Big Trip 2023 Blog 4

Monday, Jun 05, 2023 at 17:41

Member - Matwil

Our entry to Norseman was a bit unique as we were met by a greeting party at the entrance to town consisting of four coppers carrying out random breath testing. I thanked them for the special greeting, blew 0.00 and we headed on our way after being given the rundown on the area.
Norseman is an interesting town more for what is not there than what is there, if you know what I mean. The first noticeable thing is that nearly all the buildings are fibro shacks with very few brick or stone buildings to be seen. In fact, no stone buildings were seen, and only one brick house. It is a true mining town with scarcely a person on the streets. The pub has got to be one of the quirkiest we have been to but we ended up eating there two nights in a row. I can recommend the scotch fillet…. Yum. Their prices for alcohol were very reasonable even by Scone standards. A glass of Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc was only $6.00. Not bad for a place in the middle of nowhere. The pub was really out of the dark ages and a bit of a rabbit warren, but with no competition the only place to be. The weather was cold and threatening so we stayed in the caravan park which despite being old and a bit dilapidated had the best hot showers you could ask for.

The town is named after a horse - Norseman - owned by Laurie Sinclair. The reason is that in 1894 Laurie found it a bit lame one day and on investigation found a gold bearing quartz nugget stuck in its hoof. So, the start of the gold rush in the area. Most if not all the gold in this area is hidden in quartz, so there are several mines scattered around the town digging out the quartz, which is then crushed and a chemical process, which I think involves the use of arsenic, is used to extract the gold from the rock. Since 1898 it is estimated that over 100 tonnes of gold has been extracted from the area. But it is extremely hard and tedious work. Norseman Gold Mine is Australia’s longest running gold mine and in the 65 years to 2006 had produced over 5.5 million ounces of gold which is worth a lot in today’s money at $A1900 an ounce. Today there is a population of just under 1000 people. The town is dominated by huge tailing dumps which can be easily seen with a trip up to the lookout.

At this stage I must own up for one of the reasons for this trip. When I worked in the Reserve Bank in the 1960’s while doing my degree I worked in the Note Issue Department for two years. My job there was to maintain all the gold records. That involved buying and selling all gold produced in Australia. In those days all gold that was mined had to be sold to the bank. It was either kept in the Bank’s gold reserves or sold overseas to mainly Macau. Australia at the time did not do business with China, but it was widely known that the gold we sold ended up in Chinese hands. My job was to keep all the records. Gold in those days was worth 15 pounds 12 and sixpence, or in $, $32.50 a troy ounce. We got more than that when we sold it to Macau. Therefore, I am very conscious of all the areas around here where gold was, and still is mined.

After two nights in Norseman, we headed up the road to Kambalda a full 120 kilometres. Kambalda is divided into two townships, about 2 kilometres apart. West Kambalda owes its beginning to the discovery of Nickel in the 1960’s when it became the home of the world’s largest nickel mine and the nickel boom of the early 70’s. East Kambalda is the original township first developed in 1897. We stayed at a free camp in West Kambalda as there was a well-stocked Woolworths there and we could stock up on some essential items. While quiet and pleasant there really is not much to see. However, as you travel along the highway you pass roads into gold and nickel mines by the dozen. Again, very few signs, if any, of old buildings in East Kambalda as the gold in this area was only mined between 1897 and 1907. It was Western Mining Corporation that opened the area up again when a prospector in 1954 thought he had found deposits of uranium, but they turned out to be deposits of nickel and in 1966 WMC set about exploiting them. From the lookout you have views across Lake Lefroy which is a large inland salt pan spanning 510 km2.One thing that is noticeable is that all the new buildings are dongas for FIFO workers. We drove through both towns and then headed up the road to Coolgardie (another 75 kilometres) the next town on our tour. The Coolgardie area is known as the “Mother of the Goldfields”, in fact Coolgardie witnessed the biggest movement of people in the history of Australia when gold was found in 1892. At the height of the gold rush in 1897 Coolgardie was the third largest city in WA, behind Perth and Freemantle with a population of between 16,000 and 25,000 residents (depending who you believe), and 700 mining companies. In the main street there were 26 pubs, three breweries and 3 stock exchanges in the town. There were 7 newspapers – two morning, one evening and 4 weeklies. The main wide street now is just a shadow of its former self, with few old buildings remaining. We are camping in the towns free camp tonight and might do a bit more exploring in the morning, as a front is coming through threatening rain.Kalgoorlie-Boulder is our next stop which is all of 40 klms up the road. So will finish of Coolgardie tomorrow and then then next chapter Kalgoorlie-Boulder and surrounds.


Wanting to explore our vast wide land
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