Malcolm, Leonora and Gwalia

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June 22nd 2014
Published: June 22nd 2014
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As we mentioned at the end of the last blog we are camped at Malcolm Dam, 10 kilometres east of Leonora. I find it hard to believe that I lived in the region for over 25 years, albeit 180 kms away, and did not know about this place.

Unlike Niagara Dam which is built in a rocky water course with a concrete wall, Malcolm dam is an earth wall and the water spreads out over a wide clay area. The wall is about 30 feet wide in the middle, more than enough for us to turn our car and caravan around, even far bigger rigs than ours. There are seats and shade shelters built on the dam wall as well as a big rubbish skip. Another skip is not far from where we are parked on the east side of the water. That is the total services available at this free camp site.

Chris has been wandering with the camera and we both walked out over the dam wall. We have managed to get a photograph of what we think is a large white egret at a considerable distance, grebes and some very splendid looking wood ducks. We think they are webber sized but it is not duck season. Even if we managed to get one there would be a debate over who would have to gut and pluck it. Bet it would end up being Chris because GMan would have to cook because it would have to be done in the webber – not girl territory.

We felt we were being watched recently and upon looking up discovered what we think is a brown falcon gazing down on us from a pittisporum.

There are multiple different coloured eremophila’s in the area. Some of them grow to 10 feet high. There are a lot of them and one exceptionally beautiful purple one. The best one is an eremophila with a green flower Eremophila serrulata. Chris is very pleased with her photograph.

The pittisporum’s have so much fruit it is unbelievable, the branches and weighed down with the fruit. We have labeled one photograph glorious unknown, such a pretty flower and we have no idea what it is. Our friend Alan Graham, a talented amateur naturalist, is looking for some information for us. Chris has done some work online but out internet keeps dropping out all the time it will have to be pursued when we have more reliable connectivity.

Some of the cloud formations over to the west have been spectacular as you will see from the photos.

The main town of Leonora is a very prosperous looking place these days. It used to be a dusty, run down looking town. There appears to be so much mining happening all around that there are good business like crane hire, engineering services, three service stations, electricians etc all over the place. Most people in the town are wearing high visibility clothing indicating that they work in the mining industry or provide services to mine sites. There is even a food caravan in the main street which always has several workers buying latte's and all sorts of delicious wraps or burgers.

Amazingly Leonora has not gone the way of the other small towns. They do not appear to have laid out tourist walks in the main township all tourism activity appears to be centred on Gwalia just south of the township. We did however do a walk up and down the main street and noted that some of the shops have been renovated, the White House Hotel is still looking prosperous and the sign for the former newspaper office is still in place.

We went shopping in the IGA and were pleasantly surprised by the size and range of products available. We were able to get everything we wanted and generally the brands we were interested in. One failure was no Rosella tomato soup only Heinz! The fruit and vegetables were excellent and the meat also looked very good. The prices were a little higher than we paid in Kalgoorlie but were comparable to what we have to pay in Clare in SA. Clare prices are ridiculous.

There was a rib roast marked down so we bought that and GMan cooked it in the webber. There is a photo. We teamed it with a spinach salad and it was yummy.

Just south of the town at the information bay there is a large and very rustic looking shelter and inside are housed a stamp battery and a water boiler. The dump point is also located here. Whilst we were taking photos a couple of prospectors who are actually from SA came in and filled their water tanks from a tap provided by the shire. We took careful note of this because often the only reason we go into a caravan park is to get water. We will have to be more diligent in seeking out free water sources.

We made Saturday washing day, all done by hand. I had forgotten what a task it is, but it got done and there was a stiff breeze so that it dried in a reasonable time and was well aired. The breeze continued overnight and got quite brisk at times. About 2 am we got up and had a cup of tea and read for a while then went back to bed again. When GMan got up at 5:30 am to use the porta potty the boggy tent had been blown over. Two of the tent pegs held their own so we didn’t have to chase it across the paddock in our PJ’s. Immediately upon making this discovery some light sprinkling happened. The tent was hastily bundled up and placed quickly into the car. Guess what, no more rain.

Today is Sunday and we went off to Gwalia to check out the tourist area there. It costs $10 pp to go through the museum area and the B&B. At first we were a little taken aback with this but when we caught sight of the woodline train (called Midland) it began to get better. For those who do not know small trains used to radiate out into the bush all around these small townships collecting wood to fire the boilers to condense available tainted water into potable water and to fire much of the machinery used early in the mining boom. These woodlines as they were known were a great source of collectable bottles until they were overworked in the 1970’s.

In one shed they have housed the largest steam winder in Australia, 1000 HP, it is an impressive sight. The piston housing is higher than Chris’s head (5 ft 4 in). Once more for those from a non-mining background the winder driver was one of the most respected and well paid workers on the mine. Every person’s life and every bucket of ore depended on his skill. Can you imagine having to stop a cage at exactly the correct place hundreds of feet underground with no modern communications to assist you. He worked from a system of bell rings. The shed hindered the ability to take a really good photograph of the whole winder.

Immediately outside of the winder shed is the last remaining wooden incline head frame in Australia. Made from Oregan pine it is largely intact and an impressive sight. It was relocated from where the open pit in now in 1987. The open pit is only 100 metres away!

Blooming outside the office and gift shop is a Stuart desert pea. How about the Carbonator used to make soft drinks an early soda stream I guess. There is all sorts of paraphernalia all about the place and in the former assay office are a set of very impressive gold scales.

Chris was incredibly impressed by the Mustache cup sitting in a cupboard in the area relating to social life. Not so impressed with the old typewriter, apparently she learned to type using one when she was at St. Michael’s School in Tupper Street Kalgoorlie. “You used to get rapped over the knuckles with a heavy ruler is you were noted looking at your fingers”

On the verandah of one building is a coffin leaning up against the wall and a Hannan’s Lager sign. Apparently when the Swan Brewery acquired Hannan’s Brewery in 1980 it spelled the death toll. By 1982 Hannan’s had closed. Leonora scored the very last keg of Hannan’s lager and they decided to have a burial of the full keg and a wake. This was duly done but two wags thought this was a waste of good beer so they dug it up and proceeded to drink the contents. Needless to say they got caught and had to face a “kangaroo court” of locals. The publican of the White House hotel wanted to keep the coffin and get buried in it. Unfortunately he retired to Mandurah to catch fish and crabs and died unexpectedly in 2000 and did not get his wish. Having read all that I was wondering if it was Doug Krepp, I think he had the White House at one time. Sounds like him.

The mine managers house commissioned by Herbert Hoover is now a B&B and is also open to the public. We went through the whole thing and it is a very nice house indeed. By this time we were over the whole Herbert Hoover thing, his name is attached to absolutely everything. He was only manager here for 6 months, never lived in the house and his main legacy is that he designed the head frame.

No mine managers house would be okay without a swimming pool. This old concrete model is now poised to fall into the open pit 5 feet away.

There is a beautifully restored Mail truck in one shed, I know those people around Brinkworth who restore cars would be impressed with this model.

The open pit is literally feet from the B&B, Museum etc. There are two viewing platforms and it is a baby when compared to the Bond swimming pool on the Golden Mile. They are still pulling ore from this pit and as well have gone underground as well. No poppet head they drive in and out.

At the bottom of the hill is the State Hotel. This was the first hotel built by the government and according to legend the first to see a beer strike. The patrons went on strike and stopped going to the state until the brand of beer was changed, the place was cleaned up and the manager sacked. Try that on today. The state is now privately owned and needs a darn good paint job. Other than that is looks in very good condition from the exterior.

The old shops have been restored and some of the old miners huts still are in place but all was done many years ago. The miners hut in the photograph is a very posh version, multiple rooms and it has a verandah.

The whole of Gwalia is looking a little tired. The displays need dusting, the cobwebs removed and generally sprucing up.

The one thing which came through is that this is where many of the Italian families resident is the area came to as soon as they arrived in Australia. Names like Mazza, Patroni, Poletti etc are noted in all sorts of photographs and archives.

We are heading out tomorrow to head north, through Leinster and veering off to Agnew to check out the hotel which we now understand has been closed but the building is supposed to be great, lets hope. Then on to Wiluna and the last of the nomads.

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