Sunday, 27 May 2012

A - Z of Australia - K is for Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie-Boulder as this mining town is know, is situated about 600km East of Perth in the region known as Goldfields. Gold is Australia´s third biggest export commodity, and every year 850 thousand ounces of gold are produced from the most famous Australian gold mine alone. This mine - the "Super-pit" is of course Kalgoorlie´s most visited site.

The "Super-Pit" where the gold mining operations take place is a massive man made hole - 3,6km long, 1,6km wide and over 500mt deep. This big hole is expected to reach the depth of 620mt by 2017, which would equal almost 2 Eiffel towers, 6,3 Big Bens or 2 Statues of Liberty!

Gold was first found here in 1893 by prospectors Paddy Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan O´Shea, while they were travelling through the area on horseback. When they had to stop to shoe a horse they noticed gold. Hannan filed a reward claim and hundreds of men flocked to the area that was later to become known as Kalgoorlie. The "Golden Mile", as the area is known is considered to be the richest square mile of gold on earth.
In the 1890´s up to 200,000 people lived in the area (mainly prospectors), and the area had a reputation for being the wild west with prostitution and bandits. In 1903 the population was around 30,000 and nowadays the regional centre has around 36,000 residents.

The mine operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there is a visitor centre that overlooks it. There is a mine blast at 1pm daily. The massive trucks carry 225 tonnes of rock to the top and the round trip takes 35min uphill. Employees must live in Kalgoorlie and not on a fly in - fly out roster like other mining operations in the Western Australian´s northwest.
Production is expected to last until 2017, then the plan is to abandon it and allow the groundwater to seep in and fill it, which is estimated to take about 50 years to fill.

When visiting, you can obtain a licence - West Australian miners right - to dig for gold by contacting the Department of Industry and resources, and who knows you might even find your gold nugget!
Otherwise, join "Finderskeepers" for a half day gold digging adventure and you even get to keep any gold you find!!  Join their tour to see up close the operations and the monstrous trucks being driven around the mine. There is a lookout that is open from 8am to 9,30pm.

In April 2010, Kalgoorlie was rocked by a small earthquake, 5,0 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre being 30km north east of town. The super pit stopped operations and the city centre where some buildings had minor damage were evacuated for a couple of days.

The Indian-Pacific rail services runs through Kalgoorlie from Perth on the West Coast to Sydney on the East Coast. Otherwise you can reach Kalgoorlie by road through the Great Eastern Highway from Perth,  either self-drive or by bus, or there are daily flights from all over Australia.

Another interesting aspect of Kalgoorlie is the fact that it´s well known for the "skimpies" that work at the bars and chat to the customers. If you never heard of the word, "skimpy" is the name given to the underwear clad barmaids, that apparently operate on a "fly-in, fly out" basis from Perth and even from the eastern states. They work for about 1 month and then new girls come in. During their shifts the skimpies pass around their collection tin - a beer jug called "titty-kitty" for tips, and then they would remove their bra for half an hour. Those collection tins can net them anything from $500 to $2000 a week!!! They earn an hourly salary, but the biggest share of their earning is from tips.
A couple of years ago, nudity laws were implemented and the barmaids have to wear nipple stickers or risk paying a $400fine.

 (image from "the West Australian" newspaper)
Mercedes, the longest serving skimpie, who worked for 12 years in Kalgoorlie, was the most popular and best paid, earning between $1200 and $1500 per shift, which is 6 or 7 times more than any of the other girls.
Her secrets - entertain, perform, make the patrons laugh, serve their drinks and remember what they like to drink, remember their names, their family, make them feel special. She has now retired!

Things are changing though with the Mayor, Ron Yuryevich, taking credit for cleaning up the town founded on girls, gold, gambling and grog. The iconic brothels are now being converted into hotels, the skimpies have been forced to cover up and tone down, no more see-through blouses, no more stickers on the nipples, the main street that once had the biggest number of bars per square kilometre in the world, now has a fraction of them - this mainly due to the tougher rules on alcohol and drug testing by the mining industry, so things are slowly changing. He believes the character of the town has to change to include families and not be a "man´s town". Kalgoorlie now ticks all the boxes for families - country living with the all the services a family would enjoy in a city, good weather, good schooling and medical facilities and great lifestyle.

The most colourful of it´s residents would possibly be, Leigh Varis-Beswick, who in 1999 made history when becoming WA´s first transsexual to win a seat on the Kalgoorlie-Boulder city council, where she worked for 4 years.
She was also well known as comedy performer in the local clubs, worked as a prostitute, later making the transition to brothel Madam, then to council chambers with the slogan "Dare to be different".
It just shows the in that town, people are taken for what they are - so being honest and straightforward earned her the respect of the voters. She can be credited with giving the "girls" better working conditions. She retired in 2011 to travel and write her memoirs, and she can be seen showing tourists around the brothels.

Well, what do you think of all this open-mindedness?
Would you live in this sort of town?
Well, I think nowadays it´s not as wild as it used to be, so it can actually be considered a family town.


  1. It sounds like an interesting place to live, especially if you can find gold in your back garden. I am not sure I could live there for a long time, but would be fun for a month or two.

  2. I might live there my whole life if I found gold...and more gold...

  3. It's a small town with many different stories. I would like to visit and try to find some gold. It could be fun to try. But to live there would be a different case...

  4. Yes, only those that live there would be able to tell if it´s good or bad. Might be fun for those that like village type life!

  5. What an informative and interesting post Sami!! Friends of mine have just moved back to Tas after spending over a year in Kal pulling in big money. Ultimately they said the dust and heat drove them away?!

  6. Oh well, I suppose heat and dust aren´t everyone´s cup of tea, only if you want to amass a small fortune for a while.

  7. Am related to Leigh and would like to say Kalgoorlie was always safe to walk due to the brothels. 99% of sex attacks were in homes rather than an offence against the public! Many men in the goldfields abused their partners and children but sex offences were minimal when I was a kid


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