Kalgoorlie, an outback town located 600 kilometres east of Perth, is a snapshot of Australia’s past, present and future, writes Margaret Ambrose.
Established in the late 1800s, the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie led to its creation and triggered the Western Australia Gold Rush. The town has since maintained its role as an economic powerhouse, today still providing one tenth of the world’s gold.
History buffs flock to Kalgoorlie. Almost as if understanding the role the town would play in the history of Australia, town leaders throughout the decades have painstakingly preserved the historic buildings and landmarks, which are visible thanks to the wide streets. The efforts have paid off – Kalgoorlie is one of the grandest and impressive-looking outback towns of Western Australia, and to many, stands as a symbol of the prosperity of the region thanks to gold mining.
An easy way to experience Kalgoorlie’s past is to stroll through the city centre where examples of the town’s mining history can be seen in the miners’ cottages and grander buildings, like the Town Hall.
In 1989, Kalgoorlie and its sister town Boulder were amalgamated and are now both colloquially referred to as Kalgoorlie.
Before European settlement, the Kalgoorlie area was home to the Maduwangka people. The name Kalgoorlie is an Indigenous word for silky pear bush, a plant that is native to the area.
White man first began to take notice of the land that was to become Kalgoorlie in 1893, when three down-on-their-luck Irish gold prospectors, Paddy Hannan, Dan Shea and Tom Flannagan, discovered eight pounds of gold nuggets near Mount Charlotte. Word of the fi nd quickly spread via the robust ‘bush telegraph’ and within a matter of days 700 gold diggers had pegged out claims in the area. The gold frenzy continued and within months Kalgoorlie had become the centre of the eastern goldfields of Western Australia. As hoards of prospectors flooded into Kalgoorlie, the Gold Rush was born. In just 10 years the population reached over 30,000.
The growth of the town had been more rapid than the building of any infrastructure and this led to lawlessness – the town was reputed to be made up of bandits and prostitutes — and the spread of disease. So, while men arrived in Kalgoorlie with dreams of striking it rich, many left shattered and broke or not at all.
By the turn of the century mining had commenced in the area just south of Kalgoorlie in the region that came to be known as The Golden Mile, which is still mined today.
A mining town
Kalgoorlie is still a mining town, and at the source of this industry is the magnificent Super Pit. The Super Pit is 3.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide, and extracts 800,000 ounces of gold annually. Want to know how big a mine of this size is? Uluru would sit comfortably in the Super Pit.
The Super Pit is the brainchild of disgraced businessman Alan Bond, who purchased a number of mine leases to create one mega mine. Occasionally, miners still unearth equipment from a mine’s previous life. The mine operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is expected to be productive until 2017, at which time it will be abandoned and allowed to fill with groundwater, taking an estimated 50 years to fill.
Kalgoorlie is also home to the annual Diggers and Dealers conference, Australia’s most important international mining conference, which is held every August.
The historic buildings and landmarks make walking around the town during the day a step back in time to Australia’s gold mining past – but at night, Kalgoorlie transforms into a vibrant entertainment hub, with stylish and cosmopolitan clubs, bars and restaurants. In particular, Hannan Street, named after one of the founding fathers of the town, is renowned for its vibrant nightlife, and Hay Street for being the town’s red light district.
The pub has always been a hallowed institution in Kalgoorlie – during the Gold Rush there were 93 hotels and eight breweries. The tradition lives on and today there is a pub on practically every street corner.
However, September is the month things really step up a notch, when party-goers flock to Kalgoorlie for the famous week-long XXXX Gold Kalgoorlie Cup horse racing carnival.
Kalgoorlie is home to Australia’s only legalised Two-Up school, where visitors are schooled in the rules, techniques and history of this iconic pastime. The school itself is a corrugated iron shed at the end of a dusty dirt road, and that just adds to the ambiance of the experience.
Nullarbor Links Golf Course
The Nullarbor Links Golf Course is the stuff that golfers’ dreams are made of, stretching a whopping 1,365 kilometres, beginning or ending in Kalgoorlie, depending from which end you start! Holes in this 18-hole par 72 golf course are located at participating roadhouses along the Eyre Highway from Ceduna to Kalgoorlie.
Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame
Kalgoorlie’s first gold mine has been preserved and visitors can go back in time as they descend 36 metres underground, and are escorted through caves and tunnels by a retired minor offering a wealth of local history and enthralling stories. Visitors can also learn how to pan for gold and try their hand at striking it rich.
The Goldfields Oasis Recreation Centre
The focal point for leisure and recreation in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the Goldfields Oasis Recreation Centre is home to sports courts, a heated pool including a children and infants wading section, health club and café.
PICK OF THE HANNAN STREET RESTAURANTS
With so many restaurants to sample in the famous Hannan Street, here’s a list that can help narrow the choice:
Paddy’s Ale House
135 Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie
As the name suggests, ‘Paddy’s’ serves traditional Irish food with the occasional Australian or American dish on the side. Being one of the few pubs in the world that can boast over 20 brands of beer on tap, Paddy’s kitchen never closes, making it a convenient choice day or night.
137 Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie
If you want to see how the other half lived during the Gold Rush, check out the Hover Café. Decorated with old world charm, including chesterfield lounges, the restaurant is adorned with artworks featuring the Gold Rush history. The Hoover Cafe delivers country-style cuisine slash pub food with a cozy ambience.
Cnr Hannan and Throssell Streets, Kalgoorlie
Katherine Station Restaurant serves up delicious meals with a distinct outback, native Australian twist. Popular choices include the Game Plate, with kangaroo and crocodile fillets and emu sausage, as well as the creamy pumpkin soup infused with wattle seed and lemon myrtle and macadamia nut risotto.
Blue Monkey Restaurant
418 Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie
It’s a big call, but the Blue Monkey Restaurant is said by many to serve the best breakfasts in Kalgoorlie, in relaxed yet funky surrounds.
Bombay Palace Indian Restaurant
409 Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie
It’s Indian cuisine for those who fancy a bit of sub-continental fare, but Australian cuisine with a hint of Indian for those a little less adventurous. This charming restaurant has an alfresco area as well as a restaurant bar and is renowned for its sirloin steaks, creamy garlic prawns and oysters.