Arrivals & Departures Kalgoorlie through old eyes

Pubs, museums, pipelines and gold - take a road trip to unearth Kalgoorlie's rich heritage.

The story of Western Australia’s first premier Sir John Forrest and ‘The Chief’ – Charles Yelverton O’Connor as he was known – has been covered numerous times and was even turned into a documentary titled ‘Pipe Dreams’ as part of the Constructing Australia series. 

Many Perth residents would have made the trip to Mundaring over the years to see the dam across the Helena River, hear about the pipeline tale at the Number One pumping station and to enjoy some hospitality in the hills. However, travelling to Kalgoorlie gives you the other side of the story – how the life-giving water helped stabilise the towns along the way to the Goldfields, how it guaranteed health and work on the diggings, provided power for trains and industry and kept the state’s economy flourishing.

While the pipeline and C.Y. O’Connor has often been the subject, Kalgoorlie has a lot to offer and its own story to tell, which is instantly apparent when you drive along Hannan Street and step back in time to the 1900s. 

To dig deeper and guide you around the architectural marvels a good recommendation is an audio tour, which can be obtained from the Visitors Centre. It begins right at the Centre, located in the Town Hall (1908), where the magnificent theatre stalls iron-framed, red velvet tip seats invite you to imagine a performance by Dame Nellie Melba or Percy Grainger.

The Sporting Hall of Fame and Goldfields War Museum are located in the upstairs foyer and just near the grand jarrah staircase is the original sculpture of Patrick Hannan – the one outside the Centre on Hannah Street is a replica.

The tour takes you to the main hotels – the Australia, the Grand, the Duke, the Federal, the Exchange and the Palace – and most are open and you are able to venture past rooms, along decorative corridors and out on to balconies. 

Hanging in many of these creaky corridors are historic photos and the stories they tell are just as impressive as the pressed-tin ceilings, ornate staircases and chandeliers you pass. Boulder is also catered for, and the audio swaps over to tell you the story of the Loopline railways, the secret tunnels and the ghosts in the Metropole Hotel, the Goatcher curtain in the Boulder Town Hall and the Bank of New South Wales.

At the northern end of Hannah Street is the Kalgoorlie-Boulder branch of the WA Museum. Distinctly recognisable by its large, red Ivanhoe Headframe, the museum has a gold vault with a collection of nuggets and jewels, a mezzanine gallery with objects and goldfields artefacts, and a temperature-controlled room with union and society banners dating from the early 1900’s.

Reputedly the narrowest double-storey hotel in the southern hemisphere at 3.2m wide, the British Arms hotel is also located on the museum grounds. This was the first stop for many thirsty workers as the original Loopline rail terminated just across the road. Next to it is an original miner’s cottage, a police wagon and the opulent offices of mining entrepreneur Claude De Bernales.

A few hundred metres along the road to Menzies is Mt Charlotte, the site for the reservoir of water pumped 566km from Mundaring and where John Forrest, then a Federal parliamentarian, paid tribute to the memory of the man responsible for the great scheme. It is also the site where three Irish prospectors, Hannan, Flanagan and O’Shea discovered alluvial gold in 1893. Paddy Hannan is credited with the discovery as it was he who rode to Coolgardie to register the claim.

Continuing a kilometre along the Menzies’ road is Hannan’s North Tourist mine, where 1894 miners’ tents meet a modern CAT 793C haul truck and a 994F loader. A ‘gold’ pour demonstration occurs daily and the presenter’s laid back manner and willingness to tell tales while passing around a real gold bar adds to the experience. 

Another big drawcard at the mine is panning for gold. Anything you find in the base of your pan you can keep – mostly specks but it is well worth trying your luck for the experience. 

The Chinese Garden of Remembrance on the site is calm, reflective and in complete contrast to the red earth and dusty fields surrounding it. The garden pays an effective tribute to those hardy souls who came to the goldfields to mine and work.

The Royal Flying Doctor has a base in Kalgoorlie and for a small $5 fee you can tour the operation's base, discover the history of the service and John Flynn's role and climb aboard one of the Pilatus PC12 aircraft to experience just how important the RFDS is to the lives of those in the outback.

Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines operates the Super Pit, the largest open cut mine in Australia. Tours of the mine run daily and they take you via an air-conditioned bus right to the brink of the dig. 

Wes, our guide, spoke of Alan Bond and his desire to control Kalgoorlie’s mines, until the stock crash of 1987 saw ownership pass to two large companies and KCGM was born to manage the operation. 

For each tonne of rock, around 2.6 grams of gold (a match head) is processed. The life of the mine has been extended for another four years and the pit is currently 600m deep, 1.3km wide and more than 3km in length. Phoning an automated information line will let you know if any blastings are due to take place. This is a sight to see while on tour but a general vantage point is the lookout to the south of the mine on the Golden Quest discovery trail.

The drive to Kalgoorlie takes you through and past many historic towns, all with their own stories and histories. The pipeline runs alongside wheat and canola paddocks, scrubby bush, tall trees and shadows the railway line that continues across the continent. Kalgoorlie beckons, draws you in and returns you to a time where water was precious and fortunes could be made in a day. For todays visitors, the fortune lies in having history and heritage unearthed right before us.


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