Big Trip 2023 Blog 5 Written Monday 12 June

Tuesday, Jun 13, 2023 at 19:31

Member - Matwil


Well, my last blog was over a week ago but that means we have been very busy sight-seeing around Coolgardie and then Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Last Tuesday (6th) morning we packed up to head to Kalgoorlie, but before we set off did some sight seeing in Coolgardie. The reason being that it had been a public holiday on the Monday (WA day). We went to the museum which was incredibly informative. It not only has one of the largest bottle collections I have ever seen but incredible stories about life in Coolgardie in the 1890’s/1900’s. The most incredible being the great mine rescue of 1907. In that year an Italian miner, Modesto Varischetti (Charlie) was trapped on level 10 (1000 feet underground) in a 12 level underground gold mine when a sudden horrendous thunderstorm lead to the flooding of the mine. It was estimated that it would take 10 or more days to get the water down to a level where they could safely rescue him. He was trapped for a total of nine days and part of his body was submerged in water. He was in fact 50 feet below the water level in a pocket of trapped air. What saved him was a pocket of air and the tremendous bravery of three divers brought to the scene from Freemantle by rail. They dived through the flooded shafts till they came to the one Charlie was in. This was on the sixth day. They took him candles, food and water They then went back on several occasions to take him food and water and other necessities, but in each of their mercy missions had to move huge amounts of rubble on each occasion to get to Charlie. On the ninth day they carried him out. On the eight day they were pumping water out of the mine at a rate of 32,000 litres and hour. The museum has a day-by-day narrative of the rescue, which has to be up there as one of the great rescue stories of all time. If you want to read more then just Google Coolgardie Mine Rescue. It is indeed a riveting story.

After leaving the museum we journeyed around to one of the famous houses in the area that was actually built by some hardware merchants, the Bunning Brothers, of the hardware chain fame. It wasn’t open so we were not able to view inside but it is indeed a grand home. We then headed off down the road to Kalgoorlie which is only 35 KLMS away. There is a 72 hour free camp just out of town near a lake so we decided to camp there and then explore Kalgoorlie as well as stock up on supplies. Kalgoorlie-Boulder has a population of around 30,000 so all amenities are available. There is even a Bunnings store. WE walked around Kalgoorlie township looking at all the old buildings and pubs which in architectural terms are on another level.
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We had a pizza for lunch at one of the pubs and then because it was rainy and windy and not very pleasant, we headed back to our camp 10 klms out of town. We retreated inside with the diesel heater on and vegged out. On the way out of town we passed another 72 hour free camping area so next morning packed up and headed into town and a more convenient camping spot. As well a coffee van is in place every morning and serves coffee and toasted snacks and e.g. and bacon and egg toasties and I was definitely up for that. On Wednesday we popped into the Information Centre and got the low down on the place and then headed out to see some of the sights. The first was the lookout over the super pit but I will have more of that later. Photos were taken and we read some of the history of the place. The pit is huge and goes down about 750 metres. The tailings are heaped up in huge mountains all around the site. Louise got a photo of me standing inside one of the digger buckets.
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These hold about 60 tons of rock and three of them fill one of the dump trucks. Next we were off to Mount Charlotte lookout which is the termination point for the water pipeline that comes from Perth and which allows Kalgoorlie to exist as a city. It was in completed in 1903 for a sum at the time of just over 5 million pounds. It is 560 kilometres long and is recognised world wide as an outstanding feat of engineering and up there with the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It came in under budget and on time. A feat indeed and something you would not be replicated today. It was designed and constructed under the supervision on C Y O’Connor who designed Freemantle Harbour and the railway line to Kalgoorlie because they were needed to allow the pipeline to be built. Water has to rise about 370 metres from the dam just outside Perth to Kalgoorlie. The population of Kalgoorlie in 1903 was about 30,000 people out of a total population for WA of just under 100,000. The pipeline is still in operation today and supplies all towns and farms along the way as well as all the gold, nickel and other mines. After Mt Charlotte lookout we checked out a place that had been recommended to us Chunky Timbers. This was an artisan who collects timber off cuts and turns them into all sorts of useful things and also timber beads. The timber from the trees around here is extremely hard, in fact some of the hardest timbers in the world. This is because the trees are very slow growing and this is what produces the extremely hard timbers. We purchased a present for my son in law whose birthday is coming up soon. Hope he likes it as it is a long way back to exchange it. We also went into town and booked a 2½ hour guided tour of the super pit for Friday. On Thursday we went and did the guided tour at the mining museum. It is indeed an intriguing place and a good start to learn the history of Kalgoorlie.

The following information has been taken from https://www.fairbridge.asn.au/kalgoorlie-and-its-history/

“In June 1893, Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan Shea found close to 100 ounces of alluvial gold near Mt Charlotte, a short distance from what is now the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. This find sparked the Western Australian gold rush and unearthed one of the richest goldfields in the world, the famous Golden Mile. By 1903 the Golden Mile was home to 49 operating mines, 88 roasters, 100 headframes and more than 3,500 kilometres of underground development.
For nearly 100 years, small, individual operations worked and controlled the Golden Mile. In the 1980’s, Western Australian businessman, Alan Bond began purchasing the individual leases in a bid to gain control of the area and create one giant mine. Bond’s company was unable to complete the takeover. However, in 1989 the dream was realised when Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Pty Ltd (KCGM) was created to manage and operate the mines, which were now the assets of joint venture partners, Normandy Australia and Homestake Gold of Australia Limited.
Almost immediately, work began joining together the existing mines to create the Fimiston Open Pit. This pit was initially nicknamed the Big Pit and is now known across the world as the Super Pit. During this time, all underground operations were phased out except Mt Charlotte. KCGM’s Mt Charlotte Underground Mine continues to be a strong gold producer, currently extracting approximately 750,000 tonnes of ore, yielding around 54,000 ounces, or 1.6 tonnes of gold per year.
At the same time, the Fimiston and the Gidji Processing Plants were constructed. These sites treat more than 12 million tonnes of ore per year, producing up to 800,000 ounces of gold annually. The Gidji processing plant uses ultra fine grinding technology to process the concentrate.
Since its discovery, the Golden Mile has produced more than 58 million ounces of gold, the fifth largest gold producing region in the world. Today, KCGM’s operations directly contribute to Australia being the second largest gold producer in the world, with China being the largest. At 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and more than 700 metres deep, the depth of the Fimiston Open Pit is equivalent to the length of 6 soccer fields and can be seen from space!
After the visit to the museum we visited a couple of the pubs recommended by the guide. The first one was the Palace Hotel that has an Irish Pub as part of its set up. The food looked so good we had lunch there. The helpings were so good we knew it meant a light dinner.. One of the Palace Hotel’s regular guests in its early days was Herbert Hoover, who as a 22 year old US mining engineer worked in the Goldfields for several years.
During this time he reportedly fell in love with a barmaid at the hotel before leaving to marry his college sweetheart and continue his mining career in China, before rising to take the American Presidency in 1929. He also composed a poem to the barmaid, an excerpt of which hangs next to the famous mirror.
The elaborately carved mirror which stands in the foyer of the hotel was his parting gift to the Hotel where he spent much of his time when he was in Kalgoorlie.
The other pub was The York. The decor was straight out of the early 1900’s and except for the sporting memorabilia was a time capsule of Federation Anglo Dutch architecture. It was completed in 1901. With all the strolling I was feeling a bit tired so we went back to camp for me to have a bit of a kip.
Friday morning we were up early as we had to be at the meeting point for the super pit tour by 8.30am. The super pit tour was the highlight of our trip so far. We were taken to all parts of the mine operations which were fully explained to us as we went. The guide was a wealth of knowledge fully explaining every facet of the mine in laymen’s terms. The best part was the introduction when he set out the rules. One of the best I have ever heard and you remembered every part of what you could do but more importantly what you couldn’t do. There are over 1000 staff at the mine 50 % female and 50% male. All must have a Kalgoorlie address to be employed there, no FIFO. The mine is now owned and managed by KGMC which is a wholly owned Australian company based in Kalgoorlie. It is in the process of replacing all machinery at the mine. The trays for the big tippers which carry 180 tonnes of ore are fabricated in Perth and it sources Australian product when ever it can. It is building a new processing plant that will cost about $2 billion to build so is definitely committed to the future of the mine and Kalgoorlie.

Our guide informed us that the mine has improved the gold yields it gets from the ore with the most up to date technology that exists. For example, the big diggers can ascertain what rock contains the most gold ore when it is digging it out of the mine. It then is selective about the ore that goes into the dump trucks. Each dump truck has a computer monitor that alerts the driver where each particular load has to be taken. Low grade rock is taken to a dump that may be processed at a later date There is enough low-grade rock at present stockpiled to allow processing to take place for about five years if the mine was ever closed down. The high-grade ore is sent immediately off for processing on site. The ore is gradually broken down to smaller sizes by being tumbled in containers with steel balls. Eventually it comes out as fine as sand and then the ore is treated with chemicals to extract the gold. It eventually ends up in bars of about 70 to 75% purity before it is sent off to Perth. There were a lot more facts and figures imparted to us, to the point we were almost overwhelmed, but I think everyone left with a full appreciation on how gold is mined and ends up as pure gold. One interesting fact was that originally the streets in Kalgoorlie were formed using ore with glistening bits in it as gutters for the roads. The powers that be thought that the glitter was fool’s gold and would be a nice touch. However, after it was all laid down it was found that the glitter was not fool’s gold but the real stuff. Another point of interest is that the dome at the top of the Council Chambers. It is covered in real gold plate that stands out when the sun shines on it.

On Friday night we went to dinner and again to the Irish Pub. The food again was fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone.
Saturday, we did a 5 klm walk at a local park. The park was created in the 1990’s and features the different bush habitats found around Kalgoorlie. Fascinating. The bushland around Kalgoorlie and really all the goldfields is part of the great western woodlands. This is the largest remaining tract of intact Mediterranean climate woodland on earth. It covers almost 16 million hectares (about the size of England) and is a continuous band of native vegetation of woodlands, mallee and shrublands, with truly stunning trees, with salmon coloured bark radiating in the sun.
Sunday was stock up day and getting everything ready for the next part of our trip. But you will have to wait until the next blog for that.

PS Phone contact is iffy out here so there may be a delay in uploading the blog. If you want to see where we have been you can do that here https://www.exploroz.com/tracker#d=FEE417A6-B144-48C2-9B4B-E365B3F6198A.
Till the next blog.






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