The Kalgoorlie-Boulder area was first explored in 1863 by HM Lefroy in pursuit of pastoral land. However, it wasn't until the gold rushes of the north-west of the state declined that miners began to explore the area, with a little added incentive from the Government with a offer of a reward of 500-1000 pounds for the first discovery of payable gold. The population of white man in the region rapidly grew and camps were spread over hundreds of miles, but none more so than after 1892 when Arthur Bayley registered his Reward Claim with a find of 554 ounces of gold from Fly Flat in Coolgardie. The WA Goldfields was born.
In 1893 three Irish prospectors, Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Daniel Shea on their treck east were forced to camp overnight at Mt Charlotte, when one of their horses lost a shoe. It was the luck of the Irish, because they collected 100 ounces of alluvial nuggets over next few days . After Hannan registered the Reward Claim in Coolgardie on June 17 1893, the gold rush was on. Further south two other prospectors located further large gold deposits which the began the now famous "Golden Mile".
In just a few years, the Goldfields became the economic and political centre of Western Australia, when hundreds of mining companies were floated to speculate on the rich reefs. Men came from all over the world, often dragging their families in tow to the harsh outback climate. They were unprepared for the harsh conditions, and often carried inadequate supplies. Living in hessian or canvas huts with no sanitation and few medical supplies caused diseases such as scurvy, dysentery and typhoid also claimed the lives of many.
Water became a valuable commodity, as it was in short supply and sold for 1 shilling a gallon, equivalent to 50c per litre by today's standards. Thousands died from thirst or from drinking contaminated water. In 1903 the quality of life transformed overnight with the completion of the Perth-Goldfields Pipeline, engineered by the brilliant State Engineer Chief CY O'Connor. Water was to travel through 557km of pipeline, driven by eight steam pumping stations, into the Mt Charlotte Reservoir. Unfortunately O'Connor never lived to see the benefits of his feat, when unable to cope any longer with the widespread criticism of his scheme, O'Connor tragically took his own life.
Big companies soon started to mine deep underground. Headframes littered the Golden Mile and with tailings and mullock dumps, and were soon to become historic symbols of the Goldfields. Since the discovery of gold, the Kalgoorlie gold deposits have produced over 50,000,000 ounces (1400 tonnes) of gold, much more than has been extracted from any one other source in Australia.
Today the Goldfields is a sample of living history. Headframes are still visible across the landscape, heritage building still adhorn Kalgoorlie and the satellite towns, and while society has evolved the lifestyle hasn't. It is still a booming mining region due to sensitive technologies used for surveying for deposits. Miners still live or "fly-in, fly-out", many being 7th generation Goldfields families who continue to work in the Goldfields. There's always a wave 'hello' or a drink at one of the historic hotel bars.
06 Sep 2015