The Goldfields of Western Australia

Easter 2019

​Finally we are going camping again. With Anzac Day falling on the Thursday after Easter, I only needed to take 2 days annual leave to get 10 days off work. No brainer. Out of office message on the emails and we were good to go. Initially the plan was to leave yesterday but the weather forecast was way less than desirable, so we used the day to prepare (all our bedding got soaked in the less than desirable weather) and headed off today. We managed to be on the road by 11am and stopped for the last of the needed supplies in Mundaring, including coffee, before blasting along the Great Eastern Highway. For all of my childhood, teens and twenties life revolved around the Great Western Highway. Out to Aunty Geraldine’s as babies, then to uni at Penrith in my teens, then we lived off the GWH at Greystanes and used it to get to the in-laws in my twenties. Now I am 3500kms away on the other end, where it’s known as the GEH. 

Anyway, back to the interesting story … we have done this section of road before, so the plan was to get a fair distance under our belts so we can take our time on roads we have yet to experience. We stopped for lunch at Kellerberrin, then for water in Southern Cross. Actually this stop was quite good. The water was 15 cents for 10 litres and it was beside an off-lead dog park. That’s brings me to the introduction of the latest member of our travelling family, “Ralphie” the dog. I am not sure why I used inverted commas, ‘cause that’s his real name. Not much need to protect the identity of the family dog. Ralphie joined our family 8 weeks ago. He is a beautiful, princely greyhound who we rescued from Greyhound Adoptions WA. He is 3 and a half years old, and is The Pipers (early) 16th birthday present. He had a 13 month racing career, where he earned his former owners 12k from 40 something starts, including 7 wins, under the name Excel Like Fever. He is the loveliest doggo you have ever known, who seems to be loving his retirement at our house, perhaps because we adore him and spoil him rotten. Meantime Sean the mouse is staying with The Drummer …

Finally we made our first overnight stay of 8 nights. We use WikiCamps to guide our decisions about where to stay and it was bang on the money when it suggested Karalee Dam. Fortunately it filters for what you need, in our case a toilet and dog friendly. We didn’t mean to arrive just after dark but it didn’t really matter. There was a nice man walking his dog who directed us to the best spot in the campsite and we were set up in no time. Our rig now includes an awning tent that we can use to avoid the flies during meals and for the boys to sleep in. Tonight was the first time we put it up, with a minimum of fuss and it provides The Piper and Ralphie with more room than we have! The Newby got the fire going while I cooked dinner and in at all we were relaxed.

Easter Sunday 2019

The bunny found The Piper on a beautiful sunny morning. After a lovely breakfast we enjoyed exploring Karalee Rock and the dam. Together they are an amazing bit of ingenuity. The dam is fed by the rock and they are joined together by an open pipe. There is 6kms of 1 foot high wall around the rock that channels all the water to the open pipe, via a debris collecting pit. The pipe then takes the water about 150m to the dam where it was used for a variety of things but is now simply for swimming. Our climb over the rock was a good opportunity to stretch our legs before climbing into the car and heading for Kalgoorlie. Along the way we stopped at Coolgardie for lunch. When I was a little girl, probably in primary school, we learned about the gold rush across Australia including Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. I never thought I would make it to these places which sounded amazing and exciting. Unfortunately Coolgardie is far from exciting now. But at least I can say I have been there (more than once). 

Our next stop was Kalgoorlie for a quick look at the Super Pit in operation (Easter Sunday didn’t stop production) before we got the last of our supplies and headed for Ora Banda. This place is absolutely derelict and all but deserted but is an interesting stop and a good place to stay. The pub is really all that’s left standing and that’s just plain lucky. It was bombed back in 2000 in retaliation for a killing that happened in the car park. Then to be sure they also blew up the suspected killers house and finally killed him off in a car bomb attack in a suburb close to home in Perth. They are a bikie gang, however the story suggests that after all their bombings, they may have had the wrong guy! All that aside, the pub staff were very friendly and welcoming and for $27 we scored a site, a flushing loo, hot showers and 3 drinks. You can’t complain about country hospitality. After refreshing ourselves we had a lovely fire, some Kahlua Easter eggs and a reasonable nights sleep. We could hear the mine working in the distance and I’ll admit I was glad it wasn’t me pulling a night shift on Easter Sunday. 

Easter Monday 2019

Given that our geocaching subscription renewed last week, we need to stash a few caches on this trip, so we wandered the racecourse (that’s a very generous description of what’s left) and found our first. Scared off by the “go away” sign we headed back to the car and on our way to Menzies for a milkshake and coffee before heading out to Lake Ballard. There is something you need to understand about lakes in Australia. They don’t all have water. This one is a salt lake, covering a massive distance, not unlike a lake full of water

This lake has a drawcard in the form of an art installation that constitutes 51 life size statutes spread across the crusty, sometimes muddy, surface. Like us, there were quite a few folk there to see these skinny metal peeps standing in the middle of nowhere. The statues were smaller than I thought, but interesting and intriguing nonetheless. Ralphie seemed to enjoy traipsing across the snow like surface and was curious about the figures. Thankfully he didn’t pee on them. I am not sure what they represent but here’s my thoughts … Strength and isolation. Strength to withstand the elements and the salt, despite being metallic and therefore prone to decay. Isolation given they are in the middle of nowhere, 51kms along a partially dirt road. Each figure is also too far from the next to make contact and yet they are all together, stronger for it. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, and they are just 51 statues on a salt lake. 

After our wander onto the lake we settled in for a lovely evening (free) camped on stunning red sand, around the fire. We all enjoyed the homemade pumpkin soup that has been keeping the fridge cold thanks to being frozen solid prior to leaving home. With full bellies and now well settled into a routine, we all slept well in the silence of Lake Ballard. I am really glad we have been here and once again it is one of those things that is hard to believe. 

Tuesday 23rd April
After a breaky hiding from the flies in the awning tent we were back on the dirt road headed back in the direction from which we came, to Menzies. Unfortunately we didn’t make it far before we struck car trouble. In the blink of an eye the Mazstar temperature gauge hit red hot, just across a dry creek bed. We saw it and stopped straight away, with steam coming from the passenger side of the bonnet. On closer inspection (when it cooled a little) it was clear the cap on the reservoir tank had come off, most likely rattled loose from the corrugations. With loads of water on board it wasn’t an issue and we topped it all back up when it was cool enough and hit the road again. 

Turning left at Menzies we belted along to the Kookynie and Niagara Dam turnoff. I was looking forward to seeing the horse that is the doorman at the Kookynie pub and sure enough he was standing guard at the door. It is the strangest thing to see and intimidating too. Somehow you are supposed to get past him to enter. It was fairly clear that wasn’t going to be possible so we headed in to the beer garden. Not for long though. With the horse following us we promptly got ejected by the publican because the horse doesn’t like dogs! Oh well, they lost a sale and we jumped back in the car and headed for the inappropriately named Niagara Dam. 

Back in the day the dam was built in an attempt to catch sufficient water for the steam train. At times it did get full but while we were there it had a puddle or two on the dam side and a couple of dry creek beds on the other. We free camped at the base of the wall and enjoyed a wander around the dam before dinner. The night sky was particularly good by the fire as The Newby worked on his assignment for uni. 

Wednesday 24th April
Finally the day we have been waiting for, the day we get to Gwalia. A friend of ours had given us some information and we have seen a few tv grabs about it so we were excited to finally make it here. In case you don’t know, it’s an abandoned town with many of the shacks still standing where they were left, some with furniture and other bits and pieces in them. The Town was built to house the miners of The Sons of Gwalia mine. For part of its life it was run by Herbert Hoover who went on to be the president of the USA. He built a big, luxurious house overlooking the mine, while the miners lived in the shacks down the hill. Surrounding his house are other buildings where important things like storing gold happened. 

You can wander the old houses as well as the supervisor’s house free of charge (make a donation if you have the means). We particularly liked the old houses, the old cars and the stories behind them. It wasn’t hard to imagine a thriving place, with characters making deals and risking their lives. Now it’s a working open cut mine employing far fewer people. It’s huge, but not as big as the super pit. There are very few people who live with the ghosts of the old timers, as most people live in Leonora. 

Heading north again, we stopped for a wander around another abandoned town site, now called Wilson’s Patch. The Piper picked up a few old bottles and again we could imagine the vitality of the place. In its day there was a hotel with a tennis court out the back that attracted folk from miles around. How they survived in such a harsh place is hard to imagine. The lack of water and abundance of flies would have driven me crazy within a week. Onwards we arrived in Leinster and found the caravan park. The town exists only to service the mines in the area. Many many people fly in and out, stay in the accomodation, use the mess (which tourists can too), shop in the supermarket and access the school and health services. The whole town has been opened and closed again depending on the availability and price of the commodities coming out of the ground. The caravan park is a great service, with excellent facilities including free washing machines and driers. 

ANZAC day 2019
At early o’clock we got up and ready to head for the dawn service. I didn’t expect many folk to be there but in fact there were at least 100, maybe more, all in hi vis except for the 3 of us! In keeping with other services we have been to the service followed the moving sequence of the last post and revelley. At the end of the minutes silence and completely unexpectedly, there was a piercing scream from our left. We were all shocked. The Piper and I exchanged worried glances but quickly we realised a lone Maori man had started a Haka. The whole crowd was silent as he yelled his emotional war cry into the early morning. It was clear that he was putting his heart and soul into the impromptu display of tradition. As he continued, a second man slowly moved from in front of him to slightly behind him and joined in. Together they fiercely displayed their warrior culture before. It was truly an amazing minute or two, capping off one of the more memorable ANZAC Day services we have attended. With the formalities over it took just moments for all the hi vis to disappear into buses bound for shifts in the mines, leaving us and a few others standing in the shadows of the flags at half mast. 

The early start meant we were on the road earlier than usual and made the turn for home. Our trip is a rectangle of 600kms east, 400kms north, 600kms west and then 400kms south. Leaving Leinster we have completed the bottom and right hand side of the rectangle. There is an awful lot of nothing on the road west from Leinster. We stopped in Sandstone for lunch and a quick look in the museum before heading on to Mt Magnet. After stopping in the pub (ask for the toilet roll before you use the loo cause it’s behind the bar so it doesn’t get stolen) to get some more vodka and gin we headed out to another ghost town and then through a few other sites. It’s a desolate and quite ugly place scarred by mining. I hope there is a plan to rehabilitate these towns in years to come. 

Finally we headed for Kirkalocka station to spend the night under the stars. As much as I like Station stays, I think they are better when you have a little more time to explore. Nonetheless this was a good stop with some authentic buildings now converted to a camp kitchen and some on site accommodation options.  The donkey boiler heats the water for the shower which is a novelty in itself. I wish the new owners of the station all the best in their venture into tourism and hope the rains fall so they can one day run sheep on the property again. 

Friday 26th April
If there’s anything that will kill the mood it’s flies. Out here they are horrendous so we just keep moving during the day and stop strategically. Same story today. We headed out of the station and back to Mt Magnet for a few supplies before eating up the kms towards the coast. Along the way we called into Yalgoo for lunch at a super park and then had a wander through the art gallery. Unfortunately there is a lot of nothing in these towns and Yalgoo suffers from this problem. Even their annual race meeting was cancelled this year. A real shame that towns are in such decline. It seems like Mullewa might be the same. It was certainly very quiet as we drove through, almost at the coast. 

We were originally going to stay somewhere else but we made such good time (and the flies are so bad) that we decided to keep going and made it to Cliff Head before dark. It was lovely to smell the salt and hear the ocean, although the last week in the golden outback has been fabulous. Ralphie seems to like the beach so far. He’s been in the water splashing around. A couple of days here will be relaxing. 

Saturday and Sunday
Beach, beach and more beach to escape the flies. It seems they have followed us here to the coast but down by the water they disappear. Could be worse. Ralphie and The Piper spent all day Saturday digging holes and swimming while we lazed in the sun on our chairs. We did manage a couple of walks but there was more desire to rest after the many kilometres we have travelled. On Sunday we decided to pack up earlier than we originally thought we would, and head home to clean up and get ready for back to work. Not a great thought but if we don’t work we can’t do these great trips to explore our beautiful state. If you haven’t explored out and around the goldfields then get out there. It is truly amazing and worth the effort. You won’t regret it. See you out there. 

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