The Golden Outback
The Golden Outback

Two old photographs come to my mind when I think of the Goldfields. One is of sandalwood piled up ready to be shipped - canyons of it, as high as a house and the length of a suburb. The other is of the wood lines that fed timber to the mines during the first mining boom, after Paddy Hannan rode into Coolgardie with 3.1kg of gold in 1893 and the richest goldfield in Australia was found.

During those years in which the history of the Goldfields was forged, the forests around and north of Kalgoorlie in particular took a hammering.

But those historic pictures are in stark contrast to how the area looks today.

Now my mind is filled with the silver and green flicker of waxy eucalypt leaves in a desert wind. I see ribbons of bark trailing off their trunks and the red grit earth and sometimes a grey, shrubby undergrowth.

The area between Hyden and Norseman, and Coolgardie and Ravensthorpe, has one of the best woodlands in Australia, pitted with natural salt lakes, granite rocks and the vein of human history running diagonally along the Holland Track, established long ago by hopefuls walking to Coolgardie and on to the Golden Mile.

To camp at McDermid Rock and wake to the brisk breeze and chirp of white cheeked honeyeaters is to really feel the landscape.

To drive on up to Coolgardie and walk its cemetery and old streets, and see the boards explaining their former, bustling glory, and then on up to Kalgoorlie, which feels it still, is to touch a history both past and being made.

The Goldfields themselves might be the heart of Australia's Golden Outback tourism region, but it sprawls off to the north through the Murchison and the inland range country, out east into the deserts, through the Wheatbelt to its west, and down to the squeaky white beaches of Esperance and the feeling of being deluged by light and oxygen.

In each you can find something that cuts to part of the essence of the Australian psyche.

I like driving a highway punctuated with big tyres painted white, their signs pointing in to stations.

I like fossicking through Wheatbelt towns; conceived in confidence, born in hope, often clinging to a main road and rail line. Machinery stores, op shops and the pub. Wide back streets and weatherboard houses.

I like the early morning light in their straight-as-a-die salmon gums.

I like the plunge southwards, whether it's down the Hyden Lake King Road, or perhaps through Widgiemooltha, skirting Lake Cowan, and Norseman on the Coolgardie Esperance Highway.

And then you're there, on the south coast, an abrupt tear when the continent ends and the rollicking Southern Ocean passes in smooth swells like pulled rich blue and turquoise toffee.


Scourfield's picks

• Staying at the Grand Hotel, Kookynie and seeing Niagara Dam.

• Camping west of Cue, Queen of the Murchison.

• The old mining town of Gwalia, with the Leonora Gwalia Historical Museum and Historic Hoover House.

• Camping in the Little Sandy Desert, out the back of Beyondie.

• Durba Springs, on the Canning Stock Route, on a quiet day.

• Warburton arts - the Tjulyuru Aboriginal Art and Civic Centre.

• Mining Hall of Fame, Kalgoorlie.

• Coolgardie cemetery.

• Inside Australia, Antony Gormley's sculptures near Menzies.

• Crossing the Mulga-Eucalypt botanical line between Mt Gibson and Ninghan Stations on the Great Northern Highway.

• Three days in Hyden, exploring the area's granites.

• The Chapel of St Hyacinth designed by Monsignor John Hawes in Yalgoo.

• The salmon gums around Kellerberrin in the early morning.

• Following the Golden Quest Trail from Coolgardie through Menzies and back to Kalgoorlie.

• The plaque at Lake Dumbleyung commemorating the day in 1964 when Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record, travelling just over 444kmh.

• Quoin Head in the Fitzgerald River National Park between Bremer Bay and Hopetoun.

• First light behind Tanker Jetty, Esperance.

The West Australian

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