Kalgoorlie – Full Time Gold Town

Old crucibles from a nickel processing site. Gold is by no means the only valuable commodity in these parts

Kalgoorlie/Boulder – Two Towns 

Most people know about Kalgoorlie – generally called Kal by the locals. But actually this isolated built up area is made up of two towns, Kalgoorlie and Boulder. Prior to 1989, Boulder was a town in its own right, but it was merged with Kalgoorlie to form the City of Kalgoorlie–Boulder in the 1980s.

In the winter of 1893, three prospectors, Patrick (Paddy) Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan Shea were travelling through the area, when one of their horses lost a shoe. During the forced stop  the men noticed signs of gold in the area around the foot of what is now the Mount Charlotte gold mine. Naturally they decided to stay and investigate. On 17 June 1893, Hannan filed a Claim, triggering a gold rush to the area. Kalgoorlie – originally called Hannan’s Find – was born.

The centre of Kalgoorlie has the feel of a party town – which it definitely becomes at weekends due to the number of transient mine workers etc… Boulder on the other hand, has more of a small town feel.

The concentrated area of large gold mines surrounding Paddy Hannan’s original find is often referred to as the Golden Mile, and has been referred to as the world’s richest square mile of earth.

Paddy Hannan statue

Classic Kalgoorlie pubs on Hannan Street

Boulder town centre is basically Burt Street where there are some nice old buildings and more than a few bars and cafés. At the northeastern end of Burt street lies the key to the ‘Golden Mile’; The “Super Pit” (see below).

Boulder town hall

Hotel (pub) in Boulder


Of course none of this would exist if it wasn’t for a certain precious metal. Gold!

There are quite a few other active gold mines in the area but this is what it’s all about. The aptly named “Super Pit” on the edge of Boulder town centre was the biggest open cut gold mine in the country until a few years ago. The Super Pit is approximately 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and over 600 metres deep – and it is still growing. Work never stops here.

At 600m deep you can barely see the bottom from the lookout

He may be small but that digger bucket is big!
Huge trucks make the long climb up from the bottom of the pit.

Officially called the ‘Fimiston Open Pit’ but colloquially known as the Super Pit, it employs around 1,100 employees and contractors. Originally consisting of a large number of underground mines, there were attempts to make one huge open pit in the early 1980s when businessman Alan Bond headed up a scheme.

Now there’s a character and a blast from the past! I remember stories about Alan Bond being on the UK news regularly during the early 1980s – for both business deals and corruption in equal measure. Bond never managed to achieve his golden dream but it soon happened anyway. (Proving he was right, I guess.) The Super Pit was eventually created in 1989 by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines, a 50:50 corporate joint venture between Homestake Gold of Australia and Gold Mines of Kalgoorlie.

The scale of the ‘Super Pit’ can be seen from above when viewed alongside the town

Museum of the Goldfields

Because of the dates of our visit a lot of businesses were closed, including tourist attractions.   It was New Year’s Eve and we had been visiting a few places outside of the town. By the time we arrived back in Kal the museum of the goldfields was just about to close. Luckily they let us in. It’s free to enter and the staff are really friendly and helpful.

Old mining winding gear at the Museum of the Goldfields
Views of Kal from up the winding gear tower

Entering The Vault…
There is plenty of gold inside The Vault

 During the 1890s, this whole Goldfields area boomed, with an area population exceeding 200,000, composed mainly of prospectors. Kal’s population is now about 30,000. The area gained a reputation for being a “wild west”, notorious for its bandits and prostitutes.

There is still a working brothel in the area and, strange as it may sound, they offer guided tours! It was mid afternoon of New Year’s Eve but the main door was open, leading into a kind of foyer/reception area. We rang the bell but it was either closed or they just weren’t answering. The tour is adults only (no surprises there) so Dani would have had to sit that one out. Here we are entering the premises. Only checking… Honestly!

Just checking if the guided tour was on…

Old Boulder Cemetery

The first cemetery for Boulder was located a fair distance south of town and is now known as Old Boulder Cemetery. It only operated between 1899 and 1904 but almost 800 burials took place.

The overgrown but fascinating Old Boulder Cemetery

I know it’s a little morbid but these places and their history fascinate me. Initially this place was made for 48 blocks with a total capacity for over 10,700 graves. In the end only 11 blocks were ever used. The cost of digging in the ironstone plus poor road access meant that this cemetery closed and a new one closer to Boulder was opened.  As we have seen before in other old cemeteries in Australia people were buried in blocks assigned to their religious denomination. Sectarian segregation of the dead! Personally I think it’s crazy but, as I have argued before, maybe this is common everywhere…

Very few graves had any kind of headstone (and even fewer remaining in a good state). Only 62 graves (about 8%) ever had any monumental work. Very few families in early Boulder could afford headstones so numbered metal pegs marked their burial spot. You may spot a few on the photos…

The site is protected and as you can see some of the signage is relatively new but the place is very overgrown. It makes these places all the more interesting (for me).

There was even a separate block for Roman Catholic Children. And yes, there were a noticeable amount of small infant graves. Sadly, infant mortality would have been high when this cemetery was in use.

And there were several infant graves

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