The Eastern Goldfields is an historic area in Western Australia that is made up of several gold mining towns.
In its hey-day Kalgoorlie was filled with cowboys, gambling and brothels.
Today, tourists can be taken on a tour of the brothels.
Langtrees 181 is a renovated bordello where each room has a different theme depicting the lives of the women who once worked there.
While the gold-rush of the mid 19th Century was predominately in Victoria, Western Australia joined the mix.
By the turn of the Century, Australia had become the world’s largest producer of gold, half of which came from Western Australia.
Gold was produced at the Kimberly for a short time in 1885, and then at Southern Cross in 1888 and Coolgardie in 1892, but it was three Irishmen who triggered the rush in Western Australia in June 1893.
Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Daniel Shea were camping at Mt Charlotte and by chance discovered some 100 ounces of gold in alluvial nuggets.
After a few days they reported the find to the mining warden in Coolgardie.
Hundreds of diggers were soon pegging out new claims around Kalgoorlie, then elsewhere in the region.
The early pickings were rich, but the circumstances were different from those in New South Wales and Victoria. This was desert and water was scarce.
It was enormously expensive to obtain supplies of food and equipment in such a remote part of the continent. Eventually a reservoir was built in Kalgoorlie, by which time the surface gold was working itself out and highly capitalised companies financed by British investors were mining gold leads deep underground.
Hundreds of companies were floated and the population of Western Australia swelled with people streaming in from Victoria and New South Wales.
As the prosperity of the region improved, large public works programs were undertaken.
A harbour was built at Freemantle and a railway network linked the dozens of newly established gold towns, though many townships died when the seams were exhausted.
Numerous small underground mines opened up at the height of the rush.
The mines stretched for some 5 km and were commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Mile.’
The early methods of extraction were primitive at best.
The very earliest gold extraction techniques used by diggers was cradle and gold.
As diggers began to settle more permanently on the goldfields they began mining in new ways that required additional land and a systematic and scientific approach to the extraction of the ore.
When shallow alluvial ground was deemed ‘worked-out’, mining legislation permitted larger claims to be taken up for puddling purposes.
The process involved the removal and processing of all the dirt, usually down to bedrock, stripping both gullies and hillsides (a practice known as surfacing). Puddling machines powered by horses could treat several tons of earth a day.
The machines comprised of a circular wood-lined trough with a wooden pivot on the central mound.
A long, horizontal wooden pole was attached to the post by an iron pin and a horse was harnessed to the other end. Iron rakes hung from the pole and were dragged around the trench to break up the clay and free the gold. The water necessary for this process was obtained from a dam (the right to construct one came with a puddling lease) or from a water race.
Puddling operations led to considerable changes in the goldfield’s landscape.
Sludge, the residue of puddled washdirt, choked watercourses and covered auriferous ground and roads.
In some places special measures, such as the construction of sludge channels and the employment of workers to clear the watercourses, the cost borne by the proprietors of the puddling machines, were introduced to keep the channels running free.
Quartz reef mining proved to be the most widely practised extraction method used in the region and it even continues to be successfully employed to the present day.
Quartz reefs were the primary source of gold in most goldfields. They generally dipped steeply and were mined in sections leaving large slots in the ground where the reef had been.
The reefs were first quarried or open-cut to reap the benefit of their rich surface exposures then, shafts were sunk, or tunnels were driven into the sides of the hills, to trace the gold concealed at greater depths.
Once extracted, the quartz had to be crushed to a fine sand to remove the gold.
To accomplish this more efficiently than by just using hammers, machines such as crushing mills and stamping batteries, powered by hand, horse and eventually steam, were installed at the mining sites.
By the end of World War II, however, the once prosperous Kalgoorlie had fallen into steady decline due to increasing production costs in the mining industry and the static gold prices.
Miners became unhappy with the decreasing workload and believed that returned servicemen and Australian citizens should be given preference over foreign workers.
In response, race riots erupted as disgruntled Australians set fire to foreign owned businesses.
The riots began after an inebriated British Miner, Edward Jordan, was allegedly killed by an Italian. British miners were resolved to the fact that they would not work until unnaturalised miners were ejected from their jobs. The Australian Workers Union (AWU) proceeded to call a meeting in an attempt to end the strike.
After several days of meetings and negotiations the Chamber of Mines agreed to follow a policy of British preference, but would not consider removing southern Europeans from their jobs as this would create an untenable labour shortage.
Despite this, by the end of the week, the miners had agreed to return to work on the AWU officials’ assurances that an English language test would be more carefully administered to migrant workers. More strikes occurred the following year when the Chamber of Mines and the AWU entered into a protracted dispute.
During 1934, the AWU mining division had served a log of claims on the Chamber of Mines.
The new award gave some pay increases but allowed for no reductions in hours and suggested that the 88 hour fortnight could be worked using alternating 40 and 48 hour weeks.
The AWU agreed to accept the new award but warned the Chamber of Mines that any attempt to implement the hours clause would be regarded as ‘hostile action.’
The Chamber of Mines proceeded to immediately implement the new hours, locking out miners who attempted to work under the old arrangements.
The AWU leadership called for strike action.
After six weeks, a return to work was accepted under the proviso that a ballot would be held to ascertain which working hours arrangement was preferred.
The ballot was for union members only and both sides agreed to abide by the outcome of the voting.
On 30 March 1935, the members voted overwhelmingly to reject the imposition of a 48 hour work week.
Mining much more
During the great depression the price of gold started to fall dramatically as the region’s easy pickings dried up. By the 1960s a lot of mines were forced into decommission as gold prices continued to fall and production costs continued to surge.
The Sons of Gwalia goldmine had been in operation since August 1896, and even lived through a fire (which surprisingly only burnt the non-profitable parts of the mine) before it was finally shut down some 67 years later in December 1963.
At that stage, the mine had reached a depth of 1600 m or 32 levels.
However, when gold made a resurgence in 1980 so too did the gold mine.
By 1980, gold had been floated on the world market and the price of gold had gone from around $18 per ounce to some $800 per ounce, virtually overnight.
When the sons of Gwalia mine closed, the cut-off or economic grade was 5 grams of gold per tonne of ore milled, by 1982, with a high gold price and the carbon in pulp method of processing, the waste of the 1960s was suddenly quite valuable.
The high gold prices of the 1980s proved to be a booming time for the Goldfields-Esperance region as the Fimiston Open Pit, commonly referred to as the Super Pit, went into production.
Western Australia business man Alan Bond was the brains behind the operation.
Bond attempted to buy up all the individual leases that had originally formed the golden mile in an attempt to consolidate the small underground mines into a single open pit mine.
For the first time, all leases and infrastructure of the Golden Mile, Mt Charlotte (and Mt Percy to the north) had been brought together. Today, Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) manages the operation for Newmont Australia and Barrick Gold of Australia.
Most of the gold mined at the Super Pit occurs within ore loads formed by ancient shears in a rock unit called the Golden Mile Dolerite.
There are over 800 ore loads that occur within the Golden Mile Dolerite which is found in an area over 5 km in strike and 2 km in width and occurs to a depth of over 1 km.
In extracting the resource, old workings are first marked out and then mining engineers plant the blast shots from the information given to them by the geologists.
Blasting occurs, on average, three to four times a week providing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rock to move.
Each blast is given a 12 hour settling period to allow any old workings to open up.
Face shovels load 225 tonne mining trucks for the trip to the waste rock dump site, or conversely, the ore crusher. Beyond Gold Contrary to its namesake, the Eastern Goldfields mines a lot more than gold. Nickel, copper and zinc are all mined throughout the area.
In fact, the region contains one of the greatest resources of nickel in Australia.
In 2007 the estimated value of minerals and petroleum production in the Goldfields-Esperance region was $9.3 billion (17% of the WA total — second behind Pilbara region) of which $6.3 billion was from nickel and gold was $2.6 billion. In fact, the last few years has seen the value of nickel surge.
In 2004/05, nickel production was valued at $2.3 billion in comparison to today’s $6.3 billion. What was originally a gold town, the mining cities that make up the Goldfields Esperance region are now more associated with nickel since the commencement of mining in the mid-1960s.
At last count, Western Australia accounted for all of Australia’s Nickel production, 66% of which came from the Goldfields-Esperance region.
A significant project in recent years has been BHP Billiton’s Ravensthorpe nickel laterite mine and hydrometallurgical facility.
The project, which was officially opened in May 2008, will employ 650 workers in the south-east of the State and produce up to 50,000 tonnes of nickel and 1,400 tonnes of cobalt per annum over its 25-year lifespan.
Western Australia Premier Alan Carpenter said the project was the culmination of eight years of work by BHP Billiton and three tiers of Australian government.
“An historic 2004 agreement saw the State Government contribute $18 million, the Federal Government $9.8 million and BHP Billiton $9.5 million to the development of multi-user infrastructure in the Shire of Ravensthorpe,” Carpenter said.
“State Government funding was contingent on a regional workforce rather than a fly-in, fly-out operation being employed.”
The Ravensthorpe Nickel project is the biggest investment in BHP Billiton’s history, including the associated upgrade of the Yabulu refinery in Queensland. With the addition of Ravensthorpe ,the gold rush of the early 1900s seems to have been replaced by a nickel rush.
Whatever the case, the Eastern golfields represents the rush that never ended.