There are great drives and gold rush history in WA's Goldfields.
I’m glad I didn’t cycle the Old Laverton Road. Picturesque, wide and level, picking its way past breakaways, descending through the scrubland to cross Lake Raeside and away east on to the floodplains, the 160km section from Kookynie to Laverton is now part of the Golden Quest Discovery Trail.
But in the mid 1890s, when the good Dr Laver made the journey from Coolgardie on a bicycle, it must have been little more than a track.
He had no railway to choose nor accompany him as we do now. Along the length of the road as it sweeps north from Kookynie to Malcolm, once the administrative centre of the area, and now a busy railway siding for a nearby nickel mine, a pair of parallel glistening rails accompany the traveller.
After Malcolm, the railway is replaced by what is left of its predecessor: an embankment strewn with sleepers for kilometre after kilometre.
Dr Laver arrived at his destination, some small, recently discovered goldmines and, to cut a long story very short, stoked up promotion of and investment in the area, making numerous trips to Britain to do so.
When a town site was finally gazetted, it was, aptly, named after him.
Now is a good time of year to make the journey to Laverton. Cool weather, a few wildflowers after summer rains and a decent amount of wildlife is to be seen along the way.
Although the two dingoes we saw were not about to slow down for a picture opportunity, a mob of camels on the outskirts of Laverton was more obliging and there is no shortage of hawks and eagles.
There is also no shortage of signs of the busyness which once swept the region.
The old railway, the last major extension to the Goldfields network was built within six months to connect Laverton to other centres. The embankment and sleepers remain, as do sturdy bridges constructed to carry the lines over the floodways and creeks which could, and still do, periodically flood the region.
Also along the way are information signs, the sole evidence of towns which once stood there: Malcolm, Eulaminna, Murrin Murrin, Mt Morgans, Hawks Nest.
The municipal chambers at Mt Morgans is the only building standing testament to those heady days of the gold rush.
We follow the Golden Quest guidebook and app to locate places behind the tales of places and people: the literal race to secure plots in Mt Morgans; John Aspinall — a young New Zealander killed by lightning at Hawks Nest and, if you are diligent and read the directions carefully, the story of the twin graves at Red Flag.
I loved stopping at these places — apart from the small buzz of standing at the site of some of these tales, it’s the enveloping silence after turning off the engine, the gentle rush of a desert breeze through the scrub confirming the timelessness of the area and the transience of human efforts. A rickety stockyard fence at Red Flag, a solitary chimney and scattering of ruby dock plants, descendants of seeds spilt from cameleers’ saddlebags at Murrin Murrin, the crumbling platforms at Mt Morgans ...
Laverton is different. Some children are running along by a water tanker laughing in the drenching spray. Things are happening here.
Although it is the easternmost point of our journey around the Golden Quest Trail, Laverton is the westernmost end of the world’s Longest Shortcut: if you fancy driving to or from Cairns, you can shave a few thousand kilometres off the “usual” route by travelling via Laverton and Winton, Queensland. And The Great Beyond Visitor Centre is there to help you start or recover from that journey.
The centre stocks bush spices, books on explorers, adventurers and history, travel permits for the interior, road advice, local information, beautifully arranged displays and an engrossing audiovisual presentation on early exploration in the inhospitable interior. Their coffee is good too.
Just around the corner is the spacious, light Outback Gallery specialising in traditional crafts: spears, paintings, materials, emu eggs are all available to view and buy.
We also visited the immaculately restored Old Police Complex. It consists of three well-displayed buildings: the residence, the office and the jail. Of these, the jail is the eye-opener: it is “functional”, to put it mildly: three cells open on to a small yard off which is a barely private dunny. The building is cased in tin, the yard covered by chain-link fencing and the cells’ heavy iron grill doors and tin cladding must have made doing time there challenging in the extremes of desert weather.
But S. Shaw was not going to let the system grind him down: on the interior of one of the wooden doors he has scratched his name and “16 months. I can do it mate, real easy”.
Fortunately, with a hotel, motel and a caravan park in town, there are alternative accommodation options for the law abiding.
- For full details on the Golden Quest Discovery Trail, go to goldenquesttrail.com.
You may also like
Arrivals & Departures: Warm up your winter
It’s customary to complain about the onset of winter, but we've compiled some holiday ideas that are just perfect for the season no matter where in WA you want to spend it.
Travel Story: East Pilbara Guide: Region gleaming with rich history
An ancient land, a natural beauty, a touch of the real outback of Australia awaits in the East Pilbara.
Travel Story: Goldfields gems: History & colourful characters in Coolgardie
With the weather cooling down, now’s the time to plan a midyear trip into the Goldfields.