Continuing east from Geraldton we next headed for the gold mining region of WA. As we travelled many emus, goannas and perrente lizards amused us during the long drive back into red dirt country. Our first stop was outside of Yalgoo at the Jokers tunnel, a 100 metre gold mine tunnel through the hillside. All of the mines in the area were named after card games and cards.
Our black mesh fly hats were brought out of our cupboards again as, just like in outback Queensland, the flies are very friendly in outback WA. As we headed for our first gold mine town of Mt Magnet the wildflowers were like roadside carpets and there were a number of Osprey and huge black eagles looking to feast on red kangaroo roadkill. Driving through Sandstone we visited the London Bridge, an old horse and cart road atop of sandstone rock that has eroded into a bridge shape, and The Brewery, a huge cave like man made hole in the rock where miners would brew and store their beer to keep it cold.
Leonora is an old mining town now modern and lovingly restored. Close by is the mostly deserted town of Gwalia (Welsh poetic name for Wales) which is today a unique heritage town site with a population of about 15. There is a program to conserve the old buildings and locals from Leonora take ‘ownership’ of restoring a building. We spent several hours meandering around Patroni’s Guesthouse, Little Pink Camp, State Hotel, Art’s Place and the swimming pool to get a feel of what it would have been like in those times. Today the Gwalia “ghost town” which was abandoned in the sixties, is located beside the huge goldmine that began as an underground mine in the late 1890’s and is now a working open cut gold mine. The enormity of today’s mine can be viewed from the Museum precinct area and the trucks and graders look like miniature matchbox toys. The local auto electrician (an ex-Illawarra chap) was very helpful as we had to get both our starting and auxiliary batteries replaced in the Pajero after requiring a jump start from a helpful free camper the previous morning. The heat must have been too much for them we think.
The Gwalia Museum provides an insight into the old days of the underground gold mine. It houses the original high standing wooden head frame towers impressively above the museum and is the only large timber underlie or incline headframe of significant size surviving from the 19th Century. At the top of the hill is the restored Hoover House and other buildings that were designed and built around 1898 by young mining engineer Herbert Clarke Hoover at age 24 and who later became the 31st President of the USA.
Leaving Leonora we passed through the small town of Menzies before driving out to Lake Ballard, where the iconic “Inside Australia” exhibition is located. World renowned artist Antony Gormley created a collection of 51 beautiful and yet haunting cast black chromium steel sculptures, mostly derived from laser scans of the local aboriginal people of Menzies, across the 10 kilometre width and breadth of the salty Lake Ballard. This gives the exhibition an eerie dimensional view of the distant figures which disappear into a mirage.
We camped here for a peaceful 4 days all by ourselves and took in the sculptures at sunset and climbed the small island hill to view them at sunrise. We walked and road our bikes (although be warned there are many soft patches and sand tyres are really required!) around many of the sculptures on our side of the huge salt lake area. They are of women, young women, girls, little picanninies, men, young men and young boys. It was with sadness and acute pain that we saw one of the women statues had been recently vandalized and could not comprehend why anyone viewing this serene art site would do it. The magic of Lake Ballard and the sight of the sculptures will remain as one of the best memories of our trip.