Red, soil, hot, hot, hot, on the road to gold

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
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Trip End Mar 15, 2007


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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Today we headed out early as this was a driving day to Kalgoorlie.

Following a large white water pipeline, we drove on through places like Grass Patch and Salmon Gums until we came to the mining community of Norseman.  This community, known as "the Golden Gate to the Western State" is situated 726 km east of Perth and is a major stopping point for travelers to the Eastern States.  Since 1892, the Dundas Goldfields (Norseman) have produced over 4,000,000 ounces of gold and the rich deposits are still being worked.  If a visitor could stand atop the residue dump of the Central Norseman Gold Corporation he would have $50 to 60,000,000 in gold underfoot.  New treatments are currently being fine tuned to extract this left over gold.  This residue dump is, incidentally, the tallest in the state and s far as is known, in Australia.
 
This is where we had breakfast in the "Worker's Club" which seemed to combine day care, cleanup crew, half cut kitchen crew, bar (drinkers at about 10:30), and café.  We stopped for a history lesson and minor tour and took a fairly hot wander around town (was only about 25 degrees Celsius but felt a lot warmer - possibly due to the fact that there was no wind and the heat reflected off the wide streets and red gravelly earth - a bit to get a flavour including the tin camels in the middle of a roundabout and a statue to the horse Norseman who it is alleged, discovered the gold reef which resulted in the development of the town.
 
The tin camel sculpture was really rather clever.  It is in the middle of a roundabout in one of the wide streets.  The camels appear to be walking round and round the roundabout and on each of the 'corners' of the roundabout are panels describing the history of the camels and the gold mining trade:
 
"The first camel to be imported into Australia came from the Canary Islands in 1840.  The next major group of 24 camels came out in 1860 for the ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition.  In total an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 camels were imported between then and 1907.  The camels which came to Australia were almost exclusively one humped camels (Camelus dromadarius).  "Afghans" were brought in to handle the camels, though most in fact, came from Peshawar in (then) British India.  With their 'trains' of up to 70 animals they formed a formidable - and vital - force in the early days of inland Australia.  Most of the camels were released in the mid 1902's when motor vehicles began operating in the inland.  They established free-ranging herds and are scattered throughout the arid interior.  It seems likely that the total population is now close to 400,000. 
 
In 1895, John Aspinall, a young New Zealand prospector, bought two camels for 134 pounds in Coolgardie and also engaged Amzula, a cameleer, at 30 pounds a week plus tucker.  Writing in his diary Aspinall noted: "It is certainly surprising what you can pack on a camel. ... it is only necessary to see a camel loaded up with billies, buckets, picks, shovels, and other gear to recognize his general utility.  There are corners and recesses all over for tying on small things and water bags are hung on his neck, giving him the appearance of a walking caravan.  A camel is made to lie down by pulling the noseline and saying "Hootsah - sh-sh-sh-sh-sh!"  At this point, especially if a few oriental imprecations are added, he suddenly plumps down on his knees, and majestically lowers the hind portion of his body.  Making him get up does not require the knowledge of any barbarous language, a rousing kick in the ribs being the simplest method."
 
It was not only prospectors like Aspinall who engaged the services of the Afghan cameleers.  Mining companies, private businesses, pastoralists, and government agencies regularly contracted the Afghans to haul all manner of goods, over vast, waterless distances.  The first tome the explorer Giles used camels he traveled 220 miles in eight days without giving water to the camels.   The very big camel teams in WA consisted of 70 camels and 4 Afghans.  Normally they traveled between 20 and 25 miles a day in desert country. Camels are sometimes known as "Ships of the Desert" due to their swaying walking style.  Camel teams would collectively carry between 16 and 20 tons on their backs.  A large camel train was expected to carry up to a hundredweight (600 kg) and smaller camels from 6 to 8 hundredweight (300-400 kg)
 
Camel teams were a common sight in and around Norseman at the turn of the (last) century.  Not only were they favoured by prospectors but they were also much involved with the installation and upkeep of the East - West telegraph line, undertaking maintenance well into the 1920's.  Camels also transported household goods and mining equipment, and played a major role in the fledging wool industry on the Nullarbor Plain, hauling wagon loads from inland stations to the coast of Israelite Bay or to the rail-head here in Norseman. The wide main street in Norseman is a direct result of the part camel teams had in those early years, the width being determined by the turning circle of a camel train."
 
On our way to Koolgardie we also passed through Kambalda, another one of many communities with a mining history.  It is the nickel capital of Australia and also resides within one of the country's most important gold producing areas.  Kambalda is a major nickel mining province, containing some of the highest grade nickel sulphide ore in the world.  Nickel was discovered in 1966 and gold operations recommenced in 1981.  Gold was discovered in the area in 1896 at what was initially called Red Hill.  The town of Kambalda was gazetted in 1897 to serve the people working in the area.  The streets of Kambalda are named after early lease holders, noted citizens, and native plants that exist in the region. 
 
Mines on the Red Hill leases became major producers up until 1906 when ore grades declined dramatically.  By 1907, the once bustling town was deserted.  The first traces of nickel were not recognized until much later - in 1954 - and it was another decade before more nickel samples were taken and WMC (Western Mining Corporation) initiated further explorations.  On January 28, 1966 WMCs first drill hole at Kambalda intersected massive sulphides assaying 8.3% nickel over a length of 2.3 meters at a depth of 130 meters.  It was the start of Australia's nickel boom.  Mining and mineral processing operations in the Kambalda region were divided into nickel operations and gold operations. In December 2002, Goldfields of South Africa purchased part of the gold division and smaller mining companies have acquired and reopened older closed mines.   WMC buys their nickel from these companies and processes the nickel ore at the Kambalda Nickel Concentrator. 
 
There is a poem posted at the visitor's centre written by an Australian Poet by name of Victor Churchill Dale called "Lights on the Lake" which, I think, gives a good view of the mining history, not only in this area but the world round:
"A new light is shining on the lake
Amongst a shimmering haze
A new future dawns on the horizon
Prosperity sings its praise
A new century dawns on Kambalda
Where they've waited too long
And the miners are all coming back
While sentiments are strong"
 
I tried to reach Mr. Dale to obtain his permission to use this portion of his poem in my travelogue entry.  Unfortunately I could not locate a contact for him and the only email address which turned up returned a "delivery failure notice".  So I use this portion of his poem without permission but in hopes he would give it if asked. 
 
There was supposed to have been a huge salt lake at Kambalda - Lake Lefroy.  Believe it or not, we could not find it and drove round and round the town and looking for it.  Finally I stopped for directions and the clerk in the IGA (who looked like she'd spent too much time in small mining towns), told me that if I wanted to drive across the salt lake, I could not do it as it was owned by the mine.  If I wanted to see it I would have to go up Red Hill lookout so I did that and saw huge expanses of salt and red soil going on seemingly forever. 
 
Eventually we made our way into a dry and hot, hot, hot Kalgoorlie and a bite to eat a place called Monty's.  They made a nice Turkish bread with a sweet chili dip and a sun dried tomato dip with salad on the side.  Erica (who is catching the train tomorrow for Adelaide) had a vanilla crème milkshake which looked awfully good and a clubhouse sandwich which looked to have too much bread for the filling.  We walked slowly back down the street as it was quite hot but not unbearable.  It reminds me somewhat of Victorian mining towns everywhere with false fronted buildings, vibrantly coloured, but on a much larger scale. 
 
The city is renowned for its heritage, which includes the built environment, as well as mining, social, sporting and cultural history. It has acknowledged this history through identifying places for the Municipal Inventory of Heritage Places, and areas of significance through various precincts. In addition, the City is contributing to retaining the built heritage through its grants, heritage awards programs and undertaking a conservation plan for one of the precincts.  There are 222 places listed in the Municipal Inventory of Heritage Places (July 2001). Of the places listed there are numerous that are owned and managed by the City, including the Kalgoorlie Town Hall, the Boulder Town Hall, the Municipal Endowment Block (a strip of retail shopping in the heart of the Hannan Street Heritage Precinct), the Lord Forrest Olympic Pool (now closed), the Goldfields War Museum, Victoria Park Rotunda (now in Hammond Park) and the City Markets
 
At the tourist place and some not too keen clerks gave us some tentative info on a tour tomorrow bur not when the mine blast was going on.  Then we went on to the hostel which seems to have itself together quite nicely.  I was able to get in some internet time and found a relative of Robert Walker's wife's family through Genes Reunited.  I went off to diner at a place called the Blue Monkey where I had a lovely salmon, capers and rocket salad (salmon from Tasmania) and a piece of Malay chocolate cake - bad me. 
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