Coolgardie is a small mining town located 557km east of Perth in the Western Australia Goldfields. The wide streets of Coolgardie, built for camels to easily turn around, hint at a once thriving mining community that became the centre of the State’s greatest gold rush during the 1890’s.
Brief History of Coolgardie
The Coolgardie area was first explored in 1863, by explorer H.M.Lefroy and then by C.C.Hunt the following year. In 1892 two gold prospectors Arthur Bayley and his mate William Ford pegged out a claim and struck gold at Fly Flat.
They returned to Southern Cross to record their claim of 554 ounces (16.8kg). It was the local warden, John Finnerty, who gave the “Bayleys Reward” claim the Aboriginal name of Coolgardie. There are several theories about the meaning of the name, some believe it comes from the Aboriginal word “coolgabbi” meaning “tree near a watering hole” and others “Coorgardie” an Aboriginal word for a bungarra lizard.
The townsite was gazetted in 1893. The discovery of gold by Bayley and Ford created a mass movement of people from around Australia to the Western Australian goldfields. At the peak of the gold rush the population of Coolgardie boomed to 15,000 and boasted 2 stock exchanges, 3 breweries, 14 churches, 6 newspapers, over 26 hotels and a very large courthouse!
Wide streets were built to handle the teams of camels and horses that arrived and by 1896 a railway had arrived. In 1898, Coolgardie was the third biggest town in the State (after Perth and Fremantle ). The water pipeline arrived in 1903 carrying precious water from Mundaring to the goldfields. However by the onset of World War I, the town was in decline, as many moved to Kalgoorlie where gold was more plentiful. It became somewhat of a “ghost town” with the population dropping to under 200 but during the 1980’s a number of small gold operations started up again in the area and today the town boasts a population of over 2,000, thanks largely to tourism.
Things You May Not Know About Coolgardie
Prior to the building of a gaol, unfortunate prisoners were chained to what was known as the gaol tree (located on Hunt Street).
The Pizza and Hamburger shop along the main street proudly boasts that Paddy Hannan had once slept there.
As you drive past the BP petrol station have a look on the roof. There is a huge Ned Kelly replica for reasons I have yet to uncover (maybe he slept there too!).
Must Sees in Coolgardie
If you have a little time it is worth checking out the Coolgardie Cemetery. What tales can be found among the headstones.
If you are heading to Coolgardie via the Great Eastern Highway, keep a look out for a tiny town called Dedari. This is home to the No 8 pump station . It was the last of the steam stations of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme to close. It help pump the water from Mundaring to Kalgoorlie.