Contradictions add up to a whole lot of fun in Kalgoorlie.
I find Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields so dissonant: here’s a kangaroo lying asleep among a snowdrift of golf balls on Kalgoorlie Golf Club’s driving range. Presumably experience has taught it where it is safe to lie for it’s oblivious to the swipe and thwack of earnest golfers not that far away.
The golf course itself is contradictory, too: rich, green fairways on their sweep down slopes from woodlands of glossy bronze gimlet trees to a large bubbling dam are bordered by the familiar rust of stony ground.
And there’s Hannan’s Tourist Mine. I put my near-phobia of attractions containing the word “tourist” down to past experiences of tack and cheesiness. Hannan’s is very different. The first two groups of people I came across were locals: young kids and their mums panning for gold (the girls) or on with their hard hats and clambering up a massive haul truck (the boys). It’s a good sign when locals visit a tourist attraction, a bit like finding, say, an Indian restaurant occupied by Indian people: you know it’s likely to be good. And Hannan’s is.
It is an outdoor experience covering so many areas and eras of mining: from the small panning pond to the massive haul truck, from displays of prospectors’ canvas camps to mining offices, Coolgardie safes and safety chambers, head frames and bulldozers.
And then the contradiction: tucked away from the main display area is an unobtrusive arrangement of three pagodas, a bridge over a pond with koi carp spectral in the tranquil waters below a small waterfall. Restful gardens, hand built by Chinese craftsmen, are a contrast to the industry and Goldfields landscape surrounding the site. It is an enchanting place to pause and ponder — or fire up a barbecue.
There’s the Super Pit, too. Some advice: definitely go to see the Super Pit. There are amazing tours into the Pit available, or you can go, as we did, to the lookout. The enormous bucket by the platform there indicates the scale you discover as you look into the maw of this massive mine, watching dozens of tiny haul trucks, each carrying their loads out of the depths. A golf ball of gold lies spattered through each of these 350 tonne loads, I am told.
I have more advice: don’t expect the daily blowing up of dirt to be on time. Although we arrived 15 minutes early, we were peeved to have already missed the spectacle.
And Boulder: a stone’s throw from the boom and ceaseless rumble of the Pit lies a street or two of glorious gold rush architecture. Having survived the vagaries of gold mining, economic turbulence and earthquakes, these beautifully preserved and in some cases restored buildings reward a wander around Kalgoorlie’s more peaceful neighbour. Again the contrast: at one end of the street there’s the brash expediency of a mineshaft in a bar, once a short cut for thirsty miners. At the other, the federation architecture of hotels and municipal buildings and, in between, the original shop- fronts suggest poise and prestige.
I suppose it has always been thus: an area which, barren yet rich, supports an industry which lives and dies, like the communities that burgeon and wither with it, on the shift in price of a few dollars per ounce, or the difference in yield of a few ounces per tonne of a precious metal. But don’t be fooled by the large, brash machines, the high-vis, the skimpies and the big talk: the Goldfields was born and raised on equal measures of daring and decorum. It’s what makes the place exciting, gives it its heart.
Above all, it’s what makes it fun to discover.
More on travel in the Goldfields at goldfieldstourism.com.au
Disclaimer Andy Tyndall was a guest of of the Goldfields Tourism Network.
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