Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 6 : Laverton to Mt. Magnet

Monday, Dec 10, 2012 at 13:53

Member - John and Val

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A stunning sunrise brought a forecast for showers and storms, although the clouds soon cleared away to another warm day. We had taken the opportunity of mains power to give all our numerous small batteries and appliances (torches, cameras, laptop etc) a good overnight charge, and before we packed up we again checked online. That all took some time, so we were late getting away. Before leaving town we visited the “I” centre which, as well as offering a good selection of maps and guide books, also had an impressive selection of books on WA’s mining history. We had hoped to do a bit of food shopping but the supermarket had closed some time ago, another casualty of the mines’ fly-in-fly-out staffing policy.

Today we would have the luxury of being back on bitumen, so it was up to the servo on the roundabout to top up the tanks and pump up the tyres, then off towards Leonora. The red rocky country round Laverton is thick with mines, some abandoned, some re-opened and some new. Huge heaps of overburden mark mine-sites, and working mines are marked by wide dusty haul roads with “No Entry” signs and occasional eruptions of masts and machinery. It would be interesting to have a look at the actual mines but they are invariably fenced off and prominently marked as no-go places, understandably so given the massive trucks and machinery running around.

Closer to Leonora we detoured up to a hill that we had visited before and that gives good views south over the surrounding countryside. From there it was a short drive into Malcolm Dam where we had lunch and chatted with other travellers, some of whom were camped there. There were a few waterbirds, and as we watched a couple of emus came down for a drink. At Leonora there is a good supermarket where we were able to stock up on food. We were also able to buy beer, which rather surprised us.

We drove the short distance out to the Gwalia mine-site and an abandoned “ghost town” of old miners cottages. They are right beside the big deep open-cut pit that is apparently still being worked. The Sons of Gwalia mine was originally established by Welsh miners in the late 19th century and Herbert Hoover, later President of the United States, served as the mine manager in its early days back in 1898. If we had been intending to stay in the area for longer we could have spent some time looking through the museum housed in the old mine office. As it was we just had a quick look around and peered briefly into the pit before moving on.

We had decided to overnight at Niagara Dam, about 60kms to the south, so with the afternoon getting on it was time to be on the road again. The trip south was uneventful on the bitumen, although there were plenty of mining vehicles to keep our attention on the road. Nearby landmarks had evocative place names showing on the map – like Dead Horse Rocks, and Carpet Snake Soak, gave our imaginations a workout.

Turning off the main road we still had bitumen for a while before turning off again on a good gravel road that took us to the Niagara dam. The dam was constructed by the Railways Department in 1897 – 1898, and the intention was that the dam would provide plentiful fresh water for the locomotives that would soon be steaming along the new railway linking Kalgoorlie with Menzies. But by the time the dam was completed, it had accumulated very little water due to a lack of rainfall. To make matters worse a plentiful supply of good underground water had been located at nearby Kookynie.

There were plenty of campers already at the dam, and all the “waterfront” sites were taken. But there is a big open area below the dam where there was plenty of space and we found a suitably secluded spot before the light faded. But our privacy was short-lived when a late arrival set up camp close-by. As we had not put our tent up there were a few contortions next morning as we dressed inside Troopy. That small inconvenience was compensated by the availability of flushing toilets and plenty of garbage bins.

Back at Leonora we hit the supermarket again – how easy it is to overlook some things. We were surprised how quiet the town was on a Saturday morning. Driving north out of town we spotted another big hole in the ground beside the railway line, but the security fence precluded getting a good view into this pit.

We followed the bitumen Goldfields Highway north, towards Leinster, briefly deviating west to Bundarra, one of the spots on the local tourism/heritage trail. Bundarra was once a pub and then a farmhouse set in some pretty tough inhospitable country. We were rather disappointed with what we saw; some rusting machinery and old vehicles, scattered sheets of corrugated iron and the skeletons of old fibro sheds with strands of asbestos hanging out. The house had burnt down and all that was left were the foundations, some piles of rubble and the remains of a tennis court. There was one sign to help us understand the significance of what we were seeing. The spoil heap at a small nearby mine was perhaps more interesting with interesting rocks and speckles of mineralisation.

We had lunch beside the road and chatted with another traveller who had been camped nearby for a few days; he and his wife had spent the past 4 years travelling around in a Winnebago towing a small 4WD.

Today we have once again passed many mine sites with massive spoil dumps and many with extensive infrastructure presumably to do some on-site processing. And there have been many road trains, some carrying ore, others machinery and mining equipment. While we knew that this area had a history of mining we were really surprised at just how many mines there were spread across the landscape

By mid afternoon when we were still south of Leinster we started to look around for a suitable spot to spend the night. However the country was mostly fenced so we kept going, turning west at Leinster heading towards Sandstone. Our Natmap 250k map showed that road as being gravel, but it was sealed all the way across to Mt. Magnet and from there to Geraldton. It took us through mostly flat to undulating country covered with mulga.

Eventually, after a few stops in the heat to check out possible campsites, we found a suitable spot about 40kms east of Sandstone. It was far enough from the road to be reasonably out of sight behind a screen of mulga and where the sound of passing roadtrains would not disturb our slumber.

The next morning we replaced Troopy’s rear door hinge with the “new” one we had obtained in Laverton. A bit of ingenuity was required to hold the door up and make the final adjustments; using the draw bar and jockey wheel of the trailer to hold and adjust the door height worked very well.

Although it was mid morning before we were back on the road we soon stopped again, this time at a roadside rest area well used for overnight stops and with a good view out over some breakaways and red rocky cliffs, and the by-now familiar sea of mulga. And more stops followed as we encountered occasional patches of roadside flowers, just begging to be photographed. (Photos below) We even saw a few pink everlastings and hoped that they boded well for a good showing further west. These patches we assumed were the outcome of scattered falls of rain – but we also passed through long stretches with not a flower in sight.

Just east of Sandstone we turned south on a gravel road that took us in a short distance to London Bridge, a scenic picnic spot boasting a rock arch supposedly made of basalt (though it did not look like basalt). In earlier times camel trains and sulkies were driven over the arch, but now, fortunately, it is off limits. From this slightly higher vantage point we could see across the countryside, over endless miles of mulga to a horizon barely rippled by distant low hills. Quite a few campers were in residence nearby, but it was too early in the day to stop so we pushed on. Sandstone seemed a small town with just the basic facilities, though with a few solid stone buildings. Just out of town a big wide load came up behind us so we stopped for lunch beside the road while that truck got well ahead.

As we continued west during the afternoon the mulga thinned out and the now open country offered no opportunities for our next overnight camp. Being determined to bush camp wherever possible, we pushed on, confident that an opportunity would show up. The kilometres rolled by and Mt. Magnet was approaching – and so was an unexpected and unusual experience.








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J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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