Monday, November 14, 2005

Kalgoorlie Super Pit

Kalgoorlie is a 600km drive from Perth. There are several small towns between Perth and Kalgoorlie. By small towns, I mean gas stations with several hundred people living nearby (if you could call existing in a place that small living). They are nice little towns though if you like living in the country and having a quiet life.

Kalgoorlie offers a unique outback environment, heritage and a wide variety of attractions that reflect the past and present. The city has modern services, facilities and a rich and fascinating history, yet still retains the feel of a frontier town.

The appeal of this city is a charming mix of unique gold rush heritage with the exciting wonders of modern mining. Kalgoorlie was established in 1893 with one of the world's last great gold rushes.

The pioneering spirits is still very evident today with sensational turn of the century buildings that comprise some of the finest mining-town architecture in the world.

A huge open cut mine, one of the biggest in the world, sits on the edge of town on the largest square mile of gold-bearing earth ever discovered. Before is was the Super Pit, it comprised lots of smaller mining companies that tunneled rather than using a pit mining system.

Holes in the Wall
“The most amazing thing that happened in my lifetime is Alan Bond buying up all the leases that became the Super Pit. Bond saw open cut was needed, started it and it grew and grew. It was the inevitable finish of the single operations. I remember when it was scattered all over with small companies running their own mines and they were all battling.” -Charles (digger) Daws, former president Boulder Shire Council, interviewed, aged 87, in the Kalgoorlie Miner, December 1994

“He (Bond) had almost pieced together the jigsaw of leases which were in separate hands for nearly a century. It was now possible to operate a gigantic and ever-descending super pit, in which massive equipment could tear out the old underground workings and the unmined gold in between.” -From the rush that never ended by Geoffery Blainey)

Where small operations had once controlled the famous Golden Mile, WA businessman Alan Bond started buying up the individual leases during the 1980's, seeking to create one big company and one big pit, from which gold could be extracted at a much reduced cost. Ore recovery rates had fallen so low, and underground mining had become so expensive that 'open cut' mining appeared the only way forward. Bond's company failed to complete the takeover, but, in 1989, the entire area was combined and Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Pty Ltd (KCGM) was formed to manage the assets and operations of the joint venture partners.

The Super Pit
For the first time, all the leases and infrastructure of the Golden Mile had been brought together. It was now possible to mine fare more economically and to continue the harvest of the Golden Mile, which has produced nearly 50 million ounces of gold since the days of Paddy Hannan and his fortuitous Golden Quest. Others who had embarked on quests of their own, including Bayley and Ford, Leslie Robert Menzies and young John Aspinall would doubtless be amazed at what their adventures have led to.

Today this region is one of the most important gold and nickel producing ares in Australia.

Kalgoorlie is famous for its mineral wealth, outback environment, rich history and hospitality.

Gold was discovered in Southern Cross in 1887. Five years later, news of a rush at Mt. Youle resulted in three Irish prospectors, Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Daniel Shea, setting off from Coolgardie in June 1893 to explore the area to the east.

At a point some 25 miles to the east, one of the horses lost a shoe and the group was forced to camp for the night at the foot of what is today called Mt. Charlotte. It was here they were surprised to find a few god nuggets and, on June 17, Paddy Hannan rode into Coolgardie with about 100 ounces of gold to register his Reward Claim.

Discovery of gold deposits located some 5kms to the south led to the discovery of the world famous 'Golden Mile', the riches square mile of gold bearing ore in the world. This triggered one of the biggest gold rushes in Australia's history.

Men came in their thousands, many unprepared for the harsh conditions they encountered with inadequate food and scarcity of water. There was no sanitation and few medical supplies. Thousands died from thirst or disease contracted from drinking contaminated water. Nevertheless stories of fame and fortune spread rapidly and within a few short years 93 hotels and 8 breweries had been established for a population which had swollen to over 30,000.

Water shortages were finally relieved in 1903 through the genius of the State's Chief Engineer C. Y. O'Connor. The establishment of a water pipeline, from Mundaring Weir in Perth, over some 563kms to the Gold fields, ensured that the city prospered.
Since then the fascinating history of the Gold fields continues.

The Super Pit was the main thing that we saw in Kalgoorlie as we wanted to get a jump on the drive to Esperance so that we could me our Frenchmen friends there the next morning. We left Kalgoorlie at right around 6:30 just as it was getting dark, and so we had to drive pretty slowly because there were so many dead kangaroos by the side of the road and we didn't want to find a live one the hard way. We drove until about 10:00, and stayed in a caravan park in a small town called Norseman.

If we thought that Perth shut down early, there weren't even any lights on in people's houses. It really surprised me. The campground was basically a dirt parking lot with grass along one side to camp on with electric outlets and taps to fill your reservoir with water.

We left early after showering. There was one other RV in the park, but there was no sign of them waking up.

-Gary Milner

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