Six hundred kilometres east of Perth, at the end of the Great Eastern Highway, are the Eastern Goldfields. In the late nineteenth century, gold was found in what still remains one of the world’s richest gold-producing regions and boom towns of thousands, boasting grand public buildings, multiple hotels and a vast periphery of hovels, would spring up and collapse in the time it took to extract any ore.
In 1894 the railway from Perth reached the town of Southern Cross, just as big finds turned the rush into a national stampede. This huge influx of people accentuated the water shortage, dealt with finally when a pipeline reached Kalgoorlie in 1903. Around this time many of the smaller gold towns were already in decline, but the Goldfields’ wealth and boost in population gave WA the economic autonomy it sought in its claim for statehood in 1901.
In the years preceding the gold rush, the area was briefly one of the world’s richest sources of sandalwood, an aromatic wood greatly prized throughout Asia for joss sticks. Exacerbating the inevitable over-cutting was the gold rush’s demand for timber to prop up shafts, or to fire the pre-pipeline water desalinators. Today the region is a pit-scarred and prematurely desertified landscape, dotted with the scavenged vestiges of past settlements, while at its core the Super Pit gold mine in Kalgoorlie gets wider and deeper every year.