“Mother of the Western Australian Goldfields”
Coolgardie is located 550 kilometres east of Perth, approximately 40 kilometres west of Kalgoorlie, and 187 kilometres north of Norseman. The name Coolgardie is said to be derived from the aboriginal word “Coolcaby”, and is said to be a reference to the area’s mulga vegetation and gnamma waterholes.
The name Coolgardie is said to be derived from the aboriginal word “Coolcaby,” which is in reference to the area’s mulga vegetation and gnamma waterholes. Over the years, Coolgardie was known by various names such as Bayley’s Find, Fly Flat, The Old Camp and The Old Diggings.
The Coolgardie area was first explored by H.M. Lefroy in 1863 and then by C.C. Hunt in 1864. As a result of Hunt’s efforts, the area became accessible to Europeans. But Coolgardie owes its existence to the discovery of gold at nearby Fly Flat, 120 miles to the east of Southern Cross, back in 1892.
According to all accounts, gold was discovered in the area by Arthur Bayley and William Ford on the 17 September 1892. Bayley hastily reported the discovery of 554 ounces of gold to J.M. Finnerty, then the resident mining warden at Southern Cross. At the time 554 ounces of gold was worth 2200 pounds ($4,400) and in accordance with Western Australian mining regulations, Bailey was offered a reward claim covering 20 acres of land at Fly Flat. Bayley’s reward claim proved to be very profitable, and during the 70 years of existence, this mining claim recovered over 500,000 ounces of gold.
From an historical perspective, the Coolgardie gold find proved to be one of immense national significance. During the 1890’s, Eastern Australia experienced a severe depression and people flocked to the areas around Coolgardie in the hope of a better life. However, while some found gold, many only found hardship, sickness and death caused by inadequate housing, lack of fresh water and food, insufficient medical attention and supplies.
Despite early hardships, within the short space of ten years, Coolgardie’s population had grown to a staggering 16,000.
By 1896, the railway had arrived and by 1898, Coolgardie was the third largest town in Western Australia (after Perth and Fremantle). Two stock exchanges, three breweries, six newspapers, 60 stores, 26 hotels and many churches were evident during this time. The town was named in 1893 and became a municipality the following year.
The Post Office opened in 1895 and the following year electricity and a swimming pool enhanced the hard life of the miners. By 1897, the level of enthusiasm about the potential of the region was such that over 700 mining companies had been floated in London. The water pipeline arrived in 1903 and a year earlier the town had seen the construction of the State Battery.
As the surface gold ran out, many prospectors left the fields disillusioned and penniless. Others headed to Kalgoorlie (East Coolgardie as it was known then) and later worked for mining companies for as little as $6.00 per week.
Coolgardie still continues its long association with the gold industry by more efficient open pit mining and recovery methods. The Coolgardie of today is a pleasant inland town which has retained many aspects of its rich and colourful past. Once the centre of Australia’s greatest gold rush, Coolgardie is now the nation’s best preserved gold mining town. Coolgardie has carefully preserved the best of its past. Its wide streets are lined by grand stone and brick buildings mixed with corrugated iron and timber homes reflecting both the wealth and importance of the gold rush.
In the 1890s there were four mining fields gazetted with Coolgardie as reference point:
- Coolgardie Gold Field (1894)
- East Coolgardie Gold Field (1894). In 1902, this was the richest gold field in Western Australia.
- North Coolgardie Gold Field (1895)
- North East Coolgardie Gold Field (1896)
Despite the changes to the Kalgoorlie region, Coolgardie still has a Mining Registrar
Things You May Not Know About Coolgardie
- The postcode for Coolgardie is 6429
- 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!).
Goldfields and Coolgardie Museum
The Goldfields and Coolgardie Museum is located on Bayley Street adjacent to the Coolgardie Tourist Bureau. Housed within the historic Mining Warden’s Court Building, this fine museum offers an excellent introduction to the early colourful social history of the Coolgardie Goldfields. Excellent photographic displays depict Coolgardie’s early years and the hardships endured on the goldfields. A number of period rooms are on display along with a wide collection of historical memorabilia and aboriginal cultural artefacts.
A feature of the collection is the Waghorn bottle and curio collection. Coolgardie’s Goldfield’s Museum is definitely well worth visiting for an hour or 2 and would particularly appeal to family and school groups. Cost of entry was $3-30 for adults at the end of 2001.
Coolgardie Pharmacy Museum
Coolgardie’s Pharmacy Museum is surprisingly interesting. Said to be one of the best historical pharmaceutical displays in Australia, Coolgardie’s pharmacy museum houses an extensive collection of 18th and 19th century medicines. Numerous advertisements and antique tools of the chemists trade or on display. A Coolgardie local named Ronnie Potter manages the museum.
Ronnie is certainly one of Coolgardie’s characters and he definitely is very knowledgeable about medications and the history of the goldfields. For those of you on prescription medications a short visit to this museum could prove very addictive. Opening hours 7-30 am to 4 pm. Cost of admission $3-30 for adults at the end of 2001. Discounts are offered to seniors and family groups.
Ben Prior’s Park
Ben Prior’s Park is an open air display of old mining equipment, including mining jigs, drills, antiquated boilers and head frames. For those of you with an interest in vintage mining equipment a short visit might well be of some interest. Entry to Ben Prior Park is free and the display is located on Bayley Street – Coolgardie’s main thoroughfare.
Coolgardie Camel Farm
Coolgardie’s development has been intimately linked with camels and the town’s wide streets are reputed to have been designed to accommodate turning camel trains. Coolgardie’s Camel Farm is located 4 kilometres west of town along the Great Eastern Highway. At the Camel Farm visitors can try their hand at riding camels and overnight camel treks are available by arrangement.
Coolgardie’s Parklands are located on the western end of Bayley Street. These parklands are well shaded and grassed, with an excellent playground. A number of gas barbecues are available along with undercover seating areas. Coolgardie’s Parklands offer travellers an excellent picnic spot and place to let the kids stretch their legs.