Patty McLean has had a lifelong dream of travelling to the Goldfields and shaking hands with the iconic statue of gold prospector Paddy Hannan, outside Kalgoorlie Town Hall.
And so, here we are joining our friends Patty and Ross McLean, boarding the Prospector Train to Kalgoorlie at 7am on a brisk morning . . .
Free Rail Passes for Pensioners
Using our free pensioner annual rail passes gives a saving of about $160 each on the return fare, so we now have some extra money to spend on Goldfields tours. The Prospector train has aircraft-style comfortable seating, air- conditioning, large viewing windows and a buffet section with hot food and cool drinks.
After picking up passengers at Midland, the Prospector snakes through the hills, passing the Avon River as it meanders over rocks and through pools lined with fluffy foam.
Rail tracks joining in the distance
There is a touch screen for the entertainment system in the back of the seat in front, with movies, TV and radio.
The interesting "driver cam" shows the tracks ahead, appearing to join far off in the distance. It shows oncoming freight trains waiting in sidings, train speed and altitude.
The aroma of coffee drifts through the carriage and soon most passengers are tempted by the "on-board special" of coffee and fruit cake.
Passing paddocks of black-faced sheep, rows of swaying wheat, sparkling salt lakes and the Kalgoorlie water pipeline snaking its way over distant hills, we remark on how quiet the train is as it picks up speed.
Salmon Gums twinkle in the morning sunlight
After leaving Merredin, the scenery changes from grain paddocks stretching to the horizon to low scrub mingled with gimlet and mulga.
The leaves of the salmon gums twinkle in the morning sun as a flock of little corellas wheels on the breeze.
Looking at the driver cam, the altitude now reads 507m as the train smoothly travels at 160km/h over the standard gauge rail tracks.
Concrete sleepers blur into a continuous grey strip. I sit back mesmerised and feel my eyelids getting heavy.
The last few hours pass quickly and we arrive in Kalgoorlie at 2pm.
Back in 1895, prospectors lived in hessian tents, had little water and experienced the hardships of long, hot summers.
The dream of finding their golden bonanza spurred them on. Over the last 100 years, this "boom and bust" town has had its highs and lows as the gold price has fluctuated.
Today it is thriving, with a population of 30,000, strong tourism, and a generally good gold price.
After picking up our hire car we check into the Ibis Styles Hotel then drive the short distance to the Visitor Centre in the Kalgoorlie Town Hall.
The friendly staff advise us to book the popular Super Pit tour ($65 each for pensioners) and suggest an interesting itinerary starting with the town hall.
The building's architecture oozes turn of the century, with colourful pressed tin ceilings, chandeliers and a grand wooden staircase leading to the council chambers.
There is an auditorium, or dress circle, with fixed metal lace-design seating covered with red velvet cushions adding to the opulence.
When Patty met Paddy
There is a statue of Paddy Hannan outside the town hall, and our friend Patty's wish of sitting on Paddy's lap with her arm around his shoulder finally comes true.
In 1893, prospectors Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan O'Shea had followed a new gold rush to the east of Coolgardie.
On June 10, 1983, they found gold, worked away secretly at it, and on June 17, Hannan rode his horse to Coolgardie with about 100 ounces (3.1kg).
The rush to Kalgoorlie began the next morning and Hannan was hailed the discoverer of the richest goldfield in Australia.
We drive to the Metropole Hotel in Boulder, where plain wide floorboards add to the theme of yesteryear and items of interest hang from the walls.
Scantily clad "skimpy" barmaids busily pull beer from the taps, keeping the thirsty content.
In the public bar there is a thick glass viewing window over a narrow mine shaft where drinkers sit on stools above the 20m deep shaft below.
There are two stories circulating about this unusual feature. The first is that some shady miners calculated the pub was above their workings and tunnelled upwards for a liquid lunch, the other that some untrustworthy miners dug down from the pub and entered the mine, helping themselves to the golden flecked rocks, filled their pockets and disappeared.
Goatcher curtain in Boulder
The next day we choose to breakfast in the Hoover Room at the Exchange Hotel. This hotel, built in 1897, has pressed tin ceilings and is steeped in turn of the century decor. In the foyer is the large Hoover mirror surrounded by an intricate carved timber frame.
The breakfast was excellent and not overpriced (recommended).
Herbert Hoover, who became the 31st president of the US in 1929, arrived in the Goldfields as a mine engineer undertaking mine examination and exploration work.
We are the first visitors at the Boulder Town Hall (open Tuesdays and Thursdays). This is where the Goatcher curtain is on display. Artist Phillip Goatcher painted in 1908 a scene of the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the background on a 6m by 8m curtain. It is a magnificent piece of art.
Just out of town, on the road to Kambalda, are three large metal crucibles used in the nickel industry. These are big enough for a big man to walk into and worth seeing.
After stocking up with rolls, we lunch at the popular Hammond Park. This is a tranquil area with lush lawns.
Large ducks in the ponds attract children, who delight in feeding them. Brightly coloured, friendly peacocks are not camera shy, and cheekily wait their turn.
We drive to the high point above the town, to Mt Charlotte Reservoir, which is the end of the journey for the 563km water pipeline.
Water from Mundaring Weir takes between one and two weeks to travel to Kalgoorlie.
The name Kalgoorlie comes from an Aboriginal word meaning silky pear, which are found locally.
The Questa Casa working brothel in Hay Street offers an interesting 90-minute tour starting at 3pm at a cost of $20. (Don't be late.) Madam Carmel has many stories to tell and shows the working rooms.
Wide Coolgardie streets
After a short drive we arrive in Coolgardie, with its streets wide enough for camel trains to turn easily without unhitching.
The museum is a must - you need to allow time to absorb the many stories of the rough-and-tumble days, as thousands of miners specked for the precious golden metal.
Driving north through parts of the Greater Western Woodlands, we pass bronze-coloured gimlet trees, blackbutt and flowering wattle before arriving at Credo Station, which is an old disused sheep station (camping is allowed).
Good gravel roads lead us to the famous and historic pubs of Ora Banda and Broad Arrow (affectionately as Broadarra) for a drink and to listen to some locals' yarns.
Dinner sees us in the Recreation Hotel in Burt Street, Boulder - an all-you-can-eat buffet meal for $22, and with a good selection of draught beers.
The next day, meeting at the Visitor Centre in Hannan Street at 9am, we board the bus for the Super Pit tour (pre-bookings, closed-in shoes, long sleeve shirts and trousers are a must).
After we are issued with a hard hat, bright coloured vest and safety glasses, the driver, a man of many years of underground experience, gives a mine induction briefing.
We are told the Super Pit is now more than 3km long, 2km wide and 460m deep, and producing more than 800,000 ounces of gold a year, with a mine life beyond 2031.
We watch as haul trucks slowly make their way up the slopes with 65 tonne loads on their way to the mill. This tour is worth the money.
Calls of 'undred 'ead
About 5km out of Kalgoorlie is the Bush Two-Up School, an old doughnut-shaped rusty corrugated structure where people from all walks of life play Australia's fairest game.
Calls of "'undred 'ead" are heard, meaning that someone betting wants to put $100 on heads and is looking for another better wanting a tails result.
Call in and get some Aussie gaming history. Watch as the spinner places the pennies on the kip and spins the bronzed pennies skyward as betters wait for the call of heads or tails. The Visitor Centre has details.
On our last morning we spend a few hours at the Museum of the Goldfields at the top of Hannan Street. This museum ($5 entry) has an excellent range of turn-of-the- century mining artefacts and an insight into the daily lives of prospectors.
After returning our hire car, we board the 2pm Prospector train for Perth. Sitting back in comfort we start planning our next year's trip, including the hiring of a metal detector, pick and shovel to "have a go" and maybe find a nugget or two.
TransWA Prospector Train: 1300 662205, 9326 2000 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Kalgoorlie Visitor Centre: 1800 004653, 9021 1966 or email: email@example.com