Postcard from Highway One
#36: A Golden Farewell

5 January 2004

Kalgoorlie, six hours drive east of Perth on State Highway 95, the main route from Perth to Adelaide, is home to The Golden Mile, the richest gold deposit on the planet. Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines is fixing that problem though, systematically raping it for all it's worth. Their open cut mine, colloquially referred to as The Super Pit is 750M or three quarters of a kilometre deep, and by the time it's exhausted, will extend for some four kilometres. The image below is only a tiny slice of this man made chasm, and to give you some idea of scale, each of the black tyres you see on the two 'tonka' trucks near the top of the pit are taller than a man, though they appear as black dots here.

Paddy Hannan's discovery of this rich deposit triggered the turn of the century goldrush that built this historic mining community. How ironic that the built tapestry woven from those same gold riches now sits directly upon further untold riches, upon a honeycomb of historic tunnels which mined but a fraction of the wealth locked up below. The exploitation of these deposits via open cut mining would be unthinkable, however.

The infamous Hay Street brothels are another byproduct of the mining riches of Kalgoorlie. When my grandmother rented a house in Hay Street in the fifties, she gave out her address as the sidestreet that also abutted the house. Never mind that deliveries went astray throughout her tenure, she would NEVER admit to living in Hay Street in polite company! These days, the brothels are just another anachronism of this community, a tourist attraction, a quirk. They even do tours and devonshire teas, and the transexual madam from one of these establishments sits on the city council.

Flicking through the photos from this trip, taken in the last days before James' return to Canada, I came across his inverted self portrait. I have decided that he was either trying to prepare himself for being on the other side of the planet (i.e. upside down), or else was curious just how far he'd have to dig from the bottom of the super pit to get home... whether that might be a short cut!

Leaving Kalgoorlie, westbound towards Perth, we passed through Coolgardie, at the height of the gold rush a tent city and home to 120,000 people. The grand buildings that remain seem out of place in this now tiny town, but testify to its history, just as the Denver City Hotel testifies to the far flung origins of its former inhabitants.

Finally, no postcard from the goldfields would be complete without an account of the legend that was Charles Yelverton O'Connor. This visionary engineer was the mastermind behind several major Public Works Department infrastructure projects which were critical to the fledgling colony. His opening up of the mouth of the Swan River to large scale shipping gave the colony a safe harbour.

But it was the goldfields water supply pipeline upon which his legend was built. Of it's day, it was the world's longest, many times over and was to endow the parched goldfields with a reliable water supply. #However, "subjected to a particularly viscious press campaign" about the impracticality of the scheme, O'Connor committed suicide during construction, but ensured it's completion by leaving "detailed instructions on the construction of the pipeline" in his suicide note.

Appropriately, I close this account with a golden sunset, both upon our visit to the goldfields and to James' stay in Australia. It truly has been a golden time.

*HUGZ* to all

#Chronological events surrounding surrounding O'Connor's death amended. Thanks to Bruce Fountain and the Goldfields Esperance Development Corporation website for this clarification.

The Kalgoorlie Hotel
Questa Casa
If these walls could talk!
Bordello Tours
The Super Pit
James Inversion
The Open Road
Marvel Bar Hotel
Marvel Bar Hotel
Coolgardie Post Office
Coolgardie Post Office
Camel Crossing
A Golden Farewell


© Rob Morgan 2004