Golden Mile central to the history of Australian mining

Picture of a road in Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Find out more about WA's historic mining industry capital.

Kalgoorlie turns 125 this year.

As a town, it has invoked varied perceptions throughout its history. There are those who vow to never move there. There are those who moved “just for two years” and are still there a decade or more later.

Kalgoorlie is a town that, like the red dust itself, gets under your skin. (Alternatively, perhaps you can’t wash it off quickly enough?) For me, it was a great place to grow up.

The early days of Kalgoorlie’s mining industry

Paddy Hannan, Dan O’Shea and Tom Flanagan discovered gold in an area west of what is now the famous Super Pit in June 1893.

The Golden Mile itself was not pegged till a few weeks later, when Sam Pearce and Will Brookman initially pegged and named the Ivanhoe. In the following days Pearce went on to peg the Great Boulder lease and further leases to the east. Over the coming months they continued to accumulate 17 more leases.

In 1896 the twin towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder were connected to Perth via railway, and the same year, the government of the time introduced a bill to authorise the spending to construct a water pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie. Designed and overseen by CY O’Connor  the project encompassed Mundaring Weir, a 600km pipeline and 8 pumping stations from the Perth foothills to Kalgoorlie. Construction took several years, and in January 1903 water flowed into Mt Charlotte reservoir in Kalgoorlie.

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The road to Kalgoorlie.

By the late 1890s the alluvial gold had all but gone and as deeper gold was discovered, investment from overseas began. Companies were created and floated, fortunes made (and some lost), and large-scale operations constructed. At one point there were 3000km of workings underground and some 100 headframes dotted the landscape.

The financial windfall for the government, companies and individuals from the gold boom resulted in significant projects and buildings across the State. Not surprisingly, the Perth Mint is among these buildings, but His Majesty’s Theatre, Mcness Royal Arcade and the Old Treasury building were all built during this gold rush period. They are all on the Heart of Gold Trail.  In Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a similar gold trail  has recently been opened. 

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His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth – a great example of the gold rush buildings of the early 1900’s

More recent times in Kalgoorlie’s mining industry

In the mid 70s, the Golden Mile comprised a multitude of underground operations, mills, batteries, thickeners, tanks, roaster stacks, headframes, winders and old sheds that once housed wood mills. When the price of gold dropped, and with rising oil prices, the cost of running these labor-intensive small sites was too expensive and all bar Mt Charlotte closed. Mine workers lost jobs, entire families left town and businesses went broke. I was living in Kalgoorlie as a primary school student at the time, so it seemed like this all happened overnight, but the reality is it took several months. 

Fast-forward a few years and the price of gold rose from a low of $US165 an ounce in 1978 to a high of $US850 in early 1980. There are several theories for this dramatic rise, but in the towns of Kalgoorlie, Boulder, and the greater Goldfields region, mines reopened, exploration recommenced and the winders across the Golden Mile started spinning again.

A few years later (in the late 80s) when Alan Bond obtained the finance to buy the leases on the mile with the goal of constructing one huge pit, there were many sceptics. The idea of a ‘superpit’ also meant the end of the roasters, headframes and process plants dotting the landscape on the eastern side of town. Plants and headframes like Oroya, Paringa, North Kalgurli , Croesus, Ivanhoe were all lost.

The Town of Kalgoorlie and the Shire of Boulder amalgamated in 1989 to become the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and it wasn’t too long after that KCGM was formed and the early stages of the Super Pit, as it’s now known, began.

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As a town, Kalgoorlie has seen many future mining entrepreneurs start their careers in the operations surrounding the city. It’s the home of the major mining conference Diggers and Dealers, and it has been home at some time or another to many people who have worked in the industry. The School of Mines (or WASM) has been the institution that has trained many of our leaders today. It is still recognised as one of the top mining universities globally.

Now as the city celebrates the 125th anniversary of gold being discovered, Kalgoorlie-Boulder has a population in excess of 30,000 and a multitude of companies operating and exploring, and more than 60 million ounces (or 1700 tonnes) of gold has been obtained from this small patch of earth.

It is hard to imagine Western Australia without a mining industry, and even more difficult to think of Western Australia without the financial windfall gold delivered to the fledging state in the 1890s. For those who have called Kalgoorlie-Boulder home at some point, raise a glass this month to mark 125 years since three Irishmen wandered away from Coolgardie and started the rush on the Golden Mile.

Who knows where any of our careers would be without the Golden Mile?

If you want to talk to mining industry recruiters committed to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, we’re celebrating 18 years’ continuous operation in the town this year. Find out more here.