There are not too many places in WA where you can claim to be staying in an American president’s former bedroom — but in the ghost town of Gwalia, you can do just that.
The gates are locked, the day’s visitors long gone — we have the place to ourselves. The whole museum. All of it. A nearly full moon casts enough light for us to see, from our seat on the veranda, tussocky ground sweeping up and away to a stark peak to the east: Mt Leonora. Straight ahead lies a dusting of lights a few kilometres away: that’s the Goldfields town of Leonora.
We are staying tonight at Hoover House, named after the 31st president of the US.
When Herbert Hoover was manager here in 1898, he commissioned this, the mine manager’s house, at Gwalia.
There are not too many places in WA where you can claim to be staying in an American president’s former bedroom.
The scene and silence from the veranda have, I suspect, changed very little since Hoover’s time. The action, such as it is, is on the other side of the house, where tall trees and a chain-link fence at the end of a lush green lawn prevent guests falling into the mine pit. A cluster of lights on the far rim and the gentle hum of industry prove the mine is still, after all these years, keeping busy in its quest for gold.
Inside the house, big bedrooms lie to one side of a high, wide, central passage. Hoover’s room is big, set out very much as it would have been in his era: the bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers are all of that period. A wash jug and basin sit on top of an antique cabinet as decoration: a huge ensuite is there to wash away the day’s dust.
The floorboards throughout the house are original Oregon pine of Hoover’s time. Opposite the bedrooms, a big dining room shows off period furniture, some of it brought by Hoover. It is a rare opportunity for those camping their way around the region’s Golden Quest Discovery Trail to rest in elegant style before setting off on the next part of the journey.
We walk around the straggle of turn-of-the-century homes at the base of the hill below Hoover’s house.
Gwalia was Leonora’s older twin, and the two were locked in battle for survival in the gold years. Leonora won. Gwalia, perfectly maintained by Leonora residents, is now one of Australia’s few genuine ghost towns, a testament to the harsh life of those early gold-rush years.
Leonora itself is worth a walk around, too. It is the home of the annual Golden Gift running race, Federation shopfronts on either side of its wide streets and numerous period churches and buildings in backstreets.
The visitor centre offers a heritage trail guidebook detailing fascinating tales and photographs of the significant sites you’ll find on the one-hour leg stretch in this town — one of the survivors of the Goldfields.