Story and photos by subcommittee member Kathi Miller, Senior Tenement Geologist, Norton Gold Fields Ltd
HEART OF GOLD DISCOVERY TRAIL SERIES
In 1892, Coolgardie grew into a booming town after prospectors Arthur Bayley and William Ford discovered a rich find of gold nuggets at Fly Flat. The roaring nineties gold rush followed with prospectors, gold diggers, mining companies and speculators flocking to the goldfields of Western Australia.
In the late nineteenth century, Coolgardie was a bush settlement of red earth, tents and humpies. Before the arrival of the railway, a camel train could be turned around on the main street. As the population and prosperity increased, the wide main street became lined with fine Victorian-styled buildings made from local stone, some of which are still standing and well worth a visit.
Despite the passing of time, Coolgardie has kept its atmosphere of the grand old age of the gold rush and is perhaps quietly awaiting the next.
Today, you can catch a glimpse of Coolgardie’s pioneering past at Ben Prior Park.
The late Ben Prior was a Coolgardie resident, prospector and garage owner. As he went about prospecting in the area, he collected items from Coolgardie’s mining and farming early years. He then placed the objects he found in a park that has since became an open air museum, now owned by the Shire of Coolgardie for the benefit of the community.
The living history collection includes mining equipment like shaft winder wheels, a drilling rig, steam engine, stamp battery, a windlass with the old support frame and the bucket used by the early gold diggers to bring the hand-mined rock to the surface.
The mining windlass was positioned above a shaft, using a rope and winch device, raised buckets of hand-mined ore to the surface for treatment.
Also on display are antiquated mechanical farming tools and horse-drawn wagons, in addition to a shed with vintage cars.
At the front of the park there is a sculpture of a prospector riding a camel. Over the years, he has lost his body parts, but his legs remain. The history board tells of “A Long Dry Ride” when A.B. Brophy claimed a world record for riding his camel 600 miles without water.
The Ben Prior collection has been called eccentric, quirky and a marvellous raggle taggle museum. The park is certainly an interesting place to visit with its unique exhibits from the gold rush era that tell stories of its fascinating history.
Ben Prior Park is located on the main street of Coolgardie, at the corner of Hunt and Bayley Streets. The Park is always open and admission is free.