I have been a little delayed with my posts as, like most other on our bus, I have caught a bad cold and I haven’t felt like writing after a day of driving. When you are travelling with others, it very hard for affliction to not be passed on.
The distance from Esperance to Kalgoorlie is around 350 kilometres. The countryside in the south near Esperance is used for grazing, but it is not before too long that wheat fields become more obvious and towards the north, the Malle Scrub appears and the country feels more arid and foreboding.
We stopped at a little settlement called ‘Grass Patch’ for morning tea. The early days of settlement here were surprisingly recent (1896) when about 3000 acres of grass land that did not need clearing were settled for wheat farming. The first crops were a disaster but by adding a variety of trace elements, the land produced good crops by the 1940’s. There is now a large grain processing facility here that handles grains produced by the local farms. In the town picnic area by the railway line, there is a very good memorial to Tom Starcevich, a local farmer who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in WW2 .
Further north, we encountered a large area of forest covered by Mallee Scrub. These multi-trunked trees are well suited to a dry environment. Small shrubs grow as a very low understory and produce an interesting array of wildflowers. Some of these are very subtle and you have to look for them carefully, while others are very bright and stand out against the dark green or grey foliage.
Along this highway, we also came across a number of salt pans. Many of these were full after the recent rains but we could see evidence of salt crystals forming in weird shapes as these shallow lakes began to dry out. I assume that the mineral content is mostly gypsum. The colours of the lakes varied from green through to bright pink, depending on the mineral content on the lake bed or the amount of chlorophyl in the water.
After reaching Kalgoorlie, we spent a second day looking at some of the key attractions in this large outback city. This is a gold mining town and founded in 1893 during the Yilgam Goldfields rush when a fossicker named Paddy Hannan found a gold nugget lying on the ground. Many towns spawn in gold rushes fail to survive – as did the now deserted town of Dundas, ali little to the South of Kalgoorlie. Now only the street pattern of Dundas remains with a few signs to explain features that were abandoned and are now lost. Kalgoorlie, however survives strongly.
As rich in history as it is in gold, this city, with a population of over 30,000, has an impressive array of heritage buildings, including the magnificent Kalgoorlie Town Hall, Boulder Town Hall and St Mary’s Church, as well as grand hotels, outback pubs, shop fronts and private homes. Kalgoorlie has a thriving nightlife and a wide variety of modern tourist attractions, shops and leisure facilities. In fact, the city has more restaurants and hotels per capita than any other regional centre in Western Australia. One establishment offers a tour over the local brothel. I think that the tour is mostly concerned with the telling of outrageous stories about miner’s behaviour, rather than any observation of activities that might take place inside.
Most of the gold mining activities have now been consolidated into one giant mining operation at the ‘Super Pit’. The pit is oblong in shape and is approximately 3.5 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and 570 metres deep. At these dimensions, it is large enough to be seen from space. Over 660,000 ounces of gold are extracted each year. Mining is via conventional drill and blast mining using face shovels and dump trucks. Around 15 million tonnes of rock is moved in any given year, consisting primarily of waste rock. It is an amazing sight to watch these enormous trucks carrying 270 tonnes of rock wind their way slowly up the network of roads to the ore crushers.
Another of our visits was to the Royal Flying Doctor Service base. This magnificent organisation provides medical services to over half the total area of Australia and from Kalgorlie, it services remote communities across one third of the state of Western Australia. They service remote farms, aborigine settlements, mining sites and every other form of outback activity with an excellent aerial medical service. Unlike popular perception, their planes are not just flying ambulances, they are equipped as mobile emergency facilities with all the equipment used in an ER ward or critical care facility.
Each outback property has a specialised medical cabinet in which all the drugs are numbered. Doctors prescribe which ones to use for any illness or injury by referring to their number . In the old days, people wold radio the flying doctor using a pedal powered radio, but now contact is via phone, Skype or the internet. Doctors audit each medical box when the make field visits or call into remote properties to conduct a clinic.
Across the outback, the RFDS provides a combination of emergency services, clinics and General Practice facilities across a vast area. They fly two aircraft out of Kalgoorlie, but operate an entire fleet of 61 aircraft across Australia and fly 73,000 kilometres each day out of 21 bases. In Kalgoorlie some 5 doctors (assist by a team of specialised nurses) provide health care for over 24,000 people. All of this is provided for free by government and funding received from large sponsors.This is a remarkable organisation and well deserving of our support.
The remainder of our time in Kalgoorlie was spent looking around the town, visiting the gold museum and doing some shopping.