Australia's Kalgoorlie Gold Rush

A highly alluring metal, gold has cast its charm upon people all over the world. Its bright yellow glimmer has sparked countless gold rushes that led development of many towns, states and cities. Indeed, the discovery of gold in an area makes for some interesting stories, not only from a mining perspective but also a historical one.

A perfect example of this is the gold mining history of Australia. The 1880s and 1890s saw numerous gold discoveries in different areas in Western Australia. In 1885, Charles Hall made several important gold discoveries with Jack Slattery that would lead to the Kimberley gold rush and the subsequent establishment of Halls Creek. The Yilgarn gold rush was sparked by an 1887 discovery near Southern Cross. These are just some of the gold finds that led to droves of prospectors populating and developing the area.

To gain a better perspective of the impact that gold discovery has had on the land down under, let’s set our sights on Kalgoorlie. One of Australia’s most famous, the Kalgoorlie gold rush is largely credited for spiking Western Australia’s population from a meager 49,782 in 1891 to a whopping 184,124 by 1901. In just 10 years, the area that was once populated by barren bushes and hopping kangaroos was filled with bustling human activity. Located in the Goldfields-Esperance region, it lies close to the Golden Mile, which some say is the most naturally rich square mile in all the earth.

The numbers are already a clear indicator of its importance, so how did this gold rush begin? Let’s rewind back to a time when the “place of the silky pears” had yet to be established. The Coolgardie gold rush that was sparked in 1892 instigated the initial gold fever in the Western Australia area, prompting three prospectors named Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan O’Shea to journey to Mount Yule in January of the next year. At some point in their trip, the party had to stop after one of their horses had cast a shoe. It was during this chance interlude that the men spotted several signs of gold in the area. They were travelling with another party of prospectors and feigned an escaped horse so they could stay behind and keep their discovery a secret. They proceeded to search and found numerous alluvial gold nuggets near Mount Charlotte, relatively close to the Coolgardie Goldfields that were their initial destination.

Given that Hannan was the only literate one amongst the three, he rode through to Coolgardie to register the claim. The news that more than 100 ounces of gold had been found in the area sparked a veritable riot. Prospectors not only from all over Australia but even other parts of the world heard of the discovery and flocked to the area. They lived in ramshackle huts made out of canvas and iron for an extended period of time just to hunt down the gold. Poor irrigation and the sudden influx of people led to several deaths in the first few years, but development was quick to catch up. Soon enough almost a hundred hotels and 8 breweries had been put up, a stark contrast to the lonely tents and huts previously scattered in the area. In 1898, the town known as Kalgoorlie (back then it was called Hannan’s) had 2,018 people in it. After 5 years, the population swelled to around 30,000 people, and grew into the nearby town of Boulder, hence today it is known as Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Perhaps the most important development brought on by the mining boom in the area was a water pipeline made by engineer Charles Yelverton O’Connor. This pipeline allowed fresh water to come in from Mundaring Weir into the town, a critical factor in the sustainability of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. With a population of 30,000 that was constantly growing, fresh, clean water was a necessity if the town was to progress further, especially as the area was largely arid. The development of this pipeline is also central to the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, and it is still used today, stretching for a whopping 530 kilometers from Perth to Kalgoorlie.

Mining has been instrumental in shaping Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and remains a major industry until today. The aforementioned Golden Mile is made up of an stretch of sizeable goldmines that cluster around Paddy Hannan’s original gold discovery. Mining grew to include not only gold, but also nickel and other metals, and Australia’s top international mining conference, Diggers & Dealers, is held in this area.

Another interesting spot in the area is the Fimiston Open Pit or the Super Pit, an open-cut gold mine that operates 24/7 and includes a visitor center for interested tourists. An interesting dichotomy awaits you should you chance to visit this area, because much of the original historical character of the place can still be seen and felt. Character buildings have been preserved and the mines and museums serve as portals into Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s rich past. When night falls, however, this area is as lively and bright as any other modern day metropolis, but offers something more—the old-world charm of the gold rush era.

Additional Reading about Gold Mining in Australia:

The Major Goldfields and Nugget Discoveries of Australia

Mining for Gold in Australia

Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets

Get this Highly Recommended New Book:

The Gold Prospector's Field Guide:
A Modern Miner's Handbook for Successfully Finding Gold