We have both always wanted to see the Birdsville track and last year the track was flooded by the Winton flood waters, so we had to miss it. We have returned to this area to do the track now. Most people do this track in the winter months of June July and August because it is too hot (for normal people) but we are looking forward to doing it out of season and we prefer heat to cold anyway. Marree is a tiny town at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and once called Hergott Springs. Once a thriving centre for transport and communications, relics of bygone years remain. Afghan Cameleers, Aboriginals and Europeans lived in relative harmony as the fortunes of the town came and went over time. We arrived in town on a Sat and we saw only one person out on the street. It felt like a ghost town. Also it was cold. Not what you would expect! M
Before the railway line camel transport was widely used in central Australia and most cameleers were from the middle-east (although they were often called Afgans, apparently many came from India). A replica of the original mosque used by the cameleers still stands in Marree.
Marree was the home town of the legendary outback mailman Tom Kruse who features in the movie “back of beyond” which follows the challenges he faced as the mailman on the Birdsville track in the 1940s and 1950s. One of his old trucks is on display in Marree.
Some of the artefacts, signs and murals in Marree including some diesel locomotives from the old “ghan” railway line that closed in 1980 after the rail was re-aligned about 300km westward. Also a camel shaped sundial made from old railway sleepers
We left the lovely town of Quorn and headed north stopping briefly in towns of Leigh Creek and Copley before a brief stop in Lyndhurst to visit Talc Alf’s gallery. Cornelis ‘Talc Alf’ is a famous local character who uses cast off slabs from the Mount Fitton talc mine to sculpt statements about politics and religion among other things. M
We spent our next night camped on Farina Station where the owners and a bunch of Grey Nomads are slowly fixing up the old Farina township. It is an amazing place and a lovely campground. There were only 2 other campers and we visited the old town by ourselves. In the season (June-August) this place is a hive of restoration and visitor activity. The underground bakery has been restored and it operates with the volunteer ‘grey nomad’ crowd each winter. A new visitor’s centre has been built as it is so busy in the winter the old bakery can not keep up with the demand, so there is also a new bakery! I would love to have seen the old bakery operating but not the packed campground that goes with it! It is so nice that a group of travelers felt so strongly about not letting this little bit of history go to ruin! M
The sunsets in the desert are always so beautiful. This stumpy tail is trying to look scary.
OK, we don’t usually say too much about caravan parks in this blog mainly because we don’t stay in so many but also because we generally don’t like them. They are usually a place to do some housekeeping before getting back on the “road” as it were. There is one that stands out for me though and it is the one in the lovely town of Quorn. It is my favourite for the entire trip and this should have been mentioned on the Milestones blog. I mean if there were a Van Park travel contest then Quorn would be the winner!!
Essentially, the park has the feeling like somebody cares. There is serious drought on out here and yet you can see there is a garden around you. There are pots around the park filled with flowers and dishes under every tap to give the birds a drink. The facilities are immaculate- as clean as at home- OK maybe more even! The owners do all this without using toxic chemicals too. They think about their customers and the earth. This is hard to find anywhere let alone in remote Australia.
Quorn is a lovely town in itself with a lot around to do and see. The amazing Pichi Richi railway brings the people in, but there is so much more to do and see in the area. The Caravan Park is for sale we understand and it will be sad when it is sold, because I can’t imagine anyone doing such a wonderful job as Bronwyn and Gary. Thank you to you both, for giving us a home away from home!!
Kalgoorlie started a couple of years before Gwalia as a gold mining town. The difference between Kalgoorlie and many of these old mining towns we have visited on this trip, is that it has never stopped mining. The underground mines of old have been turned into one big huge super pit and they continue to find gold to this day. It’s one of the richest gold deposits in the world! The good thing about this (for me who is not crazy about mining) is that there is money in town to restore all the beautiful old architectural gems that in many places go to ruin in towns that began last century. We only stopped here very briefly as we had been here a few years ago.
There are many beautiful buildings in Kalgoorlie and it’s old sister city Boulder. Many of these are pubs which much money has been spent on. It’s a funny place full of men wearing the high visibility clothing of the miner. The standard pubs hardly had a woman in them, except the barmaids. The “skimpies” which many pubs advertised on the door outside, were barmaids that served in sexy underwear! It is quite amazing that there is a place where this still exists. Not so many years ago these same women were topless!
We took a quick walk through the arboretum looking for birds. Unfortunately it doubled as a dog walking area, which is not good for seeing wild animals/birds. Though the spring flowers were finished there were some nice flowering gums.
It was a brief stop in Norseman the next night at our next free camp with a couple of others on a quiet green paddock next to the sports field.
Sir Antony Gormley is a Turner Prize Winning British sculptor who managed to convince 51 Aboriginal and white people from the town of Menzies 51 kms from Lake Ballard to strip naked and have their bodies laser scanned. He then shrunk these scans by two thirds but left them life sized in height. He then made metal sculptures from these and placed 51 of them on Lake Ballard. Because lake Ballard is so flat you can see 360 degrees around it. There is also a big hill to climb to give you another vantage point of the sculptures. You can see them for miles and they really feel like people out there on the lake. It is strange how you don’t feel alone out there. You walk from sculpture to sculpture leaving foot prints in the soft crust of the lake between them. Gormley saw these footprint tracks between the sculptures as part of the work. Not really sure what is all means but it was interesting to see and you really feel like you are not alone out there. They also make the lake have even more of a presence. Maybe this was it! M
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!
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
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. M
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
These photos of miners from different times and different decades all show hard and dangerous work.
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.
We had heard how amazing the Spring wildflowers were in this area, but we were a bit late. We got only the left overs from Spring but we were still impressed with the road either side of the car looking like a garden at times.
This was a weird huge dinosaur scorpian/crab thing with the sign being the actual size and it’s fossil tracks it left in the rock. Lots of weird and wonderful stuff here in WA.
99% of people that came to this part of the park walked only the 400 metres to “Natures Window” rock formation for a photo opportunity and then walked back to their cars. However, the best park of the park was the Loop Trail. It was a lovely varied walk that followed a big bend in the river walking both up on the cliff line for great views or down on the riverside for great swims. Since most people didn’t go down there, were had the pools to ourselves! Well not quite. There were heaps of black swans honking away at each other and Pelicans, Cormorants and Grebes. No new birds though.
We did the walk down to Eagle Bluff Beach but with a huge swell it was not swim friendly. The pink lake near Port Gregory was amazing. The pink is caused by carotenoid producing algae Dunaliella Salina in the water. Beta Carotene is used as a food colouring agent, and a source of vitamin A.