Gold. As soon as you arrive in Kalgoorlie it’s everywhere. Not actual gold, but references to it, tales about it and puns everywhere you look. The newspaper is called the Kalgoorlie Miner and the best dessert at the pub is called the Kalgoorlie Gold. You can see it shining in the dirt along Hannan St, until you realise they’re just discarded beer bottle lids. Kalgoorlie only exists because of the gold. The kids soon figured out they should be looking for it.
We had arrived on the train – the “Prospector”, a comfortable seven hour journey from Perth which felt much like an aeroplane with it’s reclining seats and personal movie screens. On arrival it was a five minute taxi ride to our accommodation and we collected a hire car from up the road the next morning. Everything is close, we could walk to the supermarket and several restaurants.
The first day we went to Hannan’s North Tourist Mine. It’s a non-linear journey detailing the first prospectors in the area that discovered gold, the subsequent gold rush and the hardships, mainly due to the lack of water. It has the equipment used to find, filter, melt and mould gold and a gold pouring demonstration for the school holidays. You can climb on a modern, multi-million dollar haul pack truck and you can try to pan for gold in a stream. The kids wanted to pan for gold – they wanted to find something special and important. Something of value.
On the second day we went to Hammond Park, a landscaped park to the west of town with a fenced in playground, a cafe, a stream with a bridge and lots of wide open space to run around. Around the outside of the park behind a fence are emus and kangaroos and within the park, peacocks, friendly enough to get near to. It was running across the bridge that we first found one, it caught my eye and my seven year old daughter’s at the same time. I had heard about them, but I had never found one. Her eyes lit up as she picked it up, perhaps the same as Hannan, Shea and Flanagan’s when they first struck gold in 1893. A painted rock. We turned it over. “KB Rocks” was painted on the back.
I pulled out my phone and googled them. We were to keep them, re-hide them in the park, or take them with us to hide back home. And we should find the Facebook group that they belong to and let them know. I explained this to the kids and told them there were probably more painted rocks around the park. They spent the next hour and a half running from tree to tree, post, garden and shrub, shrieking with delight every time they found one. Even my two year old joined in.
When we got back to our motel we found the group Kalgoorlie-Boulder Rocks, mostly local families with kids who had been painting and decorating the rocks and then hiding them all over town at places they knew other kids would find them. We joined the group and found posts by the families that had hidden the rocks, smiling little faces going about their game.
Over the next few days we visited more places in and around Kalgoorlie, always quietly on the lookout for more painted rocks, myself included. We went to the Superpit which is the biggest open pit gold mine in the world. The enormous haul trucks that we had climbed on days before looked like ants in an ant nest, marching in a row up and down the tracks to and from the bottom of the almost 600 metre-deep mine, hauling out rubble. Every seven trucks contains on average, one golf ball size piece of gold. It doesn’t seem like much, considering how many people and how much machinery were working in that pit.
Deviating from the gold theme, we visited the Royal Flying Doctors Service of Australia (RFDS) Visitors Centre out by the airport. We attended a short talk full of interesting information and statistics about the RFDS such as how they were founded, how much they cost to run and how many patients they attend to and transfer in a day. We played with the old communication radios and looked in the gift shop. If you are really lucky there are planes in the hangars that you can see but that day they were both out on jobs so we just learnt about them from the pictures.
Karlkurla Bushland Park was our next adventure, just on the edge of town. It has bush tracks of varying lengths up to five kilometres long where you can see what the land looked like when the first prospectors arrived. There is a sign describing how that whole area had been searched for gold by the mining companies, and how to tell if there may be gold in the area. That sent my girls on a mission again looking for precious gold. They were sure they had found some, but it turned out to be yellow rock attached to quartz. We found 4 more painted rocks – one at the beginning of the track, one in a tree branch, one at the top of the lookout tower and a green one camouflaged under some bushes.
By the end of the week my kids had a decent collection of rocks. Some were painted, there was quartz, smooth gravel and even a ‘ruby’ (it was actually a broken piece of brake light from a long past car accident). They were so proud of their rocks, carefully lining them up in a takeaway food container to take back on the train to Perth.
We didn’t find any real gold, but we found something perhaps even more precious. We found the rocks the children of Kalgoorlie had painted in little groups and carefully hidden for other children to discover. We found their Superman, their flower garden and their nail polish rocks.
When I had first announced to the enquiring school mums that we were spending our holidays in Kalgoorlie, I had received a few surprised expressions. “What made you decide to go there?” I was asked by more than one person. “It’s the adventure”, I told them, knowing that the best adventures are the ones that you don’t know you’re about to have.
On our last night, my daughter said to us “It’s our last day here, but I wish it was our first day here”. They’d spent the past week collecting rocks and experiential learning about our Western Australian history. That was our adventure in Kalgoorlie. And that was our gold.