Going for gold in Coolgardie

Coolgardie is a West Australian town on the Great Eastern Highway just West of Kalgoorlie which had its best days long ago.

Today Coolgardie is much quieter than at its gold rush peak, but it is a town that has immense historical interest.

The Shire of Coolgardie is approximately 550 kilometres east of Perth, and 350 kilometres north of Esperance. It encompasses an area of 30,400 km² and includes the towns of Coolgardie, Kambalda East, Kambalda West, Widgiemooltha and Kurrawang. These days approximately 5,900 people live in the Shire.

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.

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.    

These days all that is left are the remnants of those gold rush days, and that makes Coolgardie an interesting place to visit.

Housed in the historic and grandiose two storey Wardens Court Building (built 1898) is the Goldfields Exhibition Museum. Each room features fascinating displays telling the dramatic and tragic story of life in and around Coolgardie during the gold rush.

Coolgardie also has an interesting Pharmacy Museum. This is one of the best pharmaceutical collections on display in Australia. The Museum houses a collection of 18th and 19th century medicines and various advertisements and posters and is located in the Old Gaol Complex.

Another fascinating place to visit is the Waghorn Bottle Collection. This amazing collection has won many prizes and is one of the largest and most comprehensive antique bottle displays in Australia. It includes bottles and glassware dating from 300BC through to the present day.

Much of Coolgardie’s fascinating history can be read on the headstones of the Pioneer Cemetery (1892 – 1894) and the Coolgardie Cemetery (1894 – ). As Typhoid raced through the town in the early Gold Rush Days many people died without their identity being recorded.

Famous explorers Ernest Giles, Bertha Finnerty and Tagh Mahomed are buried here along with the many unknowns. The grave of the ghost, Elizabeth Gold, can be found at the Coolgardie Cemetery, not far from the resting place of her murderer.

Many people drive past Coolgardie on the way either East or West, and most proceed through the town without stopping.  However, it is an interesting place, particularly because of its historical significance.  Given that mining is the most important industry in Western Australia, Coolgardie also represents the fleeting impact that mining has had on many West Australian towns that have boomed and then died just as suddenly, and so Coolgardie is definitely worthy of a visit.

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