Odometer: 25,718km (Kalgoorlie)
Overnight stays: Broad Arrow Tavern, Kanowna; Lake Ballard, Ularring; Kalgoorlie Centennial Park, Kalgoorlie; Prospector Holiday Park, Kalgoorlie
About a month or so prior to visiting Kalgoorlie we had absolutely no intention at all to go there. But as we neared the bottom of WA and realised we had more time up our sleeve than those shining a torch on The Opera House on a weekday, the idea excited us increasingly.
Passing through Norseman, quite possibly the worst and most ugly town in Australia (it should consider itself lucky Blackall is somehow a place), our hopes were slightly dimmed, assuming a dry, hot, brown, soulless, fibro mining town awaited.
Wow were we wrong, and we couldn’t have been happier.
When gold was first discovered in this part of WA in the 1890s, towns popped up overnight with punters arriving from everywhere trying to find riches in gold. One of those towns lies north of Kal; Broad Arrow. In 1901 15,000 people roamed the streets of this bustling town, mining by day and drinking by night, at The Broad Arrow Tavern.
Less than 100 years later, in 1996, a mere two hands of people, yep, 10, called Broad Arrow home.
Somehow, the tavern remained alive and still exists to this day, lonesome in the middle of what was once a town, with all walls covered in millions of names of people who have visited over the years, now including the Wombatical Downunder.
We loved this little eclectic pub, and despite being the only patrons bar what appeared to be the owner, it had more personality than Bob Downe in his heyday. The burgers were massive and delicious, the beer battered fries enough to feed the 1901 population, and beers creamier than a brand-spanking Norseman fibro house.
Patrons can stay for free and after dinner and a drink we sat by the fire out the back of this ghostly place, enjoying a weird and rare stay in Outback Australia.
Our original intent was to visit Kal for a few days, maybe try and snag a race day, and then backtrack the 200 or so kilometres and get on the Nullarbor.
But once we reached out to few friends who had once lived here, we were told about a few gems well worth the trips, so we continued another 200km north (now 400km from the Nullarbor) to the ghost town of Gwalia.
When we explained to Liv that we were going to visit a ghost town she was pretty pumped, and then she returned to her drawing while we drove. Hours later she showed us a picture she had drawn, and as we always encourage her to do, she then proceeded to explain the drawing to us. We went into hysterics when she informed us she had drawn a bunch of goats, because they lived in a goats town, like we were visiting 😍.
En route to Gwalia we’re stopped for a coffee in the amazingly cute town of Menzies at pretty much the only shop in town. Not only was the coffee surprisingly good (she even told me what I was spelling out as an order was a Piccolo – something I stopped asking for in country towns long ago because of the odd looks I get in return), the lady was more helpful than starting a trade war with the biggest manufacturer of goods in the world.
Not unlike Broad Arrow, Gwalia was a booming and bustling place in the WA gold rush, but when the local mine was closed down in the 1960s, workers and their families left for more golden pastures, leaving everything behind, including the kitchen sink. What remained was a swarm of abandoned houses, shops and a gorgeous corner pub.
Rather than letting the town waste away with time, it was partly restored, despite a complete lack of residents, in the 1990s, allowing visitors to enter some of the buildings and get an insight into what life was like as a miner 100 years ago.
The now again functioning open-pit mine next door is equally impressive, as workers come and go as though the former town is a mere annoyance, forcing them to slow down on their way to and from work.
This goats town 🤪 was well worth the day trip, for a completely unique experience, and a bit of welcomed sunshine.
50km to the west of one of our favourite towns, Menzies, we found ourselves at Lake Ballard, which was highly recommended for an overnighter. We were a little nervous with the complete lack of travellers around the region, that the lake would be empty of people, creating a whole Wolf Creek scenario we wouldn’t want to participate in. But we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we arrived and saw a couple of campers and caravanners settled in for the night.
The lake is completely empty of water, and as a result an artist has created a series of metal sculptures of men with long dongs and women with rocket boobs spread forever across the endless lake. As such it gives visitors a reason to wander around and check out the sculptures, in what would have to be one of the largest pieces of artwork in the world…? Random, but cool.
We pulled in right on the edge of the lake, with views as far as you could see, scavenged some firewood, and settled in for one of the best campsites of the trip, feeling completely isolated, alone, and on top of the world.
It’s the remoteness and infinite salt flat views that make this place so special. As the sun was coming to a rest we wandered through the flats and up an island for breathtaking views as far as the eyes would allow. The silence and stillness was sublime, and a little spiritual.
After seeing a few punters riding their bikes across the lake flats we decided that the best way to see the sculptures, and set on our way the following morning. The riding was pretty tough as it was quite muddy in parts, but a lot of fun, as was writing our name in rocks which we have just received confirmation that the International Space Station can see clearly.
Kalgoorlie itself is a beautiful old town, with the charm of its origins still beaming through the buildings and extra wide streets. Just like Mount Isa in Outback Queensland, the main mine (and employer), the infamous Super Pit, is right on the edge of town, which is incredible in itself.
Although we roughly planned to be in Kal for one of the major race days, we were lucky enough to arrive on Ladies Day, which is the Wednesday before the big one, The Kalgoorlie Cup. We were amazed at just how big this event was, and it almost felt like we were at Randwick (almost, but not really). I have no idea if anyone was working in town that afternoon, but we assumed not. And boy were they dressed up?! The ever hotly contested Fashions of the Field, which we enjoy for a laugh as much as a good joke, would’ve been a close race, with fascinators and oversized sleeves the flavour of the month.
Just as has been a theme on the Wombatical, we couldn’t pick a winner if it was hanging out our nose, but when the clouds burned away we had a ripper of a day.
Our Super Pit tour was booked in a couple of days later, so with some time to kill on the Thursday, we wandered the beautiful streets, admiring the awesome historic skimpy pubs (from the outside, of course) and other buildings, until we reached the Goldfields Museum at the end of town.
Our knowledge of mining and this area was limited to the level that we didn’t even know how to spell Kalgoorlie until recently, so we found this museum and tour quite interesting. The vault was also impressive, holding millions of dollars worth of precious and limited gold from the area over time.
The staff had an extra spring in their step due to the fact that the biggest nugget ever had been discovered in the past few weeks – what a time to be alive!
Just as famous as gold in the WA Goldfields is the sex. It has a rich history of skimpy bars and ladies of the night, so with Loz looking after Liv, I visited the oldest working brothel in Australia. Before you get your panties in a twist, it’s a place that makes more money from tours than from sex. And I was on the tour.
The tour was super awkward. Not awkward because of the nature of the tour, but because I was the only non-Stomatolite there. I imagine this is what it would be like watching Game of Thrones with your parents. You could tell the Stroms were even more uncomfortable than I was in a brothel, bringing out some terrible jokes, clearly only seeing the light of day because no one knew what to say to each other.
The Maddam who led the tour eventually made everyone feel comfortable enough, and after giving an overdone history of pretty much modern civilisation, we were taken into some of the working rooms to get a view of the inner-brothel-workings.
All in all the tour was okay; a decent way to pass a few hours.
The Super Pit
Spanning over 3km long and over 1km wide, we were pretty pumped when we booked in our Super Pit tour. Ignorantly thinking we could call the morning of, and rock up for tour, we were set back a couple of days, which worked in well in the end anyway with all the activities we were doing.
However, on the night before our tour the rains came in and didn’t relent, continuing well into the morning. And just as we were arriving for the tour, the sms came through, “tour cancelled” 😔. We were super bummed about this, as I reckon we were looking forward to this tour as much as any on the trip. But given the next available wasn’t for a number of days, we agreed not to stick around, and started our Nullarbor trek earlier than expected.
When we stopped in for a view of the pit on the way out of town, we were even more disappointed, as it was super impressive , and the scale couldn’t have been fully appreciated unless we were amongst it. Oh well, in perspective we’ve had worse weekdays than this 😀.