Monday, 23 May 2016

Lake Ballard, Gwalia and on to Newman

Where are we?

Route to Karijini

We are in Newman.

The End of the Stove Saga

Much to our relief, we were able to purchase a replacement two burner stove in Kalgoorlie and with this stored safely in the van, we headed off north towards Karijini, our first port of call en-route being Lake Ballard.

Lake Ballard

Lake Ballard is a large salt pan about 50 kms north east of the town of Menzies which itself is 135km north of Kalgoorlie. So why are we driving over 1000 kms to Lake Ballard from Perth?

Angel of the North

In 2003, Antony Gormley, and English artist and sculptor famous for the Angel of the North statue in Gateshead (which when we lived in the North East, we saw being driven in parts along the old A1 to Gateshead for assembly), placed 51 cast stainless steel figures, many of them representing the people who lived in Menzies, across the Lake Ballard salt pan. He persuaded local people to strip naked, did a digital scan of their bodies, reduced the images by 66 per cent, turned them into sand moulds and cast them in stainless steel alloy made from metal ores found in the area.

There is a YouTube video about Lake Ballard here

Menzies - once a town which was dependent upon mining

Much of Australia is dotted with towns which were briefly thriving in the days of the gold rush and are now nearly abandoned and Menzies is a perfect example. In the early 1900s, the population of Menzies went from zero to 10,000 and back to almost zero in 10 years and the 2006 census records it as 56 and with more houses than people.

One website starts its description of Menzies with:

Menzies has what is arguably the most unpleasant climate of any town in W.A. with the lowest of lows and some of the highest highs. There isn't a great deal in the town to attract visitors…..

The main street has a few grand buildings still standing, a few what were obviously small shops, and lots of space in between them.

Once we got to Menzies, we had to drive off road about 50km along a dirt track to the lake. This drive was an event in itself because it was the first long off road driving we did this trip.

Lake Ballard mud map

The Lake Ballard website contains a lot of useful information including a podcast which we listened to as we drove along the dirt track to the lake..

As an aside, driving on dirt roads requires a different set of skills to those used on standard roads including the ability to survive when enveloped by dust.

MVI 4643 001

It is commonplace to meet Road Trains coming towards you at high speed

MVI 4643 002

and as they so so they create not only a cloud of impenetrable dust

MVI 4643 003

they also throw up a lot of windscreen cracking stones. 

Road Train Dust

Road Train Dust 2

then as they pass you, the rest of the world disappears and we have often found that tailgating the Road Train is another vehicle hiding in the dust cloud. For this reason, a sensible driver pulls over when they see a road train coming towards them and waits until the dust has blown away. The dirt road to lake Ballard was our first experience of this hazard this year.

Lake Ballard Sign

After 51 km, we came to the Lake Ballard sign. Australia seems to be very bad at placing reassuring signs along roads which tell you that you are still going in the right direction. There were a number of places where we had to make a choice of direction on this road but our plan of choosing the most wheel worn road seems to have worked.

Van parked at Lake Ballard

Our parking space by the lake has the obligatory Aussie accompaniment of a fire pit and barbecue plate and the local council have put some wood nearby for to to use if you want to start a fire.  

Vastness of Lake

Most of the year the lake is a large salty mud flat upon


Muddy Feet

which you are encouraged not to try driving (I am sure we would sink because our van weighs about 3 tonnes). Feet marks show how soft and muddy the surface is.

Lake with figure 

Scattered across its 49 square km surface are figures such as this

Figure in Lake Ballard

We are undecided as to the overall artistic effect but the figures themselves are quite interesting 

One Statue  Face of Figure in Lake Ballard

with some remnants of facial features remaining.

Lake and two figures

Size wise, they are about two thirds of human height. 

Lake Message

As we leave, we make our own artistic creation on the lake surface.


Sunset comes at around 1700 as we are driving northwards to Leonora

Leonora CampSite

to stay at a miners RV camp for the night,

Red Dust Everywhere

and Red Dust is everywhere of course.

There is a working gold mine here and there are also lots of old and officially defunct gold mines. Prospecting is something we have found many people do and many prospectors like to go over the waste from old gold workings looking for missed nuggets and last time we were here, we camped next to a prospector who showed us his latest findings.

Gold Course

Leonora is home to a training course for would be prospectors and there were a number of these at the camp. Their Utes seemed to be equipped with everything you might need if you were living out in the bush for a long period.

The Stove Works 

At the camp our stove proves it works


and the chef produces a fine dish of Pasta, Pesto, Peas, Rocket and Cheese although out in the Bush the peas are tinned rather than frozen and the cheese is cheddar rather than Parmesan and the Rocket is diced lettuce - life can be hard when you are on the road.

The Ghost Town of Gwalia

Some Gold Rush towns in the area have survived for much longer than others. Close to the town of Leonora, is the remains of the gold mining town “Gwalia” (Gwalia is an ancient name for Wales). Mining started here in 1897 and in 1898

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover, later to become President of the United States, was appointed General Manager of the Sons of Gwalia mine. Although underground mining is likely to continue for some while, the remains of the original mining town is now marketed as a Ghost Town and Museum to passing tourists. So far, the mine has produced over 70 tonnes of Gold.

Gwalia gold open pit

As is very common in this area of Australia, there is an enormous excavated hole from which gold bearing ore has been extracted. The Open Cut Statistics for this hole are:

  • Depth 290m
  • Width 750m
  • Across 900m
  • Rock Moved 250 million cubic metres
  • Ore Processed 14.4 million tonnes
  • Gold Won 2.5 million ounces
  • Average Yield 5.2 grams per tonne

or at current gold prices, $250 for every tonne of ore processed.

Gwalia Gold Pit from Air 

The museum there is full of old mining machinery in various states of disrepair.

Of particular interest is the Mine Manager’s House - Herbert Hoover’s House which cost $600 when it

Herbert Hoover s House

was built in 1898, a cost which was 6 times the average price for a house of the time. It is said to be the only Presidential House outside of the USA. It is currently used as a B&B and is much as he left it. Once the B&B guests have left, visitors can wander around it.

HH House Dining Room

This is the original dining room

HH House sitting room

 the sitting room

HH House Bedroom

and his bedroom which he designed for himself and the lady with whom he had “an understanding” - his future wife.

Down the hill below the Mine manager’s House are the remains of the old town of Gwalia. When the mine first closed in 1963, the town’s population went from 1200 to 40 in three weeks as everyone packed up what they could and left on the railway with extra trains being laid on to take them to Kalgoorlie.

Gwalia State Hotel

Today there are three of the Business Buildings left. This is the Gwalia State Hotel, State because it was Government built and owned because no one would build a privately owned hotel in the town due to freehold title issues.

In 1919 it was also the site of the Northern Territory’s first Beer Strike. The strike was called to protest about the brand of beer sold, its price, the size and cleanliness of the glasses and the behaviour of the manager whom the strikers insisted should be dismissed.

The strike however was undermined because during it, the town was hit with an influenza epidemic and the hotel was closed and turned into a temporary hospital so no beer would have been sold there in any case!

Mazza s Store

This is Mazza’s Store

Mazza Inside

which was a "One Stop Store” which "sold everything” and prided itself on service

Patronis Guest House

and this is Patronis Boarding House which when you go inside, is just as it was left when the owners walked out.

Patronis Inside

Patronis Kitchen

This is the Kitchen

Patronis DIning Room

and this is the Dining Room where 28 were served at each meal sitting. There was no choice in what they were served - apparently Tuesday was Curry Night and this was the least popular evening.

Mrs Patroni had 40 beds in the “Camp” (the name given to shacks in the garden) out back and in 1935, charges were 35 shillings a week for full board and lodging, an amount which was about 1/3rd of a miner’s wage.


Many of the houses which are still standing are open to walk in, and they are exactly as they were when the previous owners / occupants walked out.

House 2

House 2 inside

  House 2 Inside 001

House 3

House 3 Inside  House 3 Inside 002

House 3 Inside 001

When you go inside the houses, you get a real sense of how hard life was at that time and the relative poverty of the unskilled mine labourers. 

Mining and Western Australia 

Part of my research for this trip was to learn about the geology of Australia. The amount of natural resources within this continent is astonishing. 

Aust minerals

This map shows when these resources were discovered and it was a surprise to find out how much was discovered in the past few years. Coal was the first to be discovered 10 years after the First Fleet arrived in 1788 and discoveries are still happening.

Iron Ore in Australia

89% of Australian and 22% of the worlds' iron ore is said to be in Western Australia. Mining is big business as has already been evidenced by the pit at Kalgoorlie and the numerous pits, small and large that we have passed. We are currently in Gold but heading towards Nickel then Iron and ending our trip in Uranium (plus a few others).

Mining Wiluna Leinster map

and we pass many mines on our way north to Wiluna which is another almost ex mining town and then west to Meekatharra which used to be a mining town but now is just a refuelling stop on the road north.

Boring Empty Road

Much of the countryside around here is quite boring and the roads are flat and straight and either tarmac roads

Dirt Road

or a rather bumpy 180 km long dirt road - preparation for the Gibb is the way we decided to look at it.

Roadhouse at Kimarina

Roadhouses along the way are places to stop for a coffee, a toilet and refuel.

Roadhouse Cafe

This one is at Kumarina on the Great Northern Highway. 

Wall Map

Looking at this map, we started in Perth (bottom left), then went diagonally down towards the 4 pm position across a white bit (no big roads) then up to Kalgoorlie (in the middle opposite Perth) and then roughly northwards and we are now at the Red Spot still heading north and then west to Karijini.

Here Diesel Fuel sells for an expensive outback price of $1.90 a litre ($1.14 in Perth) but if you need it, you have to buy it. Luckily we do not need it at that price, what we do need however is some of their delicious homemade Mango Fruitcake.

Tropic of Capricorn

The Tropic of Capricorn Sign is an excuse to stop for a photograph and eventually we get to

Chef at Newman

Newman (a rather hot and dusty Mining town) where we camp and cook sweetcorn

Newman Snake Sign

and the Chef has this sign in mind as she does so. Tomorrow we head north west towards Karijini National Park.

Then after Karijini, we are going to nearby Tom Price where we hope to go on a tour of a large pit and then drive towards Dampier along a 4WD track which parallels a railway line built across the Pilbara just to take Iron Ore to a port about 400 kms away for export.

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