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On Walkabout In: Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

A Night in Kalgoorlie

As the sunset over the wheat belt the Indian-Pacific continued it’s journey eastward towards the gold mining capitol of the nation, Kalgoorlie. Note that Kalgoorlie is pronounced Kal-gul-lee by Australians. Yes I know it makes no sense pronouncing it that way when it is not spelled that way, but this is Australia and that is just how they pronounce some words.

Anyway, the train pulled into Kalgoorlie around midnight. The train stops in Kalgoorlie for four hours while the train takes on supplies, water, and fuel for the ride across the upcoming Nullarbor Plain. During this four lay over you have the option of having a tour bus take you on a late night tour of Kalgoorlie. My wife and I decided to take the bus tour and it ended up being well worth it.

Our bus driver was a rather big gal; I don’t mean big as in obese but big as in strong and could probably bench press me. She was an excellent tour guide of the city. She freely admitted that she used to work in the gold mine as a driver of one of the super huge dump trucks. She quit that job after having kids and found the tour bus job more compatible to family life.

During the tour this is how she said Kalgoorlie was founded. In June of 1893 three Irish men were walking through the outback coming back from a gold find that didn’t pan out. As they were walking through the outback they decided to sit down under a tree and get some shade and rest. As they sat down under the tree they noticed some shiny rocks on the ground. The shiny rocks were gold. There was gold just littered across the ground under the tree. The tree where the first gold was found can still be seen in Kalgoorlie today. One of the Irish men, Paddy Hannan traveled to Coolgardie to cash in eight pounds of gold the prospectors had found and log his mining claim with the government. Once his claim was logged the Kalgoorlie gold rush was on. 10 years later what had been distant outback had become a thriving city of 30,000 people complete with 93 hotels and 8 breweries. The town still boasts about 30,000 people today and is still the Australia’s leading producer of gold. You can read more about the history of Kalgoorlie here.

Kalgoorlie is the source of much of the wealth of Australia and the city shows it. The city is filled with historic buildings that have been beautifully maintained to keep the historic nature of the town alive. Since we took the bus tour at night, it was extremely difficult to take quality photographs through the bus windows while moving at night. So most of my pictures look like this:

Picture from Kalgoorlie, Australia

So I’ll spare you my poor images and show some of the pictures of Kalgoorlie I pulled from Google Image search.

As you can see the buildings are beautifully maintained and if you look closely in the background you can see one of the towers from the mine. Our guide said that a few years back a study was done to see how much trace amounts of gold were in the bricks of the historic buildings in town. The people who did the study found that all the historic buildings contained traces of gold in them due to the bricks being made from the dirt of Kalgoorlie. The building that was found to have the most gold was the local St. Mary’s Church:

Our bus driver told us that for a city of 30,000 people there was still about 50 bars and saloons operating in Kalgoorlie including 3 brothels. Prostitution in Kalgoorlie is legal, but the town can only support three brothels:

The bus stopped in front of the brothels, but we didn’t go inside and it really wasn’t all that impressive to see. They just looked like run down hotels. Supposedly the girls in these brothels cost anywhere from $200-250 bucks per hour. A funny fact the guide told us was that the owner of one of the brothels was in fact a transvestite that used to be the mayor of Kalgoorlie.

Another interesting aspect of Kalgoorlie is that the bars in town are famous for having scantly clad women working in them. Our guide showed us the first bar in town that began the practice of scantly clad women. This bar was off the main strip and business was lagging, so in order to get more business he began employing naked bar tenders. The city council threatened to shut him down because they were nude so the owner had them wear gloves so they wouldn’t be completely nude any more. Then the city council passed a law saying that the girls were a health risk, so in response the owner had the girls walk around with saran wrap around them. The city council gave up and the rest as they say is history, as the rest of the bars began to have their own scantly clad women as well. Supposedly some of these girls make $50AUS bucks an hour working in these bars. That is a lot of money for serving beer.

After driving around and seeing all the sights of the town the bus driver took us to see the Super Pit gold mine next. I was expecting a bit of a drive to get to this super pit, but in fact the super pit is literally on the very edge of the city and it is huge:

Here is a pictures I took of the super pit at night:

Picture from Kalgoorlie, Australia

This picture really don’t show how big this mine really is. You have to see it to believe it.

The mine is also known as the Golden Mile because this mine has more gold in one square mile than anywhere else in the world. The miners work day and night digging out the gold from the Super Pit. Our guide explained to us how the working hours at the mine are organized. She said that a miner will work 8 twelve hour days during the day and then get 4 days off and then work 8 twelve hour days at night and then once again 4 days off and then the cycle start all over again. She said that she was making $80,000AUS a year driving the large dump trucks. The actual miners will bring in over $100,000AUS a year. It is any wonder why there is plenty of money in Kalgoorlie to spend at brothels and bars?

Even more interesting is that the early miners that used shaft mining used to actually dig tunnels to their favorite bars so they could drink some beer during their lunch hour. To this day no one is sure how many mine shafts run underneath the city. Often the Super Pit miners find historic equipment from old mine shafts that they run into as they dig. There is a museum in town that collects all the equipment the diggers find.

A little known fact is that Kalgoorlie actually has a lot of water under the ground, the problem is that the water has 16 times more salt in it than the ocean. So it is not drinkable and drinkable water has to be piped in from the hills east of Perth through a 530km pipeline which is considered the world’s longest water main. The salt water does have one major use though, it pushes gold to the surface as it rises. So the Super Pit has to keep pumping water out of the mine and then collect gold, keep digging, pump out water, collect the gold, and keep repeating the process. This process is supposed to end in 2017 when the Super Pit is expected to run out of gold. However, another gold find has already been claimed and ready to start being dug once the Super Pit runs out of gold. The mineral wealth days of Kalgoorlie are no where near an end. The plan for the Super Pit after it is closed, is to turn it into a lake. When that happens that will be one large, deep lake. It could be the first outback water skiing location.

Here is an aerial image of Kalgoorlie and the Super Pit mine:

Notice how close the mine is to the city and how big this future lake will be.

Anyway after checking out the Super Pit the guide dropped us back off at the train station and we once again boarded the train and were on our way. Though our stay in Kalgoorlie was short it was extremely interesting. The city and it’s people are really unlike the rest of Australia and my wife and I were glad to get a glimpse into the lives of the some of the people responsible for the mineral wealth boom of Western Australia.

Next Posting: Across the Nullarbor Plain

Prior Posting: From Perth On the Indian-Pacific

Return to the Western Australia Holiday Journal Archive

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