Our most northerly point on the journey through Western Australia was at Wyndham, a little port on Australia’s challenging north coast. It rose briefly to prominence as the entry and exit point for WA’s first gold rush at Halls Creek.
A string of other places on our route have also been gold towns, Marble Bar, Meekathara, Wiluna, Leinster, Leonora, Coolgardie, Southern Cross and of course the big one – Kalgoorlie. Rushes and even towns have come and gone but gold is still a very important money spinner for WA. In 2015-16 it was the third most valuable export behind iron ore and petroleum.
As Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie rose to prominence in the 1890’s insecurity of water supply became a significant issue. The Irish born Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton O’Connor came up with the solution – build a pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie. It would be more than 500km long, involve lifting water 390 metres over the Darling Escarpment and the cost would equal WA’s annual budget. Debate was fierce, the project was condemned as madness by many but the premier Sir John Forrest threw his weight behind it and work commenced in 1898. Water flowed out the other end in Kalgoorlie on January 24 1903.
Sadly, Mr O’Connor never saw the successful outcome of his great project. He committed suicide in March 1902.
The pipeline runs through the wheat belt and is still delivering water, 40% is used in Kalgoorlie the remainder is used along the way.
A busy railway follows much the same route. In the days of steam water was essential to drive the engines and they were very thirsty beasts. After Gayle’s encounter with the skimpy barmaid the night was spent at Karralee Rocks where an excellent example of water harvesting, although in urgent need of some conservation, is still just functioning.
Rain falling on a large granite rock is directed into a small dam by carefully contoured walls running around the perimeter. The dam overflows into an aqueduct that conveys the water into a large holding dam. From there it was pumped to the railway. We had 15mm of rain overnight and we were able to watch the process in action the following morning.