Kalgoorlie The Gold Capital of Australia

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Kalgoorlie is one of those places you’ll either love or hate. It’s not a lie by the beach and read a book kind of town, but rather a place that begs to be explored.

“It’s like the Wild West,” my friend exclaimed and I did initially get the feeling we’d stepped onto a movie set!

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It’s like the old photograph you can’t quite get out of your mind, the one with the shadow that could be a ghost … you know, it’s intriguing.

In many respects Kalgoorlie is an enigma because it’s different, full of character and not specifically a holiday town. It’s called the Gold Capital of Australia and over the last 100 years it’s never really veered from its purpose.

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Kalgoorlie Past and Present

My first brush with Kalgoorlie was back in 1983 when my boyfriend left Sydney to go  and work as a young geologist on a prospecting site.

Via poste restante mail I heard distant tales of rough-tough work on a stretch of earth called the Golden Mile, before the Super Pit was even born, where he spent his days laboring for 12 hour shifts on a drill rig prospecting for gold. Home for him was initially a camp site, followed by a couch in someone’s house.

A trip down memory lane

It sounded a harsh life, and one which I had little desire to encounter as I swanned around Sydney with a pack of bohemian backpackers, living the good life when funds permitted.

So returning to Kalgoorlie recently was a trip down a memory lane largely forgotten by Dave after 30 years’ absence, and a completely new experience for me, but one which got me thinking very much about past and present.

We stayed close to the centre of town at the ibis Styles Hotel, a perfectly positioned and comfortable hotel with a restaurant and swimming pool – you can read more about the hotel later in this post – it was an ideal jumping off point for a little exploration.

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The ibis Styles Hotel is part of the Accor Group and is situated on Egan Street just minutes walk from the town centre.

Kalgoorlie’s beginning

It’s fascinating to think that the city of Kalgoorlie Boulder owes its origin to one of the biggest gold rushes ever which really began in 1893 when three down on their luck Irishmen discovered gold.

Paddy Hannan, Dan Shea and Tom Flanagan were itinerant prospectors in search of their fortunes, and at a spot now marked humbly with a plaque and a tree, not far from the main street in Kalgoorlie, they found gold.

I try to imagine their excitement as I visit the spot, swatting a fly from my eyes and pulling my hat down over my ears against the heat, and think that it was probably a bleak stretch of land back then, but the promise of riches must have made up the scenery.

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Paddy Hannan discovered gold at this spot in 1893.

Gold changed the face of Western Australia

Paddy was an experienced prospector who had worked on mines in New Zealand, Tasmania and other parts of Australia, and he was almost 50 years old when he made an application for a reward claim which was known as Hannan’s Find, a find which started a gold rush.

I knew that gold was an inherent part of the Western Australian economy, but didn’t realise that prior to the gold rushes the small European population had struggled to survive.

It’s amazing to think that within 3 days of Paddy Hannan’s find hundreds of miners began prospecting in the area, because those men would have walked for weeks in all kinds of weather to get to the goldfields with bicycles, wheelbarrows or whatever they had to carry their meager belongings.

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Today, and maybe not surprisingly, the town still retains an Irish charm because we encountered what seemed to be a large population of young Irish people not only manning the bars but also enjoying the nightlife after hours, and although Kalgoorlie’s residents number around 30,000 and include many other nationalities from around the globe, it was the Irish contingent that captured my attention.

Boom and Bust in Western Australia

Modern day Kalgoorlie remains a mining town steeped in history, a history through which it’s breathed in and out to the beat of mining for over a hundred years. On a visit to Kalgoorlie you’ll be aware of the busts and booms, the living history, and the reasons for its existence so far from anywhere and you’ll feel as if you’re on an an island, surrounded not by water but by what appears to be a sea of barren earth.

“Before 1893 the goldfields of Australia were the 5th largest semi arid forest in the world,” our tour guide Norm tells us, “But those forests were destroyed within 75 years as the trees were used for buildings and fencing as well as tramways and shafts in the mines.”

Kalgoorlie’s genesis was as a mining town, but it’s now merged with nearby Boulder to become a major centre in the Nullarbor Plain.

Boulder, below, was looking seasonally pretty with jacarandas and kangaroo paws blooming.

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The town of Boulder is now considered part of Kalgoorlie, and there are many old buildings in the main street. Although an earthquake in 2010 damaged many of them.

It’s importance as a business centre is fairly obvious because on the plane flying across from Perth (1 hour ) on a weekday morning there were no children and only two women passengers, and it’s safe to assume that the majority of men were all on business, or  work associated with mining, classically a male dominated profession.

Little Traffic

On our way back to the airport on Sunday morning we are there in a jiffy and hardly saw another car. Kalgoorlie certainly doesn’t suffer from gridlock, and its streets are wide and straight as if waiting for an influx or traffic, but we are told they were constructed to accommodate large camel trains because many camels were brought across from South Australia to haul mining goods.

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Wide streets and little traffic characterise Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie’s personalities

While Paddy Hannan is credited with discovering gold, Charles Yelverton O’Connor is the man who brought water to Kalgoorlie, not only for residential purposes but also for use in the mines.

I read at the WA Museum that as thousands of people headed to the gold fields water became a priority. In 1894 typhoid was rampant and water was scarce, the main source being a Government bore sunk to just 52 metres where men queued for hours to have their water bags filled with a brackish liquid costing one shilling a gallon, quite a sum at the time.

In fact back then a glass full of water was costing more than a glass of whisky, and O’Connor, a brilliant engineer, masterminded a solution – a tunnel that would eventually run over 500kms from Mundaring near Perth to the Goldfields. So stressful was this project for O’Connor that he felt he was losing his mind, and just 10 months before water began pumping he went out on his horse for a ride and shot himself.

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There are other blood curdling tales in Kalgoorlie’s eventful history from stories of cold blooded murder in the bar of the Australia Hotel, to policemen being killed and dismembered when on the hunt for gold robbers, to the race riots of 1934, to Hay Street’s notorious and titillating reputation.

Kalgoorlie Bordellos and Brothels

Yes, Hay Street was once stacked pillar to post with brothels – two of which still operate today, while another, Langtrees, is now run as an up-market guest house.

You can tour Casa Questa Bordello at 3pm each day, but you’ll need to book because this tour sells out quickly!

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Then there’s President Hoover’s poem

Herbert Hoover had lodgings in the upmarket Palace Hotel and apparently fell in love with a barmaid. When he left a poem was found by a chamber maid, tucked behind the mirror in his room and it’s assumed it was written for, but not given to, his sweetheart. Hoover went on to become 31st President of the United States and donated the huge mirror in the hallway to the hotel.

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Inside the grand foyer of the Palace Hotel and the cafe which is open until 5pm. Upstairs is a grand restaurant with a balcony and to the left of the mirror is the poem that Herbert Hoover is alleged to have penned.

The Super Pit

Just outside Kalgoorlie is an awe inspiring and massive hole in the ground, big enough to house a town and I was quite unprepared for its enormity.

Known as the Super Pit it’s one of the biggest open cut mines in the world and forms the ‘Golden Mile’, which is touted as the richest square mile of gold bearing earth in the world.

Dwarfed by the size of it

Peering down into the Super Pit from a look out made me feel like a dwarf, and quite insignificant in the general scheme of things. Massive trucks are worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year way, wending their way filled with expensive dirt along a gravel stretch of road that is 8kms from top to the base of the pit. Looking down on them they looked like toy town miniatures, although I knew that up close they are monsters.

It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago this stretch of land was just flat ground, and for Dave who had once worked there it must have felt unreal.

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Permission was obtained to post these photos of the Super Pit (30.10.13)

Currently the Super Pit is around 600metres deep, 3.5 km long, 2km wide and this giant of a man made hole in the ground is all the more peculiar because you can see little pock marks along the walls, which are in fact the old mine shafts and tunnels some dating back over 100 years – many still with their old timber frames and structures which have to be hauled out and disposed of.

Old shafts still being discovered

“Over 3,500kms of shafts have been found so far around Kalgoorlie,” our tour guide tells us, “And the old mine shafts are full of timber.”

“In the olden days the miners followed the rich seams but now they have to mine much lower grades in a more efficient ways, moving huge amounts of earth, digging much deeper into the ground,” our guide says. “Today about 800,000 ounces of gold are produced from the Super Pit each year.”

Fast Fact

The pit operates 24 hours a day, and you can book a 1.5 or 2.5 hour tour with Kalgoorlie Tours and Charters, or head to the lookout platform which you’ll find just off the Goldfields Highway.

What does the future hold for the Super Pit?

Looking down at this massive scar in the earth’s crust makes me wonder what will  become  of it when the Super Pit closes in 2021.

Our guide suggests that it might become Australia’s Las Vegas, or a giant inland lake, or a race track.

But what will happen to all those folks employed on the mine – where will they find work? What impact will the mine’s closure in 2021 have on the town itself seeing as we are told by our guide that millions of dollars flow through the town each year with the mine locally sourcing as many items as possible

He also tells us that, “There’s no fly in fly out arrangement at KCGM, you must live here to work here – this means that families stay together and money stays in the town.”

It will be interesting to see how Kalgoorlie reinvents itself in the future. Perhaps it will become primarily a tourist town because there’s certainly a lot of history to discover.

In the next post on ZigaZag I’ll be bringing you a what to do, and where to go guide, so be sure to check back for more intrigue about Kalgoorlie, won’t you?

Where to stay in Kalgoorlie

The ibis Styles Kalgoorlie is a comfortable and convenient hotel located near the centre of town on Egan Street, and only 5kms from the airport. It has a bright and light restaurant, a bar and an outdoor swimming pool –  you can dine al fresco in good weather.

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Our air conditioned room had a balcony overlooking jacaranda trees and with views of the Ivanhoe headgear at the WA museum, whilst the restaurants, historic buildings and shops of Hannan Street were only a couple of minutes walk away.

Bedrooms are spacious and contain all that you need for a short stay, including three things that are important on my check list; a well lit writing desk (bliss), doors that open to a balcony, and welcome complimentary bottles of water.

Whilst I stayed at the ibis Styles Kalgoorlie renovations were taking place and by the end of November, the hotel rooms will  have a bright new look – which I’d love to go back and discover one day. Below you can see pictures of  how the rooms will look when they are refurbished.

160713ibisth Ibis Styles Kalgoorlie. Photo: TOM HUNTLEY

Internet access is available at a cost. The hotel reception is open 24 hours and is manned by friendly and helpful staff. Parking is free.  An extensive breakfast buffet consists of a complimentary continental breakfast, with a paid cooked breakfast option and the restaurant is open for dinner too.

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What I really loved was the proximity to everything, and despite not having a car it meant that I could walk to all the major sights, restaurants and to the information centre to book tours.

Disclaimer : I was hosted by the ibis Styles Kalgoorlie.

If you enjoy travel stories please check out some of the ‘Travel Blogs I Heart‘ in the right hand sidebar. If you write a Travel Blog and would like to be added to the list, please leave a comment below and I’ll pop over to your blog for a look.   I’ve just added the following great sites:-

yTravelBlog

A Taste of Travel

Get in the Hot Spot

Life Images by Jill

Not a Ballerina

Travel PhotoThursday,

Travel Photo Mondays,

Tuesdays Around the World

Our World Tuesday

Anyone been to Kalgoorlie for either work or play – or would you like to visit this historic town?

Until next time,

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Comments

  1. Lovely place, I wish to visit someday…
    Muza-chan recently posted..Traditional Japanese clothing, Taiko-musubi knotsMy Profile

  2. Hope you get there one day – it will be sooo different from your normal stomping ground ;) Thanks for popping by.

  3. Loved this post Jo :)
    The wonderful old buildings of Kalgoorlie and it’s gold mining history!
    Fascinating how a place changes and develops in living memory – and in just another 8 years that super pit that didn’t even exist when Dave was last there exploring for minerals will have been exhausted leaving a massive void!
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings recently posted..Kakadu – Twin Falls – GungkurdulMy Profile

  4. Leigh
    Twitter:
    says:

    My husband is a geologist and for most of his career has been chasing gold. He’s been to some fascinating places on the planet because of gold – including Papua New Guinea – but he’s never been to Western Australia. He’d love the place and I’d be happy to go along. That’s a very cool shot of the open pit mine.
    Leigh recently posted..Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park – Part IIMy Profile

  5. Mike says:

    Between the saloons and brothels it was looked like visiting the older parts of Nevada here where I live! But, the thing I was absolutely fascinated about was The Pit, Johanna. That is amazing!! I would definitely take the longer tour to see that. Fantastic post! :)
    Mike recently posted..My Golden Retriever Phoenix’s Seasonal Affective DisorderMy Profile

  6. You go on the highest of adventures! This town seems fascinating, and in some ways really reminds me of New Orleans sans the large open mine. There are salt mines deep in the ground, but nothing like this. Loved the story of the mirror, how lovely that it was graced with your image, as well. The part about the brothel made me bashful. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have peeked inside.
    Mary Martin recently posted..What the heck is an “Anti-Authority” – Mission 17 of the Momentum ChallengeMy Profile

  7. Thanks Mary and I’m glad that you liked the story about the mirror – I found the tale fascinating too. Yes, me too, the brothel tour threw up mixed feelings – I wanted to peek inside but couldn’t because the door was firmly shut and the tour was full – so that ended my conundrum!

  8. Glad you enjoyed your virtual tour to the Super Pit, Mike. It is an incredible man made wonder. Sounds like Nevada would be just the sort of place I’d enjoy writing stories about too :)

  9. Hi Leigh, that’s a coincidence, isn’t it! Who knows maybe our paths will cross in the future, and yes, as a geologist your hubby would be fascinated with Western Australia and it’s ancient landforms and expensive ‘dirt’.

  10. Hi Linda, Yes, I think that’s what really got to me too, that a place can change and develop in living memory to such an extent and as you say the Super Pit will probably leave a massive void in more ways than one.

  11. HI Joanna,
    Kalgoorlie — I love the name and the sound of it! I thinks it is a fascinating town with a lot interesting tales and history. Being the home to the biggest cut mine and having the richest gold bearing earth give the town an even greater story. I’m sure all these history will help play in reinventing the town after the closure of the Super Pit.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Thimphu, Bhutan (Part 2): The Archery, Chorten, Artisans and MoreMy Profile

  12. Hi Marisol, thanks for reading Kalgoorlie, and yes you have to think that its history will play a part in helping the town reinvent itself after the Super Pit closes. It will be interesting to see what does happen in the years to come, and hopefully the town will prosper somehow else, and won’t become a ghost town.

  13. Neva Fels
    Twitter:
    says:

    We have a “super pit” in Salt Lake City and it’s the Kennecott mine. It’s so big, it can be seen from outer space. They mine a very small amount of gold along with many other metals. Kalgoorlie is an interesting and historical place.
    Neva Fels recently posted..Healthy Stuff is GreenMy Profile

  14. Hi Neva, wow, that’s so interesting. I’d love to see pics of your Super Pit in Salt Lake City too.

  15. It really does have a feel of a gold mining town in the Old West here in the US. I love reading about the colorful and interesting history of Kalgoorlie. I don’t know why hippies came to mind when I first saw the name :) I hope it becomes a tourist town for the sake of the people who will lose their jobs at the mine.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Bone Church Artistry in the Czech RepublicMy Profile

  16. So, there are still some brothels that are in operation in the original line of business? Oh my! Kalgoorlie sounds both charming and quaint, yet with a interesting history. I’m glad that it hasn’t turned into a ghost town like many places in America that were abandoned after the Gold Rush. I hope they’ll be able to turn the Super Pit into something useful for the economy after the mining ceases.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Flying over the HimalayasMy Profile

  17. Oh my, now you have me adding another place to my, “when we go back to Australia” list. What a wonderful place!
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Song of the South . . .Pacific, that is!My Profile

  18. Hi Jackie, well I’m very glad about that :)

  19. hi Michele, yes they really are still in existence but I think the most lucrative side of the business is the tours! Me too, hope Kalgoorlie continues to prosper and manages to reinvent in the future.

  20. That’s interesting Mary. I wonder why hippies came to mind ;) Curious :) Yes, hoping Kal reinvents somehow too.

  21. Calling by as promised to your delightful blog, so pleased to have found each other, looking forward to following you. :)
    LindyLouMac recently posted..Talyllyn Lake to Ty Te Cadair Tea RoomMy Profile

  22. Hello Lindy, thank you, and likewise, nice to have met you :)

  23. Hi Jo,

    So appreciate you adding me to your list of hot reads :) Much appreciated – I am honored and have added you to my list too – you were already on it but now it’s official – see Get In the Hot Spot home page x A
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot recently posted..52 Exercises: Noosa Triathlon Fun RunMy Profile

  24. Thank you Annabel, that’s awesome news :) I’m sure ZigaZag readers will also enjoy Get in the Hot Spot too :)

  25. such an awesome place! I love it! I like the clear sky on Kalgoorlie highway. It reminds me of road trips I had when I was on my twenties. Very nice history. I’m sure a lot of people will visit it one of these days because of your post. keep writing! :)

  26. Thank you David, I’m glad you enjoyed reading and it brought back memories.

  27. I’ve been to Kalgoorlie a couple of times, but I have never seen the Paddy Hannan tree! only his statue in the main street. Obviously I have never read by guide book properly. Next time I will have to look for it. I love the old buildings in Kalgoorlie. It is reputed to once had a pub on every corner – I can believe it. Did you go out to the “two-up school” ?
    Life Images by Jill recently posted..Rock formations and wildflowers in the Gawler Ranges National Park, South AustraliaMy Profile

  28. I too can believe the pub on every corner – I think there were over 60 in Kalgoorlie at one stage. There was a ‘two-up’ shed at Hannans Mine, but I don’t think that was the school you mention. How fascinating that two-up needs a school!

  29. Great write-up Jo, I haven’t been to Kalgoorlie in about 15 years but still want to get there soon – in fact I’m reading a great novel set in Kalgoorlie at the moment (“Heist”) so your post is very timely!

    Also thanks a billion for adding my blog to your list (it’s a lovely list, too!) xx
    Amanda Kendle recently posted..Cruisin’ along: Because one day I’m going to take a cruiseMy Profile

  30. Thanks Amanda, great that you enjoyed it. What a coincidence that you’re reading a novel set in Kalgoorlie. I think I must read it too :) Pleasure, love my travel blogging buddies :)

  31. Hi Jo,

    What a wonderful article. I’m so pleased you enjoyed Kalgoorlie Boulder!
    If anyone is thinking about a visit, check out our website, http://www.kalgoorlietourism.com for all the latest news and information, or download our free iphone app!

    Thanks again Jo, and if you’re ever back in town please pop in and say hi to us at the Visitor Centre!

    Amy Johnston
    Kalgoorlie Boulder Visitor Centre General Manager

  32. Hello Amy, Thank you for popping by :) The free iphone app is a great idea. I’m glad you liked the article :)

  33. Wanda says:

    What a great post. Kalgoorlie is such an eclectic place. There is just so much to explore given the history and the way the town has developed. I particularly love the idea of the ibis hotel. It looks like a great place to retreat to after a full day of exploring and the relative ‘shock’ of seeing those topless girls pouring beer in a main street pub.

  34. Hi Wanda, Yes, the Ibis Hotel is definitely a great place to retreat to not too far from the town centre, but far enough from the ‘skimpies’!

  35. Great post – Then Australia Hotel looks as though it could have stepped out of New Orleans…beautiful architecture.
    Michele Peterson recently posted..Body and soul: massage therapy in MexicoMy Profile

  36. I’ve never heard of Kalgoorlie. The old part reminds me of the frontier west in the 1800s in the USA, many of which were gold boom towns.
    santafetraveler recently posted..Croatian Christmas Magic : Advent in ZagrebMy Profile

  37. I’d love to see those old frontier west towns one day too :)

  38. Yes, Michele those old hotels are amazing aren’t they. The Australia Hotel was the first that captured my attention. I’d love to get to New Orleans one day too.

  39. It’s interesting how much the Wild West and gold rush of Australia makes me think of our similar eras here in the U.S. That’s an interesting bit of trivia about Herbert Hoover and the letter. I think I’d really enjoy a visit to Kalgoorlie the way you describe it.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Buonvivere: Good Living in CesenaMy Profile

  40. Hi Cathy, yes people keep on saying how similar Kalgoorlie looks and feels to the same eras in the US. I hoped my American readers would find the trivia about Herbert Hoover interesting, so thanks for picking up on that!

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