Written by subcommittee member Kathi Miller, Senior Tenement Geologist, Norton Gold Fields Ltd.
After the gold rush at Fly Flat in 1892, Coolgardie in Western Australia, grew into a bush settlement of red earth, tents and humpies. The lure of striking it rich drove gold diggers and prospectors further afield to search for the next big discovery of gold.
Ninety miles north-east of Coolgardie, the country was marked by a chain of salt lakes. The Gimlet gum trees made a roaring sound when the south-westerly winds blew strong.
The first names given to the place were Ninety Mile, The Roaring Gimlet, and eventually Goongarrie was used, an Aboriginal word believed to be associated with the nearby lake.
One 19th century observer described the new prospecting area as scarce of animals with an oppressive silence. Inhospitable country. A dreary, barren waste land. While a newspaper correspondent of the day called it beautiful country that men risked their lives to prospect.
In May 1893, gold was struck by Billy Frost, Jack Bennett and party. On 5 June 1893, Messrs. Ottow and party applied at the Coolgardie Registrar's Office for a lease at Goongarrie.
The Goongarrie gold rush was on.
Alluvial gold nuggets were picked up from the beds of creeks and gullies in the high lands. At the Ninety Mile diggings, picks swung and shovels dug dirt to fill the dry-blowing cradles. The Goongarrie field was distinctive with its massive outcrops of quartz and iron, which extended for a distance of five miles along the margin of the salt lake. The quartz reefs were dollied or crushed for free gold. In later times, shafts were sunk and coarse gold was won from the underground workings.
By September 1894, a five-head battery was being erected for public crushing purposes, midway along the long line of the gold reef. In 1895, the town site was gazetted.
Between 1897 and 1918, the Goongarrie mining area produced more than 800 kg of gold, of which 120 kilograms was won from alluvial sources. The two most productive mines were the New Boddington and Caledonian. However, within a few years, Goongarrie was almost deserted and never regained its great prosperity.
Problems were encountered with breaks in gold mineralization. The bulky quartz reef was barren in places. Gold lodes pitched out. Money ran out from poor economic management of the mines and battery. The coming of the railway diminished the town's trade as a daily stopover for the Cobb & Co. stage coach run from Coolgardie to Menzies.
The gold rush was over. Goongarrie was abandoned and became a ghost town. But that's not the end of the story. The fortunes of the old townsite of Goongarrie changed again when it became part of the Goongarrie Pastoral Station, but lack of sufficient water limited the sheep grazing capacity. In 1995, the Station was purchased by the State Government and was changed into a conservation reserve and national park.
Today, the Goongarrie National Park offers a remote outback experience for those with an adventurous spirit. Rustic accommodation is available at the old Goongarrie homestead complex which consists of the homestead, sandalwood camp and shearers cottage. For more information and bookings, go to Parks and Wildlife Service WA.