Going for Gold
Kalogoorlie is at the heart of Gold mining in the outback. Paddy Hannan was the first man to strike gold in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia in the 1890’s. Gold fever was sweeping the outback and it’s still there now.
Paddy, along with his friends Flanagan and Shea were a bit down on their luck when, with the use of a handy Tomahawk they stumbled across 100 ounces of gold nuggets when they stopped to replace a shoe for their horse.
Hannan rode through to Coolgardie and registered his claim on 17 June 1893. So started the Gold rush that created Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie is still one of the world’s biggest gold mining cities and the beautiful late Victorian architecture of the civic buildings and the great wide streets still give it the air of a prosperous place where fortunes were made
We set off on our 600km journey into the outback in our air conditioned car in very different conditions to the ones that faced Paddy Hannan. The journey to Kalgoorlie from Perth is the equivalent of driving from Newcastle in the UK (my home town) to Land’s End. This is a pretty long drive anyway and but it would have seemed very much longer on horseback in 40 degree heat.
Going for Gold
The drive to Kalgoorlie takes us along miles and miles of deserted road through the Australian wheat belt. We travel into the rust red outback stretching endlessly into the superblue Australian sky. We drive through a few rather underpopulated towns with dubious claims to fame such as ‘the largest wheat stack in WA!’
The road is pretty straight and you become rather mesmerised by the endless unchanging landscape. To combat this, there are regular ‘Driver Reviver’ stops where you can get free coffee to prevent you nodding off at the wheel. That would go down a storm on the M25 back in the UK.
There are also quite a few visual reminders of just what could happen if you don’t pay attention to your driving! The crumpled results of inattention are placed on display alongside the road just to keep you on your toes.
We stopped for a break at a town with a few shops. A big guy ambled past me saying cheerily, ‘I’ll think I’ll go and get hammered now!’ Yes, we had reached the outback.
Find your own gold nugget!
If you are serious about trying to find your own gold, known as fossicking, you might want to pop into Kalgoorlie’s aptly names ‘Finders Keepers’ shop. Their motto is ‘Finding more – more often.’
Here you hire a mine-lab metal detector, then head out into the unforgiving sun to sweep the landscape and hope that lady luck is with you. People do still discover gold on a regular basis
Another must see is the gigantic gold Superpit where mining still takes place today. The Superpit is the biggest goldmine in the world. It is 3.6km long, 1.5km wide and is 550m deep – that’s about 10 times the height of Nelson’s column.
The mine extracts gold by digging out the seams with giant machinery, crushing huge quantities of rubble, roasting it and finally melting out the gold fragments from the stone. It is massively labour intensive, and you have to kiss a lot of rubble frogs to find that golden prince
Hannan’s gold mining museum
Next pop along to Hannan’s mining museum where you can try panning for gold yourself in a little man made creek. In the early days panning for gold in the river was the easiest way to find gold nuggets and gold flakes which had been washed away from the main lode.
I enjoy my panning activity, messing about in the muddy water. I think some gold had been planted there for visitors to find, but the yellow stuff eluded even my best swirling technique.
At the mining museum you can even climb aboard the gigantic 994 mine loader which weighs 195 tonnes. According to the information leaflet this vehicle has the capacity which is the equivalent of 95 million adult house mice! I have never seen the weight of anything expressed in house mice terms before.
I sat in its wheel arch which gives a pretty good indication of its size. Some of the mining machines can cost up to 22 million dollars. They are shipped in pieces from abroad and assembled here.
The need for water
The construction of this pipe was an ambitious project by anyone’s standards. Its completion makes it one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. The water supply revolutionised life in the outback and supported the great gold rush to Kalgoorlie and its swelling population.
The pipe still runs all that way today and we kept it’s company for our entire journey as it runs alongside the road. Unfortunately O Connor had many detractors. They said his pipe would never be finished. They claimed it was a waste of public money and basically performed a character assassination on him.
O Connor was devastated by these attacks upon his reputation. After a few years he couldn’t take any more, and tragically rode his horse into the sea and shot himself. The pipe was opened ten months later. The media sometimes had a lot to answer for, even then.
Goodbye to the goldfields
I loved the gold fields and Kalgoorlie and the uncomplicated Ozzy friendliness and optimism that we encountered there. I loved the names of the towns we passed. Kalgoorlie apparently means ‘land of the silky pears.’ There was Bullabulling, Boorabin, Woolgangie, Widgiemooltha (Emu’s beak) and especially Koolyanobbing!
The goldfields of Western Australia are fascinating and enormous fun. Make sure you stop at Coolgardie on the way back. It has the best collection of old advertising signs I have ever seen (in the middle of nowhere!) You just never know what you’re going to find next.
Check out more of my Australian adventures South West Australia