On Wednesday morning we arose a bit earlier as we did not have a plan for the day and we were unsure how the next part of our journey was going to pan out. After filling up with fuel we made our way onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway and around 200km later we drove into Norseman, the western gateway to the Nullarbor. Although we did stop half way at Salmon Gums and made ourselves a coffee, there was really not to much else to see on the way. The landscape is very scrubby with no fencing along the roads so a careful watch had to be kept on the roadsides for stray horses, camels, kangaroos, sheep and goats. A herd of goats were the only thing we encountered and they were easily avoided.
Norseman was founded in 1894 by a prospector who named it after his horse who pawed the ground and uncovered a gold nugget. That led to the discovery of one of the richest quartz reefs ever mined in Australia. In November 2002 the current mining company celebrated the extraction of the five millionth ounce of gold from the Norseman operation. The town is surrounded by beautiful dense eucalypt bushland, ancient rock outcrops and large salt lakes.
We decided to stop and have lunch in the town. Our first attempt did not go well. We had just parked up when a couple of young ‘natives’ approached the motorhome and began taking their shirts off as they got closer. Rather than hang around and question this ‘probable innocent tradition’, we turned the key and drove on. One of the advantages of the gypsy lifestyle, if you do not like your neighbours, you simply move. We stopped a kilometre down the road, had a very nice lunch then got back onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway and continued north through Kambalda and on to Kalgoorie. We decided not to overnite stop on that highway – safety first always.
Kalgoorlie, now known as Kalgoorlie-Bolder after Kalgoorlie and Boulder joined, is a city in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. The town was founded in 1893 during the Yilgarn-Goldfields gold rush and is located close to the so-called “Golden Mile”. In the last 115 years there have been more than 80 separate mining operations and 1200 different companies floated to exploit the ‘Golden Mile’. Since the 1890’s, over 54 million ounces of gold has been produced by this extraordinarily rich ‘patch of dirt’.
On Thursday morning we turned up at Kalgoorlie Mining HQ and decided to do a tour of the ‘Super Pit’. The Super Pit is Australia’s largest open pit gold mine at 3.6 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and 512 metres deep. It produces around 850,000 ounces of gold annually. It has literally swallowed up all of the historic underground mines that once comprised the fabled ‘Golden Mile’. The Super Pit was the brainchild of entrepreneur Alan Bond and was eventually brought into being by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) in 1989. The enterprise today employs 800 permanents, 400 contractors and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a 12-hour shift pattern. Interestingly, the mine does not have ‘fly in, fly out’ workers. All employees and contractors live in the township of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Neither of us is really into this type of tour but to be fair we found the 2.5 hours very interesting. Dressed in long pants, long sleeves, fluro jacket, safety glasses and hardhat we made our way around the mine site with twenty others. The whole gold mining thing is quite technical nowadays the reason being that the ‘big’ nuggets have already been found so wealth is being created from extracting the small stuff. The average value of the gold coming from the ‘Super Pit’ today is A$1400 per ounce and it is costing A$1000 per ounce to extract. They are extracting approximately A$3million of gold per day and even after costs that’s not a bad profit for the year. We wouldn’t mind a wee bit of it.
In the late 1890’s with all the gold and extra money moving around, criminals moved in. Theft, murder and armed robbery were common on the roads between diggings. This was the backdrop to Australia’s famous bushranger past. Prostitution was another result of the gold rush era as there were plenty of ‘men with money and with absent or no wives’. Prostitutes were enticed to the goldfields with the promise of easy pickings.
Today we did a tour of Questa Casa, the only original brothel remaining from Kalgoorlie’s ‘wild west’ past. Questa Casa is at least 114 years old and is famous for its ‘starting stalls’ where the girls still throw open these infamous doors nightly. The one-hour tour took us through the historical working areas of the house (not too much imagination needed) from the starting stalls at the front where the ladies ‘attract’ the clients to the entertaining rooms (the Navigator loved the ‘beating’ room). These same rooms have been in use since this house was established. The cramped rooms (freezing in winter, stifling hot in summer), gave a unique insight into the life of those who worked and those who frequented this world famous illegal house. The captain was unsuccessful in his bid to negotiate free samples, senior, aged pension and veterans discounts however he did comment that with the tour costing $20, there would not be many who have spent a pleasant hour in a brothel for a similar amount. A hilarious hour or so was spent at Questa Casa.
The stunning weather has continued during our Kalgoorlie-Bolder visit. Beautifully fine days with temperatures of around 30 – 32C and dropping to 15-17C at night. This is in a total contrast to the weather forecast that was predicting heavy rain, thunderstorms, lightening and temperatures around 39C. If we can get through to Christmas with these temperatures and this type of weather we will be very happy.
For travellers following our trail, do not miss Kalgoorlie-Bolder. It is an area with a great history and lots to see.
We leave here tomorrow (Saturday) and drive west along the Eastern Highway to Coolgardie. We are not too sure if this will be an overnight stop – it will depend on what there is to see and to do.