Almost as soon as you turn off the Eyre Highway you travel on a picturesque well formed track. You are transported to another world, no noise, no cars, no people, yet Norseman is less than 60 kilometres away.
On this trek you will see old rail formations, old mine shafts, remains of spur lines, old woodcutter's camps and much more. These remains have severely weathered since the days when the area was used to cut sandalwood to be exported and used for perfume, incense sticks and such like. Timber harvested was used to provide fuel for steam boilers, engines and other mining equipment. The wood lines concentrated on timber for the mines and up until the early 1940s were cutting some 300.000 to 400.000 tons per year in various areas around Kalgoorlie. In the early years 500,000 tons per year was exceeded on occasion. These woodline operations were huge, one employed around 500 people. Most of the operations shut down in the 1950s and 1960s as oil and coal took the place of wood. The use of timber mine props also diminished as steel and other methods of mining came on stream.
These old artefacts will take you back in time to what was once a unique and thriving industry. Despite almost clear felling of the bush 45 years ago, vigorous regrowth has amazingly almost fully regenerated the forest.
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There are three main tracks leading off Eyre
Highway that can be accessed in the area at the 42 kilometre mark east of Norseman
. Turning off the highway there are scattered items such as groups of bottles, rusting tins and the remains of woodcutter’s camps.
The general terrain is reasonably flat and sandy, with belts of salmon and other gum trees, tea tree and scrub. Track speeds vary between 5 km to 35 km per hour with the average being around 10 km per hour. Sinclair Soak
is a nice place to stop. It is set in an area of wet ground near flat rocks. The soak is a 300 metre walk from the track.
When heading towards the Buldania mining site, the landscape consists of hundreds of mine shafts; costeans, tunnels and trenches and there are also remnants of head frames, sluices, conveyers and loading facilities.
Without the woodlines only the richest Eastern Goldfields gold mines would have been viable. The woodlines were an industry that provided fire wood to fuel steam boilers and gas producers for engines, lighting, pumping and ore treatment.
By 1919, in the Eastern Goldfields alone, a total of 45,000,000 tons of fuel wood had been used and a staggering $278,709,820 of gold had been produced.
In 1938 the W.A. Goldfields Firewood Supply Ltd found it was uneconomic to cut firewood any further south of Cave Hill, so it moved all of its operations from Kurrawang, west of Kalgoorlie to Lakewood, south east of Boulder. The move consisted of shifting 80 houses, the company’s offices, sawmill, loco-workshops, a hall, store, bakehouse, butcher shop
, school and 300 people by rail to Lakewood.
The Lakewood woodline ceased to be productive the further it was cutting from Kalgoorlie. The mines had over time moved to electricity and diesel fuel rather than firewood resulting in the Lakewood woodline ceasing operation in December 1964. At this stage it was cutting firewood south of the Eyre
Highway, over 100 miles from Kalgoorlie.