In the WA mining town of Kalgoorlie, everything that glitters is gold.
Located 600km inland from Perth at the eastern end of the Great Eastern Highway, Kalgoorlie has a population of nearly 30,000, and as such is Australia’s largest outback city.
It has plenty of shops and services, so the town is a popular stop-off destination for travellers needing to restock supplies or repair their rig.
However, there is much more to Kalgoorlie than shops and services. The town itself has a colourful past, plenty of amazing things to see, and a decidedly upbeat atmosphere.
Gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie by Paddy Hannan in June of 1893, sparking a gold rush that prompted the whole town to be built within a decade.
Today, it’s impossible not to notice Kalgoorlie is a gold mining town. Poppet heads and heaps of tailings dominate the skyline.Along Hannan Street, the main drag, there is a prospecting supplies shop, a sign displaying the current gold price and the offices of The Kalgoorlie Miner — the local newspaper.
Most businesses and vehicles are there to serve the mining industry, and many customers in shops and supermarkets wear fluorescent orange mining site gear — everything here is connected with gold.
PAVED WITH GOLD
The first thing you notice in Hannan Street is that the buildings are surprisingly ornate. Most were built in the 1890s — a time when gold was providing about 90 per cent of WA’s GDP — and it is obvious that no expense was spared on the construction.
The impressive post office with its tall tower as well as the pink wedding-cake-style town hall show how important gold was for the WA economy. But even more noticeable is the fact that many of the finest buildings along the street are hotels.
It’s clear that mining was thirsty work and that miners had plenty of disposable income.
Amazingly, the streets were once literally paved with gold due to a bit of an oversight. Unwanted rock from tailings was thought to be pyrites (fool’s gold), and was subsequently scattered on tracks and walkways.
However, it was later discovered to be gold telluride, a valuable gold-bearing mineral. Some even found its way into building projects and it is reported that the Anglican Cathedral still contains telluride.
There are two good places to get a broader overview of the Kalgoorlie gold rush. In Hannan Street, there is a bright red poppet head, marking the location of the Western Australian Museum, Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Inside, there are exhibits about the colourful history of the goldfields and different types of gold, plus some interesting historic buildings including the British Arms pub and a miner’s cottage.
Kalgoorlie is actually a twin town, since the nearby township of Boulder has gradually merged into it.
The main street of Boulder is like a smaller-scale version of Kalgoorlie, with a more relaxed atmosphere and some buildings that are even finer. The town hall is a confection of red brick and white stonework, while the courthouse looks suitably sombre.
There are also some ornate pubs, including the Commercial Hotel and the Court Hotel.
By far the biggest attraction in Boulder is the Super Pit, located barely a kilometre from the town hall. The Super Pit is the largest open-cut gold mine in Australia and produces an amazing 850,000 ounces each year. To truly appreciate those statistics, you need to visit the Super Pit, which has an impressive visitor lookout.
As you look down into the awesome gaping chasm, it takes a moment to realise that the curving terraces are actually roads leading down to the bottom of the pit. Then you recognise that the tiny specks moving around at the bottom are actually gigantic earth-moving machines. It’s an amazing sight.
KARLKURLA BUSHLAND PARK
For a change of pace after a day of sightseeing, head for Karlkurla Bushland Park — 4km north of Hannan Street. Karlkurla is the aboriginal name for the native silky pear, and is where the name Kalgoorlie originated.
The 200ha park was originally used for gold mining and timber harvesting, and it’s now being regenerated.
There are various walking trails in the park, along which you can see tall eucalypts, flowering shrubs and colourful flowers growing out of the red gravel soil. The two main types of tree are stately salmon gums and blackbutts.
There are also areas that were used as gold diggings in the early 1900s. The miners used to consider the blackbutt, with its distinctive black bark around the base of the trunk, as an indication of gold.
Today, your best chance of spotting gold in the park is at sunset, when the trees are silhouetted against the glow of the setting sun.