top of page

Uncovering WA's Golden Outback: Off-the-Beaten-Path Gems You Can't Miss

Updated: Feb 27

It’s known as the Golden Outback, a remote and isolated part of mid-east WA. The skies are an iridescent blue for most of the year and the landscape shimmers through the warm daytime hours. But it's when the sun sets that this amazing area of ancient and ruggered landscape shines, literally a golden colour until the sun goes down.

The landscape dates back an incredible 4.5 billion years making it one of the oldest on earth, where unique and ancient formations have created massive geological displays across the Murchison region. Combine this with meteorite strikes, thousands of years of human history with more than 20 culturally significant sites I just had to head to the area.


MOUNT MAGNET

My trip started at the sleepy town of Mount Magnet, 350km east of Geraldton, which is the oldest and most continuous gold mining town in WA. Named in 1854 by surveyor Robert Austin, named when ground rocks played around with his compass as he was passing through the area.

Not knowing the wealth that the place had to offer, it wasn’t until 1891 when a bushy lost his swag that gold was found, a lot of gold. There was so much found on the first day that it was said they were digging nuggets up like potatoes. Poverty Flats was soon covered with prospectors who heard of the new strike and from this, the town grew with 14 hotels, 2 newspapers and soon over 30 mines were registered.

The town quietened during WW1 when miners went to war but soon raised its head when more gold was found some 20 years later. Over the next 80 years huge shafts were sunk, some down to 1500m deep pulling huge amounts of gold out of the ground, today huge open pits surround Mount Magnet.

In town, there are plenty of heritage buildings, a visitor info centre and a heritage walk to get the feel of the place before heading out. Around town, there’s a 40km self-drive tourist trail where outback travellers can explore the history and natural attractions.

North of the town a natural Amphitheatre, a cave where Archean Rocks have been weathered over 3 million years and The Granites can be explored. It’s here at the Granites where striking Aboriginal art has been found and where Aboriginal women should not view the rock paintings, this is of significant importance to the Badimaya People.

Up the road, a sign displays where Lennonville once was, where this rich gold area boomed from 1897 till 1905 with a population of over 3000 but now is nothing but a rail siding, scattered iron on the ground and where bushes are growing where buildings were.

Leaving the Mount Magnet area, I headed nearly 200km north towards the isolated and historical town of Meekatharra. Along the way, I was surprised to see a sign towards a meteorite strike.

The Dalgaranga Crater is Australia’s smallest impact, where at 24m across and 3m deep it looks just like a normal divot in the ground. In fact, this was one of the first ever recorded in Australia when a stockman found it in 1921, and estimates say it is about 3000 years old.


Stopping in at Cue which is also known as the ‘Queen of the Murchison’, where once over 10,000 people lived, the town now is a quiet reminder of the past. Beautiful old buildings are empty, and the streets are quiet yet it has a sense of pride where people made their fortunes in the rich reefs that are now abandoned.

Around town, there’s plenty to see and do, especially some stunning rock art that depicts white, square rigging sailing ships all with masts, port holes and men. Keep in mind, this is over 300km from the coast.

There’s also the massive Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre mine which has been used for over 1000 years and an estimated 40,000 t of Ochre mined. Lake Nallan Nature Reserve is a desert lake that dries up each year, but if you're lucky like me to see if full, it thrives with birdlife.

Heading out from Cue, the Big Bell mine site and the original town is now deserted, along its old streets where rubble and relics lay strewn on the ground. A major attraction here is the derelict Big Bell mine hotel, where its multi-floor and room skeleton still stands today, and a sign displays the old town's street, shops and activities.

Afghan Rock was my next to find, this huge granite outcrop rises 450m above sea level and must be over 100 m wide where it was used by cameleers from 1894 watering their beasts from the waterholes around the rock.


MEEKATHARRA

It wasn’t long before I arrived at the isolated town of Meekatharra. A little gold was found in 1854 but it wasn’t until the 1890’s when richer goldfields were discovered. In the surrounding areas of Meekatharra new settlements grew, huge stampers were set up to crush the hard rock and pastoral stations were established.

A rail line was laid to town which helped to bring in supplies and passengers, then helped with shipping wool and manganese out. Meekatharra also has plenty to see and do with a heritage trail, there’s the old ghost towns to explore in the hills, the town's lookout where you can view the vast landscape towards the central desert, the gold stamper and visit the RFDS School of the Air.

A popular camping spot is 7km out of town at Peaceful Gorge which sits amongst mountains of huge granite rocks. It’s here in the afternoon sun that these rocks glow red from the sun's vibrant rays transforming the rocks.

Meekatharra is a dry town in a semi-desert area and it's known as ‘the place of little water’, it’s also where back in 1906 that a route was opened up towards the east Kimberly, known as the Canning Stock Route.


SANDSTONE

Leaving Meekatharra, my journey was to be a further 200km down to Sandstone to explore the rich mining and natural history. The first known European person to pass through the area was John Forrest in 1869 when he was out searching for explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s remains who was presumed dead somewhere in the area.

1894 saw gold discovered and this opened the area to other prospectors until commercial operations started just after the town was gazetted in 1906. But when war broke out, many miners left and never came back, others saw the town declining and simply just walked away, suddenly the town's population diminished to less than 200.

Today it's a service town for the huge stations that surround the area. Called the Sandstone Heritage Trail, a self-guided drive around town explores the amazing geological wonders and heritage sites.

From ‘London Bridge’ and its weathering archway where views across the vast desolated plains shimmer all year round, to the old Sandstone Brewery which was carved into the hard rock back in 1907. Cutting a huge hole in the rock created a natural cellar and another hole in the roof of the cave allowed for easy access for the hotel on the top of the cave.

The beer was kept cool even in the hottest of summers for the miners. A gold Battery that was dragged for hundreds of miles to the goldfields by donkeys and bullocks was set up nearby at Paynesville. It worked hard producing 115,800 ounces of gold right up to 1982.

The Murchison district is a vast area holding onto secrets from the past and with its natural history dating back 4.5 billion years I reckon there’s still some waiting to be discovered.


WHERE

The Golden Outback Triangle that includes Meekatharra, Sandstone and Cue is located nearly 800km northeast of Perth and 535km east of Geraldton in WA’s mid east. It is the largest centre in the Murchison are


WHAT TO SEE AND DO

It's a hot, dry barren place where gold was discovered in 1896. Today, the area is still mined for gold plus large livestock proprieties cover the vast landscape. There are heritage walks around town, a discovery trail, cultural history, and peaceful campsites to enjoy and it’s the perfect area to hunt for gold (permit required ).


OTHER INFO

Meekatharra, Cue and Sandstone are part of WA’s golden great outback road trip where you can experience the unique and ancient landscape dating back some 4.5 billion years. All three towns have info centres where you can grasp the history and explore relics of the past.

Online at www.australiasgoldenoutback.com, there’s a stack of info on the Gold Rush era, heritage sites, road conditions and more. Winter with its cool nights and sunny days would be the perfect time to explore the area. During summer, daytime temps are extremely hot and with that come hordes of flies.




33 views0 comments

Comments

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page