And so we did move on from Hyden………….but it had showered all night and we were a bit nervous about the 174km “short cut” dirt road from Hyden to Southern cross. we noticed a road crew as we left, so checked with them, and they assured us that it was good as long as the road didn’t get too wet. As we travelled along the “road” the showers turned to rain, the road turned to mud and became really slippery, so the last 40km were slow, slippery, and really tough going. We finally reached Southern Cross and stopped for a desperately needed coffee. We couldn’t recognise the Cruiser or the van for thick, caked on red mud, so decided to use our precious water reserves for a quick wash-down…..in the pouring rain of course…….only regret we didn’t think to take a pic of the before.
We modified our travel plans and stopped at Coolgardie for the night. We had passed through before and were happy to stay this time. We walked down to the only remaining pub in town for cottage pie, chips, and mixed veges for dinner at $10 each, and talked to a few locals at the bar. always rewarding and informative.
We then moved on to Menzies, in the lower part of the “northern goldfields”. Too much gold history to recount here, but a great little town, well presented and preserved, reminding us of our heritage. About 50km out of Menzies is a huge salt lake, Lake Ballard, and to celebrate the Perth International arts festival in 2003, the “Inside Australia” exhibition was commissioned, and 51 small steel sculptures scattered over 10 sq km of the lakes surface were cast from laser scans of Menzies residents. Quite amazing, but it had rained heavily the day before we arrived, and the normally dry salt lake was sticky mud, so we only reached 2 of them!!!!!!!!!
The next day we moved north to explore Kookynie, a living ghost town, with one of the original pubs the only remaining active building in the once thriving gold mining town………..and the real irony is that the mine finally closed because it could no longer pump water out of the mine economically, not the gold price. In 1897 it was the richest gold producer in WA, but by 1929 when the mine closed, it soon became a ghost town, surviving on difficult pastoral activity until the mid 1940’s.
Nearby is Niagara Dam………..sounds huge doesn’t it? It was constructed in the 1890’s as water was the biggest issue in this harsh desert environment for human survival and to keep the steam driven gold mining machinery going. In its day it was a visionary project, with the 90m rock wall built by hand…..I have no idea how, but certainly do know why. But it is tiny but deep, critical in its day, with a circumference of a little over 1.5km.
It is an idyllic free camp we had intended staying at, but the forecast was for heavy rain overnight meaning we may have been stranded for days, so we moved on to Leonora.
This is the biggest town in the goldfields……one small IGA, resource centre, chemist, PO, 2 servo’s, not much else. But it has soul and we loved it so went searching for its history and found the deserted mining town of Gwalia on the outskirts. The remains of the whole town were recognisable, and many of the 1890’s miners cottages and supporting shops/stores have been sort of restored/ made safe for us to enter, and dwell on the really tough lives these early settlers endured.
Then up to the museum complex preserving the lives from the early mining days. the highlight was the magnificent home built by the first mine manager, overlooking the miner’s cottages and township on one side, and the mine operations on the other. He was young mining engineer Herbert Hoover, later to become the 31st President of the USA. the home is now a fully restored b&b that we could tour as there were no current guests, to compare the opulence of the well to do with the squalor of the miners. Hoover, as first mine manager, was ruthless but successful. He “imported” Italian and Yugoslav miners as they worked harder for less. the mine closed several times due to fluctuating gold prices, WW1, 1930’s depression, and ceased operations with a disastrous poppet head accident in the 1950’s. the town went from a population of 3000 to 50 virtually overnight! then the advent of open cut mining saw a resurgence in the 1980’s, and it is now Leonora’s main employer.
Touring always has the lurking enemy of weather ,and the storm arrived dumping 50mm of rain overnight so we bunkered down in Leonora for another day to allow it all to pass and begin to dry out the red clay/rock countryside. Most of the “tourist” icons become inaccessible.
Not to be put off, we then set off for Mt.Magnet, a long day via Leinster (a model mining town – artificially created like Leigh Creek and Roxby Downs), and Sandstone (absolute cutie – tourist spots closed for a few days) to a welcoming destination. We arrived late, so had time to set up, enjoy happy hour with our SA neighbours, then a scrub meal of bbq cutlets, onions in caramelised balsamic vinegar on bbq zucchini and creamy macaroni……really good. We spent several hours touring the heritage trail around Mt Magnet the next day discovering many hidden highlights, but being blown away by the number of mines in such close proximity. Gold fever may have passed, but gold mining certainly hasn’t!!!!!!!! Open Cut mining with modern techniques means that even lower grade ores can be mined profitably. The stark reality of open cut gold mining here means that the landscape is a litany of huge holes and huge mullock heaps….rehabilitation seems non-existent. the mines are everywhere!!!!
Then off further north to Cue, another gold mining town with its own tales or fortune and famine. We stayed 2 nights, exploring local history and geography, and a trip up to Meekatharra, the outback northern town of the goldfields. Alfred Canning loaded provisions here for his camel trek from Waluna plotting the Canning Stock Route. From Cue we did a day trip to Meekatharra at the northern end of the goldfields……..and heaps more open cut mines, and “long wide loads”.
We retreated to Sandstone, and stayed the night this time, as the heritage trail we had wanted to drive was open after the rain. It was interesting but a little underwhelming but the natural arch – London Bridge – was a pleasant picnic spot stop.We were heading home after a failed attempt to cross the Great Central Road. We did 120km of the 1000+km road on the first day and it was the worst road we had ever encountered…corrugations especially, so slept on it and returned the next morning. So had 5 nights in a row free camping at some really good spots, until a welcome return to a CP in Ceduna for long hot showers and a great pub meal with friends we had met on one of our early nights camping.
Another camp at the back of a pub at Gulnare (SE of Crystal Brook)……fantastic spot with virtual en-suite amenities……$10/night, then on to Mildura to catch up with old friends for a few days.
We will be home soon so this will be the last report for this trip from
The Travelling Jacko’s