Western Australia's Esperance-Goldfields region is a massive area, spanning 770,488 sq km of Australia's largest state.
Much of the area was built of the back of the Gold Rush of the late 1880s but gold mining remains the lifeblood of much of the region, and is still a major industry.
The Goldfields are also a popular tourist attraction, due to their colourful history and there are many ways modern-day travellers can experience a 'gold rush' of their own.
KALGOORLIE'S SUPER PIT GOLD MINE
KCGM's Super Pit mine is located on the edge of Kalgoorlie-Boulder - Australia's largest outback city.
The Super Pit, formal name Fimiston Open Pit, is the biggest open pit gold mine by size (not production - that honour now goes to the Newmont Boddington Gold Mine) in Australia – it is roughly 3.6km long, 1.5km wide and about 570m deep.
Apparently, it’s large enough to be seen from space! Standing on the lookout waiting for the blast, it was almost impossible to comprehend the size of the Super Pit beneath.
Every inch of the megalithic pit is a working gold mine but operator KCGM has created a tourist attraction around it which is now Kalgoorlie’s number one tourism drawcard.
There is a large lookout hanging out over the impressive hole, the daily ‘blasts’ are publicised for those who want to see stuff get blown up, a pictorial history of the mine and Kalgoorlie’s gold rush is laid out, and there’s even a huge shovel you can climb inside.
KALGOORLIE'S INFAMOUS TWO-UP SHED
Kalgoorlie’s infamous Two-Up Shed sits about 7km, or 10 minutes, out of town. The old corrugated tin shed, dating back to the 1950s, is a relic of a bygone era – a large, circular arena with rudimentary seating surrounding the pitted and cracked concrete centre.
The game of Two Up – which traditionally involves betting on which way two pennies will fall (heads or tails) when thrown into the air – rose to prominence during the gold rush of the 1880s and has somewhat of a checkered history in Australia, due to its encouragement of illegal gambling.
It is now only legal to play on ANZAC Day and in specific venues such as casinos – and the Kalgoorlie Two-Up Shed.
Games run there every Sunday and attract a large crowd of tourists and locals, with funds raised going to local community groups.
HISTORIC HANNAN STREET
Hannan Street is the historic town centre of Kalgoorlie. While it might not have the same buzz these days as it did back in the heady gold rush days, it's still definitely worth a visit.
The grand old buildings that line the street are impressive and the names of the infamous Kalgoorlie hotels jumped out at us everywhere we looked – the Exchange, the Australia, the York, the Palace.
We picked the balcony of the beautiful Palace Hotel (c. 1897) for happy hour before heading back to the Exchange Hotel – home to Kalgoorlie’s infamous ‘skimpy’ barmaids – for dinner at the surprisingly wholesome and family-friendly Paddy’s restaurant.
A NIGHT AT THE COOLGARDIE RSL
About 38km down the road (the Great Eastern Highway) from Kalgoorlie, is the RV Friendly Town of Coolgardie. Here, we happened across one of those experiences that really makes your day. We pulled up outside a nice old building and wandered up the street to another, the Coolgardie RSL.
While photographing the outside of the grand old dame, which used to be the Marvel Bar Hotel, a man jumped out of his car and asked “Do you want to have a look inside?”
The man turned out to be lifetime Coolgardie resident and president of the Coolgardie RSL, Willie Corcoran, who was delighted to show us through the club, with its interesting military displays (including some old vehicles out the back), handmade plaques and a wall of honour remembering all the servicemen and women from the tiny local area that have lost their lives over the years.
At the height of the gold rush, Coolgardie was once the third largest town in WA (after Perth and Fremantle) but is now much smaller, with a population of around 1000 people.
Travellers can stay at the Railway Station (75 Woodward St) for 24 hours, although facilities are limited to bins and water, with a nearby dump point.
Willie was also keen to tell us all about the rocking parties the club had, and still has, every Friday night. Unfortunately, we had to keep driving, but I reckon a night at the Coolgardie RSL would be one you wouldn't forget in a hurry!