hamilton Street to see the Loopline Museum and find out about the history of local transport and the Golden Mile Station.
Hannans North Tourist Mine is set up to provide you with a real mine simulation, and see how mining works. The Mine is located just off the Goldfields Highway about 1 ½ kilometres from Hannan Street.
Over on Egan Street (Building 70 on the Curtin University Campus) is the WA Museum of Mines with more than 3000 rock and mineral samples. The School of mining is located here. More Gold is located in the Town Hall at the Visitor Centre located here.
While in town also discover what’s on at the Goldfields Arts Centre ( Tel: (08) 9088 6905) and the Art Deco Palace Theatre and if you are looking for a nice park to relax in, head to Hammond Park where there is a small lake/pond and native birds and animals, including a miniature Bavarian Castle.
Coolgardie – is just 40 kilometres from Kalgoorlie, and 555 kilometres from Perth. Its population is around a thousand or so people, but in its heyday in the late 1800’s – when gold was discovered here it gained a population of around 16,000.
Gold was discovered here in 1892 by prospectors Arthur Bayley (1865-1896) and William Ford (1852-1932) who staked their claim at Fly Flat , and registered it with the mining warden at Southern Cross.
Arthur Bayley had been a prospector from the age of 16, looking for gold in the gold fields in Queensland, then in Victoria (where he had been born), and then with his mate William Ford, who he had met in Queensland, prospecting for gold in a number of places in Western Australia.
A prospector’s life in those days, and still today, involved finding just enough gold to pay for beer, food, equipment, and staking a claim, and then with this ‘grub stake’ – keep searching for a bigger strike or the ‘mother lode’, and if you did find a big strike, keeping it secret. Hard work, no certainty and living rough, and in the harsh desert areas of Western Australia – the heat, the flies, dust and isolation meant hard times and hard men.
Bayley and Ford’s big strike in 1892 at Fly Flat when they found 554 ounces of Gold, led to a massive boom in the population here in Coolgardie, and the mine they established “Bayley’s Reward” – continued in operation right up to 1963. Both Bayley and Ford sold off their mine, and Bayley headed back to Melbourne, dying just a few years later aged just 31, while Ford went back to Chatswood in Sydney, and lived to the age of 80.
Coolgardie’s main street, Bayley Street in named in honour of Arthur Bayley, and the street itself and the magnificent Mining Warder’s Court Building, built in 1895, reflects the wealth that flowed to Coolgardie in those early days. To discover more, head to the Goldfields Exhibition Building at 62 Bayley Street (next to the Visitor Bureau), and Ben Prior’s Park – to see some of the old mining equipment on display. Here you will also see a prospector sitting on top of a camel with his swag – from the time when Afghan Cameleers also worked here, carrying the equipment and supplies for miners at their diggings. Today, there is a camel farm about 4 kilometres from town on the Great Eastern Highway (Tel: (08) 9026 61 59).
Also in town is a great bottle collection (the Waghorn Collection) and a Pharmacy Museum – which is said to be one of the best collections in the world, showcasing the pots and potions, medicines and equipment which was used in the early days. The Railway Museum also provides a glimpse into the early days of rail, which became the lifeblood of so many towns in the early days too. The National Trust also owns Coolgardie’s first Magistrate and Mining Warden house at 2 Mackenzie Street (open at different times – Tel: (08) 9026 6028, or check with the Visitors Bureau). Warden Finnerty’s House built in a mix of stone and brick has wide verandas, shuttered windows and a rare Roof Lantern – a small rood section on top of the main roof – which is designed to allow more air to enter the main roof space to keep the house cooler. The house was built by Robert Bunning (1859-1936) who was born in England the son of a carpenter and church builder. The family spent time working in Boston in the USA, and in 1886 Robert and his brother, Arthur arrived in Perth, and entering the building, timber and construction industry. Robert’s sons also continued and expanded the family’s business, and Charles Bunning (1905-1994) is credited as the founder of the Bunnings Hardware chain with stores across Australia. Bunnings is owned by Wesfarmers, which also owns the Coles Supermarket chain too.
We hope you have a wonderful time in Kalgoorlie and the whole area.