Tag Archives: gold

A Town Like Kambalda

There’s nothing sleepier than a mining town on a Sunday morning. Kambalda’s empty streets have less to do with full church pews and more to do, I suspect, with folks heading down to Esperance to test the beaches in preparation for summer. What could be a better time for a look around?

A former service station has become the final resting place for a few relics from the Silver Lake nickel mine. It’s a whole new world to me. Those giant wheels that remind me of wagons and Western movies are really a section of a headframe. The orange monster that belongs in a Transformers movie is really a jumbo formerly of the Western Mining Corporation.

Jumbo-sized: A relic from the Western Mining Corporation welcomes visitors to Kambalda, the nickel and gold mining town south of Kalgoorlie

Jumbo-sized: A relic from the Western Mining Corporation welcomes visitors to Kambalda, the nickel and gold mining town south of Kalgoorlie

I clamber on board the jumbo to strike up (to my mind, at least) an incredibly artistic and glamorous pose. My deplorably lanky legs dangle on the steps and I’m cringing at the sight of cobwebs. What can I say about the beer bottle that occupies pride of place by the driver’s seat? Words fail me.

Golden Wheels: The headframe from the Silver Lake shaft

Golden Wheels: The headframe from the Silver Lake shaft

A local artist ambles out to meet us. His name is John and the service station is to become the town’s art centre, he tells us. A town like Kambalda is a good place to bring up your kids. There’s windsurfing on the weekends and the nearby reserve is home to some of the regions oldest trees. Have we driven down the main street yet? Yes, there’s even a Woolworths and did we know that the town could be sitting on a very large nickel deposit. Had we driven up the Serpentine road yet and seen the view of Lake Lefroy?

Clearly, there was a lot more to be learnt about Kambalda. Is this the sort of town that inspires books such as Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice? However, the further mysteries of Kambalda we left for another day and turned onto the road towards Coolgardie. Another mining town and a story for another day.

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More Than a Pinch of Salt

I’m having breakfast in a car in the Bunnings car park at Kalgoorlie.  This is the first time I’ve had breakfast in a car…or in a car park…or outside a hardware store. If you’ve never done it, then I highly recommend it. It’s very satisfying to munch your way through muffins and mochas while ogling some of the extravagant excuses that pass for cars in this town. It’s great fun to read licence plates and figure out where the drivers are from. I wonder if a drive-in movie (does Perth have this?) will be just as much fun.

We’re on our way to Kambalda, my friend and I, to see Lake Lefroy where he works as a geologist. To my mind, anyone who works in mine is a miner. I’ve probably insulted all my geologist friends by saying this. So I will say no more on the matter. (But really, you work in a mine, therefore…?) Kambalda is south of Kalgoorlie and according to my friend there’s nothing there. According to the guidebooks, this is a good spot for landsailing and one of the final holes of the Nullarbor Golf Course. I’m only interested in the view.

So, after depositing our breakfast debris in a dustbin we pass on the way – I’m still very embarrassed about using someone else’s bin – we hit the highway and drive, quite literally, off into the wild blue yonder. Roads in Australia, I’ve discovered, go only one way. Straight.

Of mines and men: Open pits loom over the salty stretches of Lake Lefroy

Mid-morning and fifty kilometres later, we reach the lookout point over Lake Lefroy. This is the largest salt lake I’ve ever seen. It stretches all the way to the horizon and but for a few islands and open pits where nickel and gold are mined, this is a barren wasteland. The salt shining in the sun looks uncannily like water and I wonder how many prospectors have made that mistake in the past. Lake Ballard has nothing on this. Iron statues, yes, but these pale into insignificance against the vast expanse of Lake Lefroy.

Life happens: A wildflower pushes its way through the rocky soil

It may seem barren, but it’s beautiful – and not quite the wasteland either. Blue spring flowers are pushing through cracks in the red, rocky soil. Hardy bushes with cottony blooms cling tenaciously to the hillside. Somewhere out across the lake, men are working hard, mining for nickel and gold.

For us, however, it’s the weekend. “Let’s head down to Esperance,” says my friend. But that, dear reader, is another story.

For the photographs of Kambalda, I thank my friend, the miner geologist.

The Mint Without a Hole

I’ve ticked another thing-to-do-in-Perth off my list – the Perth Mint. I’m not quite sure what to write about the Mint. It’s an old building, built in limestone from Rottnest Island (been there, done that). It reminds me of the Porbandar limestone of Afghan Church in Mumbai.

The Perth Mint is Australia’s largest gold refiner – or so the brochure says. It used to be the Royal Mint and was opened in 1899 to cope with regional gold rush. It has WA’s first bougainevillea tree, a prospector’s camp in its inner courtyard, and statues of the two prospectors who first discovered gold out in the front. And you can’t take photographs of the gold  pour, which is the highlight of the tour. Since I forgot to take my camera along, it didn’t matter anyway.

I know that I was supposed to be impressed with the making of a gold ingot, and then be tempted to have my own customised message engraved in a Perth Mint coin set in jarrah wood. Or perhaps invest in some of the jewellery displayed in the store. But I have a miserly Indian heart and just couldn’t loosen the purse strings for 9-karat-gold ornaments.

However, I found it far more interesting that India is the world’s largest consumer of gold. A  thali  or wedding necklace was on display, and the plaque proclaimed Kolkata’s jewellers as among the best in India. Hmm. Never heard of that one before. I always thought Mumbai was known for its jewellers. I remember seeing a student film about people who sweep the streets outside jewellery shops, hoping to find gold dust.

Also interesting was the fact that the walls of the refinery are probably soaked with gold dust, not to mention the chimney – don’t bother with stealing the ingots, just knock off the chimney, I say. I wonder just how much gold dust the workers have absorbed over a lifetime? Forget about gold beauty treatments – just work in the Mint!

Having finished our tour of the Mint well within an hour my friend and I braved the terrors of the tea room. It’s a very nice place, actually – the terror was the caramel mud cake which was, well – it would’ve been easier to cut a gold ingot with my fork, it was that hard. Still don’t know why they serve cake cold in Oz. As my friend and I mulled, or- more truthfully,- muttered and masticated – over our unwise selection, the tour guide came by our table.

“I must say that when I saw you, I thought the day couldn’t get any better,” he told my elegantly beautiful African friend. “And then you put on your lip gloss.”

Just exactly who was doing the sightseeing here, I wonder.