Friday, 11 January 2013

11-18 January 2013 – Kalgoorlie WA

I loved Kalgoorlie! I think it’s all the history that is everywhere you look, the main street, Hannan Street is simply superb, just one ornate building after another for two large blocks, all with overhanging balconies on extra wide footpaths.  Given most of the buildings were constructed over 100 years ago when the average citizen was still living in basic tents and canvas houses, you can just sense the wealth that these buildings represented.  Apparently there were originally 63 pubs and many are still standing.  The population at its gold mining peak was about 30,000, which is pretty close to the current population.

Overlooking Kalgoorlie.  Town Hall clock tower is painted with
gold leaf.

Most of the dozens of individual mines were amalgamated in the 1980’s in a process that was commenced by Alan Bond.  Thirty years later, they are all owned by one parent company and all the separate mines are now one enormous mine, known as the ‘Superpit’.  There is a large viewing area overlooking the Superpit and I found myself mesmerised by the tiny yellow specks in the pit moving backwards and forwards.  They were actually huge earthmoving trucks.  Not sure why, as I’m not overly interested in mining.  I think it was just the sheer scale of the pit.  I’m not sure if it’s smaller or larger than the pit we saw at Tom Price, but both were impressive.   You can take a tour down into the pit and into the gold processing areas, but I knew there’d be a riot if I even suggested another mine tour.  Fortunately, it was quite expensive ($70 adult, $40 child), so I didn’t mind either.  Seen one mine, seen ‘em all’ has even overtaken me!
The massive 'superpit'

We did visit on another day and see an actual blast take place, which, even though it was in the distance, was quite exciting.  Just like in the movies, you can see the ground lift up when the explosives first went off, rubble falling down the sides of the pit and then a huge cloud of dust.
You can just make out the mine vehicles top centre, setting explosives

The blast

The family didn’t escape a visit to the local museum which was a branch of the Western Australian museum (there are branches in Perth, Geraldton, Fremantle and Albany).  I thought I’d encounter some resistance to stepping foot inside another museum, but they all followed without a whimper!  Maybe they knew it was pointless to object.  But seriously, why visit such a fascinating town and not learn all you can about it?  That’s my perspective anyway.  In addition, it was only a gold coin donation entry – bargain! 
Inside a mine scooper.

Furniture made from explosive boxes
Main headframe, now the entrance to the museum
Bicycle made entirely of wood.
We had bizarre weather during our stay in Kalgoorlie.  The whole country has been in the grip of a heat wave, with uncontrolled fires everywhere and we’ve been experiencing 40+ days since Christmas.  Then Cyclone Narelle developed off the coast of Exmouth and turned into a rain depression reaching as far as Kalgoorlie, so suddenly the temperature dropped and the skies opened.  Our first visit to the museum had us in jeans, hoodies and scarves.  The second visit had us hankering after the air-conditioning.  Ah ha, maybe that’s why the family was happy to visit a second time!

Kalgoorlie sunset

Other interesting tidbits about Kalgoorlie is that Howard Hoover, 31st President of the US, worked as a mine engineer and later as mine manager in the area between 1897 and 1907 and later was involved as an investor in mines in Broken Hill.  He became US President in 1929.

Coolgardie court house, 40km from Kalgoorlie and location of the original gold strike.

A second interesting tidbit, but once again, not taught as part of Australian history, is that the Kalgoorlie goldfields is responsible for the ultimate Federation of Australia. 

When the separate colonies were discussing Federation to become one country rather than separate colonies, Western Australia was suspicious of the Eastern colonies and feared it would lose the benefit of its mineral resources to the other colonies and refused to conduct a referendum regarding Federation.  Without the agreement of all colonies to conduct a referendum, Federation was not feasible. 

Around this same time, the goldfields wanted to form a separate colony called ‘Auralia’.  They wrote to Queen Victoria to make this request.  The Queen wrote back to the Premier of the Western Australia colony advising receipt of the request and that she would grant the request unless WA agreed to conduct the referendum on Federation.  Basically, the WA government had no choice but to participate or risk losing this resource rich part of the WA colony.  On 31 July 1900 Western Australia became the final Australian colony to vote for Federation.  An overwhelming majority of voters were in favour of joining the eastern states to become the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.   The desire of the goldfields to form ‘Auralia’ therefore led to the formation of Australia as we know it.   A fact most Australians would be completely unaware of.
An unusual front garden in Coolgardie WA

A gold miners hut - lived in until 1971!  Directly opposite is an open cut gold mine
discovered in the 1990's.

Rear view of the miners hut.  The whole structure is from reused and scavenged materials.

Photo of the gold miner, Jim Carins, sitting outside the hut.

Kalgoorlie is also the location of our only car trouble in almost two years and 70,000 km of travelling. Larry had noticed the battery wasn’t holding its usual charge the day before we arrived in ‘Kal’ (as the locals call it), but we were able to start and drive into first Coolgardie (38km from Kalgoorlie) and then into Kalgoorlie itself.  Just as we sighted the 24 hour stopping area on the western outskirts of town, we moved into the right lane to turn right across the highway.  Then the windshield wipers slowed right down, then the indicators wouldn’t work, then we lost power steering and the whole car just rolled to a gentle stop.  No sooner had Larry got out of the car (in the rain) than a stranger pulled up to help, and then another stopped.  One of them had a tow ball so they unhitched our van, attached it to their vehicle and drove it across the highway to the stopping area.  The other fellow and Larry then pushed the Landcruiser off to the side of the road.  Meanwhile I’m on the phone to the RACQ but due to the rain, it’d be at least another 90 minutes before roadside assistance was available.  The stranger then drove home, found a snatch strap, came back, attached our car and towed it to where the van was.   What a fabulous introduction to the town!

Long and short of it was that the alternator had died, and cooked a 3 month old battery at the same time.  RACQ then towed us to a caravan park and arranged a car hire for us.  In the end, we were in the van park 4 days, which was quite a treat, even though it rained for two days, but in the end I could get all the washing done (we have a washing machine in the van, but need access to water) and the girls got to swim in the pool when it turned warm again.  And it did!  Back up to 40C. 

We actually already had the Landcruiser booked in at Toyota for a service which was quoted around $1000 (seems to be the average service price we’ve noticed!), so we then had to fork out another $500 for the alternator.  Fortunately, the battery survived. Still, as I said earlier, it’s the first mechanical issue we’ve had towing the van and driving in some dodgy, isolated areas, so we are not complaining.

My only regret is that due to the wet weather, many of the surrounding roads were closed or impassable as there are a number of old mining towns, now uninhabited, that would have been worth exploring.  Next time!
Just south of Kalgoorlie we came across a kettle/coffee cup tree and added our own cup.

Travellers Tip: Try to avoid visiting in the middle of summer.  If you are interested in the architecture, you can do a self-guided audio tour for $10.  There is a $50 deposit for the headset. WA Museum is gold coin donation and excellent value.  Oasis Recreation Park has a great pool and a couple of water slides.  Coles, Woolies, 24hr IGA. Fuel discounts available. 24 hr free camp on western entrance to town and you can also free camp at Douglas Reserve, approx 12 km towards Perth. Caravan Parks $50+ for family of 4.  All cabin accommodation is booked out by miners.

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