One of Australia's most famous and important gold mining towns.
'Welcome to Kalgoorlie' reads the sign at the western edge of this remarkable town, which is located 597 km east of Perth and 360 metres above sea-level. Here is a community which was built on gold over100 years ago and which is still basically driven by that same metal. This is a prosperous and attractive town combining the old (Hannan Street is a feast of truly superb nineteenth and early twentieth-century buildings) and the new jostle for attention. It is a city full of extraordinary history. And it is one of Australia's truly great goldmining towns.
The first Europeans to explore the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area were H.M. Lefroy and C.C. Hunt who were searching for viable pastoral lands in the 1860s. By the early 1890s the goldfields of the state's north-west were becoming less viable and the state government offered a reward for fresh discoveries. Attention was drawn to the state's south-east when Arthur Bayley discovered gold near Coolgardie in 1892. The following year Paddy Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Daniel Shea discovered alluvial gold nuggets near Mount Charlotte when they were forced to camp out unexpectedly after their horse lost a shoe.
On 17 June 1893 Paddy Hannan (in the early days the town was simply named Hannan's or Hannan's Find) registered his claim and, within three days, an estimated 700 men were prospecting in the area. This was the goldrush to beat all goldrushes. In comparison to what would eventually become known as 'the richest goldfield in the world' all other Western Australian finds paled in comparison. It was the goldrush which suggested to potential prospectors that a few weeks of hardship could be rewarded with a lifetime of untold affluence.
In effect, Hannan's find drew attention to an area which was home to an ore body that later became known simply as the 'Golden Mile'. Hannan's claim was not part of this reef. It was miners, forced to move further south, who stumbled upon this lode. Central to the discovery were a South Australian syndicate who, hearing the news of the gold around Kalgoorlie, moved from a settlement called Boulder, taking the old name with them to their new mining operation.
By the end of 1893 over 100 leases had been taken out in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area. The great challenge of the area was that the local quartz deposits, which are usually accepted as the rocks most likely to contain gold, did not produce high yields. In fact by 1894 the results from mining these quartz reefs were so disappointing that the field began to experience a small depression. Investors were less than enthusiastic and returns were not what had been hoped for.
It was a Canadian miner, Larry Cammilleri, who discovered that the quartz in the area was not carrying most of the gold. Years later he recalled: 'I sank on the leader and where she junctioned with the lode material she carried nice gold. I dollied some ounces. I found that the lode matter carried a little gold so started a shaft. This shaft led me to be the first to discover what later proved to be the lode matter which made the Golden Mile famous. The lode was composed of ironstone, with small quartz veins, greenstone, diorite and porphyry, all decomposed in the shallow workings.'
Others, including Paddy Hannan, were sceptical about Cammilleri's discovery but Cammilleri replied with the old Cornish saying 'where it is, there it is'. At first, the lack of good gold-yielding quartz in the area continued to keep investors away. It was not until the establishment of the first battery, on 10 April 1894, and some of its early yields (2008 tons of ore from the Great Boulder Mine yielded 15 000 ounces of gold) that confidence was restored in the field.
In his book In Search of El Dorado the Scottish writer Alexander Macdonald gives a description of Kalgoorlie at this time:
'When my party stepped from the train at Kalgoorlie, we saw before us a scattered array of wooden and galvanised iron houses...In the near distance we could see the towering poppet heads of the widely known Great Boulder mine, and the din created by the revolving hammers of the ever active stamping machinery assailed our ears as an indescribable uproar. But beyond the dust and smoke of these Nature-combatting engines of civilisation, the open desert, dotted with its stunted mulga and mallee growths, shimmered back into the horizon.'
As with all of the gold mining towns progress was almost instantaneous. The first post office was established in 1894. The following year the town was surveyed and proclaimed while some entrepreneur provided the new settlement with a daily newspaper. The railway arrived in 1896.
By 1897 the population in the area had grown so rapidly that two towns had been established: Kalgoorlie (it probably comes from the Aboriginal word 'karlkurlah' meaning 'silky pear' which was a common plant along the Boulder ridge) and Boulder which was declared in August 1897 when miner's shacks and tents were moved to be closer to their workplace around the Great Boulder Mine.
Kalgoorlie peaked in the early years of this century with an estimated 93 hotels, 8 breweries and a population of 30 000 people. By 1903 the School of Mines had been established and the town had fresh water from Mundaring Weir in Perth.
The story of the remarkable 563-km pipeline, which brought water from Perth to the parched desert around Kalgoorlie (the average annual rainfall is only 252 mm per annum), is really the sad story of a man of remarkable vision who was destroyed by public cynicism.
Charles Yelverton O'Connor was born in Ireland in 1843. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1865 and moved to Western Australia where he was employed as the engineer-in-chief, in 1891. His major projects were to be the state's railways, the establishment of Fremantle harbour, and, as far as the goldfields were concerned, the construction of the water pipeline from Mundaring to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. O'Connor initiated the plan in 1895 but it was violently opposed in parliament and the approval to start work wasn't granted until 1898. Even when the project was underway its critics, believing it to be impractical, did not relent. O'Connor was subjected to a particularly vicious press campaign. He committed suicide in March 1902, partly as a result of the pressures, and his suicide note included detailed instructions on the construction of the pipeline, which was completed the following year. The result was that vast areas of the wheatbelt and the Eastern Goldfields, which had been relying on unreliable wells, waterholes and condensers, suddenly found that they had regular supplies of water. The pipeline assured the survival of Kalgoorlie and Boulder.
The city centres, which were built at this time, are still largely intact. Hannan Street in Kalgoorlie and Burt Street in Boulder are thick with gracious buildings which announce that here are two centres built on the wealth of gold. By 1910, both were thriving inland cities with fresh water, electricity, a tramline running up Hannan Street, and every possible comfort for men who worked hard for very rich rewards.
It is one of the sad ironies of Kalgoorlie-Boulder that the men who found the 'Golden Mile' which has sustained the city for nearly a century did not reap great benefits from their find. Tom Flanagan died in Bendigo in 1900 leaving no great wealth, Daniel Shea died in 1908 having continued to prospect for new fields up to 1904, and Paddy Hannan, the father of the whole area, made some money from his find but never become massively wealthy.
However, for the goldminers and the settlers of Kalgoorlie, Hannan became a symbol of the battler who struck it rich. They called their main street after him, the local club was The Hannan's Club, even one of the locally brewed beers was Hannan's beer. To some oldtimers the town was never Kalgoorlie but only Hannan's Find or, more simply, Hannan's.
In 1904, at the age of sixty-one, having prospected for all his adult life, Hannan was granted a pension of £100 by the Western Australian Government. It was increased to £125 and by 1911 had risen to £150. He retired to Fallon Street, Brunswick, Victoria, where he lived until his death on 4 November 1925.
Today there are still about 50 mines operating in the goldfields district. About half of those are gold mines, including the massive Super Pit, which exploits the most productive square mile of gold-bearing ore ever discovered anywhere in the world. Nickel, chrysoprase, copper, granite, lime, salt, sand and silver are also the focus of industrial interest.
Boulder hosts the unusual Undies 500 Car Rally every year, on the third Sunday in February. All participants must compete covered only by their underwear. There is also a market at Boulder on the third Sunday of each month.