Crosscut Clyde's mining tour of Australia, part three

OUR national mining tour draws to an end in Western Australia, where the industry has left an indelible mark on the landscape and the people. By Crosscut Clyde.

Staff Reporter


When I started this circumnavigation around our great land, to share the wonders of the mining industry from state to state, I thought it would take only one story. However, here we are at episode three, and I will make it the last of the journey.


Today we head a bit north and over west after leaving Kalgoorlie, into the spinifex and saltbush country where our next destination lies.


Modern and not-so-modern operations have come and gone along the route that takes us through Menzies and Leonora.


As you drive past the remnants of these old mining towns you have to marvel at how anyone could have survived the heat, living in those old corrugated iron shacks and working all day under the fierce sun.


Now here’s a question. Just how will our Generation Y look upon these settlements?


Bring on Australian history – with mining as a special topic – as a mandatory school subject I say. This history still stands today for anyone to see, but after a few more years of climate exposure these remnants of an earlier time will no doubt disappear.


Anyhow, back to the track. For a real treat of outback architecture turn left at any sign post that points to Sandstone – but be sure you have the right wheels under you.


Here you can see the marvellous workmanship of the early pioneers, who had the uncanny ability to create magnificent buildings and facades despite remoteness and heat.


So head to Sandstone and see for yourself. I hope it is still standing.


Such craftsmanship can be seen in so many places around the inner countryside across all the states, and I am sure someone would have written a book about it by now.


Next port of call is Mt Magnet, where the old and the new come together marvellously. You can take your pick, but for me I know this is a great place to get a beer along with the feeling of yesteryear.


Now here is the dilemma I spoke about last week regarding Western Australia’s landscape and mining heritage. It’s everywhere and I could have just as easily said head south or straight west from Kalgoorlie and you would have seen and absorbed as much as along the route I’ve taken.


If you head towards the Southern Ocean, for instance, you’ll see the supportive town of Esperance which also profited from the early boom times of the industry.


Make your way west through to Ravensthorpe and there you will find more headframes and shafts along the way, where the miners met the farmers.


If you head west, towards Perth, you will pass through Southern Cross and numerous other small towns built around the twin themes of sheep and metals.


At some stage, however, you are eventually going to end up back on the same road heading north from Perth. In doing so you’re going to come across another sort of mining that doesn’t seem to have the same sex appeal of hard rock.


I refer to mineral sands, zirconium, titanium and ilmenite – to name but a few. This, folks, is big business and you should seek out the information centres en route to learn more about it.


But I warn you it doesn’t have the same colourful history as our traditional metals and minerals.


You’ll also pass via the controversial Mid-West, where conservationists and miners are locked in a battle over the banded iron formations. There’s not much to see yet, but wait until they decide where they’re going to put the new port for Geraldton.


From there it’s quite a hike north until we arrive in the vast iron ore provinces of the Pilbara.


This part of the world boasts thousands of kilometres of railways transporting millions of tonnes of iron ore to be shipped out through waterways where tides race as fast as anywhere in the world.


These are massive night and day operations that show off the immense scale of the Australian mining industry and the infrastructure needed to support it.


And, in recent times, this region has taken over from the mining engine rooms of past times like Broken Hill, Queenstown, Cobar and all those other historic wealth creators that helped our nation grow.


Of course, it’s not just about iron – there are the beautiful Argyle diamonds mined in this region. But to see them you need to go to a jeweller – sadly they won’t let just anyone go and muck about in their diamond mines these days.


Across the top, there are still places like Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek which are also proud to tell their mining stories to those who ask.


So we have closed the loop and I must ask you one thing after our tour of the continent: don’t we live in the best place in the world?


I don’t reckon we do – I know.