Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week 49/52 - Coolgardie & Kalgoorlie - Gold fever! and the need for water.

Hi everyone, and welcome to Week 49 of our 52 week tour Downunder Western Australia. We have finished going down the coast, and now head east and inland to the goldfields.

In week 23 I took you to York, one of the first inland towns in Western Australia, then further east through the wheatbelt in Week 19 and 20, and in Week 21 to Cave Hill and the Woodlines where we explored the area where wood was taken by the thousands of tonnes during the gold rush era. Well this week we continue east from the wheatbelt, and north of Cave Hill.

First stop is Coolgardie which became famous overnight when two prospectors Bayley and Ford discovered gold here in 1892 - a year before Hannan, Flanagan and Shea found gold in Kalgoorlie (we will visit Kalgoorlie in week 50). The discoveries lead to a gold rush to rival California and the Klondike.

Prospectors piled their possessions onto wooden carts and travelled overland to the goldfields on horse-drawn wagons, or even walking pushing their wheelbarrows. They lived in tents or rough bush shelters on the goldfields, like the one you see here as part of the display at the Kalgoorlie Mining Hall of Fame. (That is a mine head you can see in the background) Times were tough and many died in the attempt to strike it rich. There are many unnamed graves in the Coolgardie cemetery, but you can look through the register in the museum if you are looking for the resting place your ancestor - as we did!

From Western Australia

At its peak Coolgardie had a population of 16,000, with another 10,000 in the surrounding area, 7 newspapers, 2 stock exchanges, 6 banks, 23 hotels, and 3 breweries. Today its heritage precinct is a 'living museum' where you can learn about the history of the gold rush.

This is the Coolgardie Town Hall, government offices and Court House, which houses an excellent museum. Completed in 1898, this building is one of the finest examples of early Australian architecture.

A lot of the original buildings were probably built of wood boughs or corrugated tin, (as in the photo below of a miners hut). However the Government buildings were often built from local stone quarried in the area, and reflected solidarity, the wealth of the goldfields, and their prospects for the future. Now often in towns like this (also you might remember Cue in Week 27 where I showed you similar buildings) these solid stone buildings and a couple of hotels are all that remain.

From Western Australia

The area is dotted with mine shafts, so you need to be carefully if you go walking. Here is a photo of a minehead located on a look out hill overlooking the town.

From Western Australia

Today the Coolgardie only has a small population mostly involved in gold and nickel mining and pastoralism. This is the main street of Coolgardie, now very quiet and very different to what it was like during the gold rush era. The road is very wide to allow camel and bullock trains to turn in the street.

From Western Australia

Here is another photo of the government buildings in Coolgardie. You could easily spend an hour or two in the museum and strolling around the town taking photographs of the heritage buildings.

From Western Australia

A prospectors cart displayed in the museum

From Western Australia

In the hot dry conditions of the goldfields, water was scarce, and was distilled and sold by the can. In 1895 the first plans were prepared by Engineer-in-Chief CY O'Connor, for an engineering feat that would stagger the world — an attempt to pump fresh water uphill 560 km, from Mundaring Weir in the hills near Perth to the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie.

The pipeline was completed in 1903, and is still in use today supplying water through 8000 kilometres of pipe to over 100 000 people and six million sheep throughout the goldfields and surrounding agricultural areas, in an area covering 44 000 square kilometres.

The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail follows the pipeline from Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie, and information panels and guidebook tell you the history of the pipeline, the land and the people.

The pipeline was an amazing engineering feat. Unfortunately there were many critics, and CY O'Connor, the engineer and visionary, sadly took his own life in the ocean at Fremantle before the first water reached Kalgoorlie. CY O'Connor was a great visionary and is much revered in Western Australian history. He also designed the Fremantle Harbour

From Western Australia

Here is the end of the pipeline, at the Mt Charlotte reservoir in Kalgoorlie.

From Western Australia

  The museums at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie are fascinating places to visit. In fact one of my ancestors worked at the water distillery on the goldfields, and then worked on the pipeline.

Here is a replica of what a goldseekers shack might have looked like.

From Western Australia


  1. Not only we have viewed a nice set of photos, we also got a historian and a great tour guide here, Jill! thanks again.
    Mar dela cruz

  2. Thanks Jill for the continuing tour through Austrialia. As always your shots are great!
    Shelly, Las Vegas

  3. Another excellent series of shots Jill, I am experiencing an Australia that is so different from what I expected through your terrific travelogue.
    Neilston, Scotland

  4. These are great. The architecture is nothing like the historic gold rush places here. The buildings here are all built out of wood like in the old wild west movies. I can only imagine how much work it was to build the water system as well - amazing it's still being used today.

    Thank you for not only bringing us the pictures, but also the story!

    Christina, Canada

  5. I fully understand driving on the wrong side of the road, ( well kinda anyway tho I doubt I could do it) but do you always have trees growing in the road???
    yes camel needs lots of room to navigate...bullock train??? off I go to google
    BuddhaPi, Jupiter, Florida

  6. Great pictures Jill. So much space and so few poeple...and I never thought about trees growing in the's everywhere in Australia. We have Canary Island palms growing in our main street. Actually, it looks ridiculous...but that's OZ!!! Thanks again!
    Sarah, Blue Mountains, Australia

  7. Great series, Jill, and a very interesting history behind the photos. My fav are your shots of early Australian architecture. TFS.
    Vakeel, Dubai


Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have enjoyed this tour around Western Australia. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for taking the time to comment.