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September - Kalgoorlie Gold

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Prospector dryblowing for gold, Click to view a larger image

The nineth heritage icon for 2004 is Kalgoorlie Gold. Kalgoorlie is located 40 km east of Coolgardie, 595 km east of Perth and 200 km north of Norseman.

Settlement of the Kalgoorlie area began with the discovery in June 1893 of rich alluvial gold deposits near Mount Charlotte. In June 1893 three Irish prospectors, Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Daniel Shea rode out east of Coolgardie in their quest. They were forced to camp overnight at Mt Charlotte, 20km short of their destination, when one of their horses lost a shoe. In the next few days they collected 100 ounces of alluvial nuggets, reported discovering around 8 pounds of gold nuggets to the mining warden in Coolgardie. Within a matter of days hundreds of gold miners rushed to peg out mining claims around Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie's gold rush had begun and by 1903 the town boasted a population of 30,000, along with 93 hotels and 8 breweries.

Background

Although a colonial Government incentive for finding gold was announced in 1862, the first brief gold production in Western Australia was in the Kimberley in 1885. The find attracted many prospectors from diggings in the east who subsequently investigated the potential of the Marble Bar, Meekatharra, and Mt Magnet areas before Payne and Anstey and three friends discovered gold at Southern Cross in 1888. Prospectors based there went on to discover gold at Coolgardie in 1892 (Arthur Bayley and William Ford) and at Kalgoorlie in 1893.

 

Russian Jack, Click to view a larger image

In the early days the pickings in Kalgoorlie were rich. However, the cost of supplies was enormous. At one time the cost for a pound of flour was 120 pounds per ton, while the same ton in Perth cost 10 pounds. Water was more precious than gold. Until the coming of water via the Kalgoorlie Pipeline due to the genius of CY O'Connor, chronic water shortages made the business of selling water a profitable one. Many miners couldn't afford this and many died of typhoid as a result of drinking contaminated water. Water finally flowed into the reservoir at Kalgoorlie in 1903, and Premier Sir John Forrest drank the first glass of water while quoting Isaiah from the Bible. They had, he said, made 'a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert'.

Whilst the early 1900's saw the easy gold being worked out, the big companies soon went deep underground. Headframes sprouted along the Golden Mile and with the tailings and mullock dumps, became the symbols of the Goldfields. 1897 saw the Kalgoorlie Boulder gold fields riding the crest of an investment wave largely financed by British speculators. The stage was set for the creation of a highly capitalised modern gold mining industry. Literally hundreds of companies were floated, fortunes were won and lost, and for many years Kalgoorlie's metallurgists led the world in developing commercial treatments of gold bearing ores.

By 1902 deep underground mining of gold leads had become the norm with the Great Boulder Mine continuing to discover payable gold 1500 feet below the surface. Later Boulder Mining leases came to be known as "The Golden Mile" and by all accounts this area contained the richest square mile of gold reserves in the world.

Impact on WA

When the gold mining boom started in 1892, WA's population rose by about 26,000 as people flooded in from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, to try their luck. The newcomers also found work in the fast-developing public works program put in place under Sir John Forrest, which included undertakings such as the Fremantle Harbour, the Mundaring Weir, the Kalgoorlie pipeline and a comprehensive railway network to link the newly established townships.

Mundaring Pipeline, Click to view a larger image

The discovery of gold in Western Australia during the 1890s brought prosperity to what had been, up until then, a remote and struggling colonial backwater. The rush of prospectors helped tip the balance of public opinion in favour of Federation in the referendum of 1900. At its peak in 1903, Australia had become the world's largest producer of gold - half of which came from Western Australia. From that point on, the gold discoveries petered out, and the industry declined to a point where discoveries were minor and occasional. Gold then sprang back to prominence during the 1980s when the price rose sharply.