Golden WestWestern Australia is a land of superlatives and extremes. With an area of 2.5 million sq.km, it is the largest of the Australian states, occupying a third of the area of the continent, with a coastline of over 12,500km.This immense area has a population of only 1.66 million (1989), or 9.5 per cent of the total population of Australia, and great expanses of the state are almost uninhabited.
To the east of the Heartlands region is the Goldfields region, the barren plain with its saltpans, shimmering pink in the sun. The old gold-mining towns of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Leonora, and Coolgardie, are among Western Australia's main tourist attractions.
After Arthur Bayley and William Ford found great quantities of gold nuggets here in 1892 Coolgardie grew from nothing into a town which by 1900 had a population of 15,000, with 23 hotels, six banks and several daily papers. But the superficial deposits of gold were quickly exhausted, the prospectors moved on and many of the town's buildings fell into ruin. Tourism has given a fresh lease of life to what had become an almost dead town. Coolgardie now has a population of just under 1000.Coolgardie lies 560km east of Perth in a semi-arid plain. In the early days of the settlement life in this hot, dry region was inconceivably hard, and many died of disease.There is an exhibition on the history of the goldfields in the largest building in the town, an imposing stone structure in Bayley Street erected by the government in 1898, with shady arcades, balconies and stucco decoration (open daily; tourist office).Warden Finnerty's House (Lot 2048, off Hunt Street), built in 1895 as the residence of the mine inspector, with a wide overhanging roof and a verandah running round the house, has been restored by the National Trust. The handsome railroad station (1896) is now a museum.
Norseman (pop. 1900) is the last place of any size before the journey over the long and featureless Nullarbor Plain to South Australia.The huge spoil heaps which dominate the townscape recall the great days of the early finds of gold. The gold-bearing quartz reef is still being mined, and there are frequently fossickers at work in the area; permits can be obtained from the Norseman tourist bureau.The Historical and Geological Museum, housed in the former School of Mines in Battery Road, has an interesting collection of mining equipment and old photographs. The little post office dates from 1896. In the main street is a monument to Norseman, a horse which, pawing the ground, brought to light a nugget of gold, thus sparking off the gold boom and giving the town its name. There are conducted tours of the opencast workings by previous appointment.In the surrounding area are remains of old mine workings and numerous salt lakes.
The Eyre Highway is a long stretch of road that runs from east to west in southern Australia. It offers a variety of scenery and a number of towns are available for stopovers along the way.
Leonora (pop. 1000) and the neighboring settlement of Gwalia flourished as gold-mining towns at the end of the 19th C, and the productive Sons of Gwalia gold mine closed down only in 1963. The two towns were given a fresh lease of life when nickel and gold mines were opened up at Leinster, to the north, and Laverton to the east.The country round Leonora is flat and covered with mulga scrub, but when rain falls in spring (August and early September) there is a profusion of wild flowers. Everywhere there are remains of old mining operations.Leonora has preserved something of the atmosphere of a gold-mining town of around 1900. Its most notable buildings are the Gwalia State Hotel (1902-3), now the offices of the Western Mining Corporation, and the Gwalia Historical Gallery, in the former offices of the Sons of Gwalia Mine (1898), in which the future U.S. President Hoover worked for a time (at the south end of Gwalia).In Tower Street are the Grand Hotel, the Post Office and the White House Hotel.
Laverton (pop. 1140) is an old gold-digging town which has been given a fresh lease of life by the Windarra nickel mine and modern gold-mining operations. From Mount Windarra there is a good view of the opencast nickel mine.From Laverton there are tracks (part of the Gunbarrel Highway; sometimes in poor condition) through a desert-like landscape and Aboriginal territory (permit required) to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The route is suitable only for all-terrain vehicles, and proper preparation and equipment are essential. All supplies and water must be taken, since they are not available en route. The total distance from Perth via Kalgoorlie, Laverton, Warburton (filling station), Giles, Docker River (filling station) and Ayers Rock to Alice Springs is 2500km.
Eucla (pop. under 200) is a tiny outpost of civilization in the solitude of the Nullarbor Plain.From the hill there are views of the ruins of the old telegraph repeater station and settlement, now almost covered by sand, and the Southern Ocean. Eucla lost its function with the opening of the transcontinental telephone line along the Indian-Pacific railroad line, 100km north. From the Eucla motel and roadhouse there is a rough track to the remains of the telegraph station.
Eucla National Park
3340ha.Eucla National Park is mainly an area of mallee scrub and heath vegetation. From Wilson Bluff, a striking limestone crag, there are superb views of the rocky cliff-fringed coast of the Great Australian Bight and the Delisser Sandhills (which can also be seen from the Eyre Highway).
Useful tips: Best time to visit: spring (wild flowers). Access via the Eyre Highway runs along the northern boundary of the park; within the park there are unsurfaced tracks (all-terrain vehicles only). No facilities for visitors.