Australia (South West Tour) Kalgoorlie

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Day 1

Verdi's eye was no better in the morning so we made our first stop at the local opticians. After a quick emergency appointment the optician diagnosed a bacterial eye infection in both eyes and advised a visit to A&E to pick up some antibiotics. In stark contrast to A&E wards in the UK the place was deserted and doesn't have a doctor! We had to get a nurse to call the doctor and get his permission over the phone! Who said the NHS was a good idea!?! We didn't even have to pay for anything!

With medication in hand (or rather eye) we filled up Gizmos tank before getting on the open road - a little later than planned but still with enough time to get us to Kalgoorlie. Andrew would have to do all the driving as Verdi couldn't really see much; a couple of breaks would be required en route but it would otherwise be a relaxed 400 odd km drive northwards.

The scheduled stops for toilet, food and leg stretching were kept to a minimum but the journey was actually a pretty easy drive, there wasn't exactly much other traffic to worry about.

We arrived in Kalgoorlie just as the sun said its last goodbyes and dipped below the horizon, affording some absolutely spectacular scenes with the cloudy backdrops and the tree lined roadways entering Kalgoorlie and its twinned town Boulder (PICS).

Having spent the last couple of nights in Caravan parks we were determined to find some free nights accommodation. Therefore, after driving around the small and disappointing Boulder and eventually finding the larger and more affluent town of Kalgoorlie we stopped in a McD's and found a darkened parking spot on a side street off the main drag in Kalgoorlie.

Our choice of parking spot was later found to be questionable as a house across the street featured a very public yelling couple until about midnight and the 24-hour cafe down the street was also pretty rowdy at around 4am. Oh well, you live and learn!

Day 2

With a list of things we wanted to do extracted from our various guides and leaflets we made our first stop at the visitors centre to find out the best way to do them all. We found that our first choice, a old train ride around the town and out to the main goldmining pit (The Super Pit) was no longer in use as the pit had grown to such an extent that it had enveloped the train track!

The other main attraction was the 'Gold Mining Hall of Fame' which features an underground tour of an old mining pit, a gold pouring demo, gold panning and a load of other mining related information that could keep you there for the best part of a day.

This, thankfully, was still around so we made our way there via the towns reservoir (with water pumped all the way from Perth) which is atop Mt.Charlotte and allowed a good view over the old mining town (PIC).

Arriving at the hall of fame, we began the experience by attempting to pan for gold (PICS) but after half an hour of little success (and an impatient Verdi) we gave up and
headed over to the gold pour for a more substantial view (and feel) of the real thing (PICS).

With the hefty weight of the gold coin (PIC) only amassing a $200 price tag we swiftly threw away the few flecks of gold we had managed to scavenge during the panning. We thought perhaps we would have more luck striking gold in the pit.

The underground tour lasted about an hour and was guided by a 70 odd year old war weary ex-miner with a few stories to tell...when you could understand a word he was saying through his thick mumbling accent. The most amusing moment being when he turned to the Chinese tourist next to us and quickly fired off "Understand a word of what I just said?'t think so. Just take pictures then" to which the Chinese tourist just smiled and nodded.

The tour covered the delights of gold mining through the ages including demonstrations of eardrum tearing equipment and the aptly named 'widowmaker'. It was difficult to imagine how so many men could have (and some still do) spend all their working lives down in the dark narrow tunnels (PIC) in such perilous surroundings. We discovered (at the end of the tour - wiley old tour guide!) that the whole time we were walking around down there, we were actually above another ten layers of mined out rock with wooden struts being the only thing keeping the whole area from collapsing in on itself (PIC). Not as unlikely as it sounds - the main road/entrance to the Hall of Fame had collapsed only 40 weeks earlier. Our hard hats wouldn't have been much use!

Having seen how they mined decades ago (7% still do it that way) we were keen to see how they do it nowadays - with big boys toys. This meant a trip over to the Super Pit lookout (PICS).

The scale of the operation is simply mind-boggling - it takes 6 trucks (PIC) carrying around 1500 tonnes of rock to produce a golf ball sized piece of gold (500 grams). The operation continues 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and in that time produces a total of 24 tonnes of gold. The pit itself covers an area of nearly 3 kilometres.

Returning to the centre of Kalgoorlie we stopped to take a few snaps of the more impressive buildings (PICS) in Hannan Street; the main drag through the centre of town, before doing a quick drive-by of their infamous brothels which as an exception, are legal (or rather are turned a blind eye to) in this town as a form of release and relaxation for the local miners. The brothels themselves have become quite entrepreneurial and started doing daytime guided tours for tourists while business is slow (while the miners are hard at work in the mines)...we didn't take up the opportunity.

Reticent to pay for a campsite again we opted to park outside one and sneakily use their facilities for free instead. Needs must and all that.

Day 3

Having exhausted the attractions in Kalgoorlie we had a decision to make; begin the long drive back to Perth or travel northwards to an "interesting" art installation we had read about.

Deciding that we would only ever be in the area once we opted to head north to check out the 'Inside Australia' exhibit at Lake Ballard created by the British artist Anthony Gormley (designer of the Angel of the North). It is an abstract installation of black steel figures standing in a 7km square salt lake. Local residents allowed their naked bodies to be computer scanned and reduced, then cast in the metals derived from the mineral rich landscape, revealing 'attitudes embedded in each individual's posture'.

The drive was a long one consisting of a 2 hour drive north out of Kalgoorlie and then an arduous hour and a quarter, 51km, bone rattling dirt road that tested the metal (literally and metaphorically) of both Gizmo and ourselves (PIC). Sadly the journey and 'fun' did not finish there as we then had to wade through boggy mud land all the time contending with the ever increasing friendliness of flies intent on getting into our every orifice! (PIC).

Finally we reached the lake, ready to be rewarded for our effort and pains by wandering around the "field of antennae, reflexive rather than representational, allowing what is already there to be perceived and felt, in an acutely heightened way". In hindsight this pretentious drivel should have been a bright warning beacon of the vast disappointment that lay ahead.

Not only were we exhausted from the bone rattling drive, tired of fighting off flies and fed-up of struggling to keep our, now caked-to-the-ankles in red mud, shoes on our feet (PIC) but we were now thanked for our valiant efforts by the vision of a few measly little black stickmen submerged in a flooded lake. The pictures for once do the scene more justice than it deserves (PICS).

We stopped in the car park for some lunch and to take solace from the fact that we would laugh about this rigmoral in weeks and years to come before getting back on the road and rumbling our way back down to Kalgoorlie. Feeling that we had well and truly wasted a day (and a fair bit of money on diesel) we checked into a Kalgoorlie campsite for the night.

Day 4

Rising late we ploughed on with the inevitable clean-up job incurred from the previous days tribulations; our shoes and Gizmo required some serious de-mudding. By the time that was complete we needed to hop in the showers ourselves before getting on the road. Stocked up with food and diesel we paid one last visit to the Super Pit to see if we could catch a blast in progress, sadly the wind was blowing in the wrong direction so no such luck.

Beginning our trek back to Perth we drove until sunset and made our enforced overnight stop at Southern Cross campsite - another small one pub, one garage town.
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