Gwalia Ghost Town

Well here we are back in mining country. We are now dodging the dust, road trains, oversize vehicles and mine utes on the road again, but there are not many other people out here. While I’m not crazy about hanging out with modern mining again, I do like a good ghost town and Gwalia near Leonora was a bit of a special find and our next free camp.

This is probably our most unique free camp yet! Tonight we are camped on a hill 60 metres away from an old open pit gold mine that is now operating as an underground mine 24 hrs a day. Thankfully we can’t really hear anything, although there are plenty of lights. Apparently the mine shaft runs under the car park we are on and goes down 1660      metres!

Gwalia mine pit
St Barbara Ltd gold mine

About the same distance in the opposite direction is the Gwalia Ghost town. We are alone here, as it is too hot for normal people. We did run the generator (for only the third time this trip) for an hour, to cool down the caravan. It is 9pm and still 30deg!

using the gererator
The generator out behind the caravan cooling it down in the  37 deg  heat!
gwalia ghost town
Gwalia Ghost town view camp. It is so quiet here we can’t believe we are parked right next to an underground gold mine one side and an old mine ghost town the other.
gwalia mine 1898
The original Son’s of Gwalia mine opened in 1896 and closed in 1964. The town of Gwalia then became a ghost town overnight. In 1983 open pit mining recommences after Sons of Gwalia NL is floated on the stock market. In 2005 a new mining phase begins when St Barbara Ltd purchases Sons of Gwalia NL assets when it goes into receivership. This mine is now underground again entered from the old pit.
gwalia ghost town and museum
In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired ownership of  the old town of Gwalia and takes on the management of the Leonora Gwalia Historical Museum and changed the name to Gwalia Ghost Town and Museum.  2013 sees conservation work start on the Gwalia cottages.

Gwalia is one of the Welsh poetic names for Wales which signified the Welsh heritage of the original investors of the mine, which was started in 1896. This quiet almost deserted town is a unique heritage listed site, that was once the home of around 1000 people in the late 1890’s. The people came from all around the world for the gold and it’s promise of wealth. The population of around 1700 in 1963 disappeared almost overnight, when the mine closed. They left in a mass exodus to work on other mines. Many went to Kalgoorlie. In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired the old town site and started work to restore the cottages and improve the museum to the interesting place it is today.

young hoover
Baby faced 23 yr old American Herbert Hoover came over to manage this mine. I wondered how they could give such a responsible job to such a young man and then I read below. 

hoover info

Hoover was a hard worker and ambitious and made many changes to mine conditions to improve productivity. Seems he learned the lessons of immigrant labour back home and made changes to the work force here. Aussie’s didn’t work hard enough it seems!


This 23 yr old American mining engineer later to become the 31st American President- Herbert Hoover was appointed mine manager of Gwalia mine in 1898. He designed and built the manager’s mine complex and lived briefly in what is now called “Hoover House” before moving on to other ventures in China. It took 2 years to build due to conflicts with those that had to fund it. It ended up costing 6 times the cost of a house built in the day. You can stay in this lovely house today. M

hoover house gwalia
Hoover House cost 6 times the usual cost of a house at that time. Hoover liked to spend money! He was also the highest paid person of his age in the world at the time!

The dining room and the “Gold Bar” dinner that took place here. 4 gold bars sit on the at the front of the dining table!

hoovers bedroom
Hoover slept here.

Don’t you like the view of the mine from the veranda. One could have a cocktail in hand and check on your mine workers. In Steve’s case it’s scones, jam and cream!

hoover house and pit
Hoover House comes complete with “pit” view!

hoovers car

gwalia state hotel
The old state hotel was built to service the miners and help stop the “sly grog trade”.

Steve in front of the head frame and all the mine workers at shift change in front of it.

There are many buildings that you can walk through to get an idea of how people lived at the time the old mine operated. The many single men lived in single mens accom. and boarding houses. Whole families lived in these little huts built of whatever they could find. Most houses had gardens to grow veggies and chicken houses or a place to keep the goat. Despite these basic homes people still dressed up for special occasions. Many of the walls in these houses were made of hessian painted white to resemble a solid wall. Bathrooms were homemade. Plumbing was basic but still people were able to get themselves dressed up as in the photo  below. It was from many accounts a very happy place. Mgwalia people

One of the reasons so many people wanted to be involved in the restoration of this site is that most people have very fond memories of their time in Gwalia. It was a multicultural melting pot. Aussie’s and other nationalities working together happily and when the mine was doing well all prospered .M

gwalia horses underground
The mine used horses underground and even had stables down below. The horses eventually came up blind.

These photos of miners from different times and different decades all show hard and dangerous work.

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Most of the old gravestones in the cemetary showed many young men who died in the mine, woman dying in what looked to be childbirth and very young children or babies dying  probably to diseases we no longer see today.

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