Kalgoorlie-Boulder is Australia's largest outback city, and one of the most famous goldmining centres on the planet. Its history is intimately linked with the fortunes of Western Australia and, indeed, of Australia as a nation.
In 1893, when Paddy Hannan and his mates happened upon alluvial gold near Mt Charlotte, no one could have predicted that, just a decade later, the twin boom towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder would be home to the fabled 'Golden Mile', reputedly the richest square mile on earth and one of the greatest concentrations of underground mines ever established.
On the surface, the Golden Mile of old was a photographer's paradise (all towering smoke stacks, ever-expanding tailings dumps, and state-of-the-art processing plants) as captured by the great photographer J.J. Dwyer. But below ground, it was an even more amazing labyrinth of shafts, tunnels and stopes. To sustain the mines, thousands of workers were required, along with vast quantities of timber for the lining of the underground workings, as well as to power the steam turbines that provided the electricity. This necessitated a secondary industry that involved a light rail network, known as the 'woodlines', by which timber cutters in the hinterland transported freshly cut wood to the mines.
And if the discoverers of gold in 1893 could not have predicted the 'Golden Mile', nor could they have imagined that by 1903 an extraordinary 560-kilometre pipeline would be providing fresh water to Kalgoorlie and Boulder, running all the way from a reservoir in the hills near Perth. C.Y.O'Connor’s engineering masterpiece remains one of the greatest feats of the early modern era, still supplying the goldfields with the commodity that remains more precious than gold itself.
For gold entrepreneurs and speculators, this was heaven on earth. But it came at great financial risk – fortunes won were just as readily lost. The euphoria of the gold boom years meant that the remarkable twin towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder were not only established, but they expanded at a rate hardly imaginable today. However, with the advent of the 'Great War' in 1914, the boom times came to a grinding halt. Mining didn't cease, but the optimism disappeared, along with a great many of the mine workers, and the global thirst for gold.
It wasn't until the Great Depression (1929-33) that gold returned to being a globally sought-after commodity, and Kalgoorlie and Boulder boomed once more, with the Golden Mile again a hive of activity and Western Australia's gold providing one of the few bright spots on Australia’s balance sheet.
During and after World War Two, the Golden Mile returned to 'struggle street' but it survived. By the 1980s, the underground mines that were still operating were no longer considered financially viable. An audacious scheme was hatched by Alan Bond to amalgamate all of the surviving mining leases into a single entity and to undertake open pit mining. While Bond himself didn't achieve this goal, others did, and today Kalgoorlie-Boulder is home to the massive Super Pit, one of the world's largest open pit gold mines.
Today's Kalgoorlie-Boulder is not only a modern city of over 30,000 residents, but a living heritage centre. The new and the old sit in harmony side-by-side, acknowledging a rich past and looking to fresh horizons. For visitors, Kalgoorlie-Boulder represents one of Australia’s most distinctive destinations, providing many rewards.