Friday, 15 October 2010


We made the 5 hour trip from Mount Magnet to Leonora with a coffee stop at a lovely little town called Sandstone, and a fuel stop at Leinster.  I'm happy to report that we didn't encounter any "killer roos" in spite of the warning sign as we entered Leonora, although there did seem to be more than the usual population of roadkill about, all in various stages of decay.

Today we visited the Gwalia Historic Site, which is made up of a Museum, Ghost Town, Open Cut Mine and the Hoover House.

The Hoover House was built and designed in 1898-99 by Herbert Hoover who later became the 31st President of the United States.  The home was his personal residence while he was the Manager of the Sons of Gwalia goldmine at the tender age of 23.  The house also served as the residence for subsequent mine managers after Hoover moved on to work in China.  

Hoover House
There were a series of other tenants at Hoover House after the close of the mine in 1963, however in time it fell into disrepair.  Being recognized as historically significant, the house was restored and in March 2004 it was officially reopened by the American Consul General, Mr. Oscar DeSoto.   The house is the only President's home located outside of the United States of America.  Not only is it not on American soil, it's out in the bush in the middle of nowhere (and part of a Ghost Town)!

A section of the house is currently being used as a bed and breakfast with the proceeds going toward the continued maintenance of the home.

Side Veranda, Hoover House

Hoover's Bedroom

The fireplace and wardrobe are original

The back garden overlooks the modern day open cut mine.  Obviously a very different view than during Hoover's time.
I wonder what all those H's stand for?  :) 
The mine is 300 meters deep and nearly 1 kilometer across.  It has produced over 5 million ounces of gold.

In stark contrast to the Hoover house, the mine workers lived in cottages made of bush timber, corrugated iron and hessian, often with dirt floors.  The workers were mostly immigrants who came to Australia from Italy and Yugoslavia in search of a better life.

In 1963 the Gwalia mine closed and the townspeople literally walked away with what they could carry, often with only the clothes on their backs leaving behind their household and personal items.   In a three week period the population went from 1500 to 40!  Today Gwalia is a ghost town.

Mike checks out a "renovator's delight"

Below is a guest house built to accomodate the large number of single men who came to work in the mine.   Even the lucky ones who had cottages of their own would often eat their meals here as many of their houses didn't have water or kitchen facilities.  They paid approximately 30 shillings a week for their meals which was one third of the typical miner's wage.

Mazza's Store provided all of the town's supplies for over 50 years.  It closed in 1964.

Gwalia was such an interesting place to explore.  I found it eerie walking through the abandoned homes and thinking about the rough lives that it's inhabitants led.  Actually, the night we arrived we had driven through the area but didn't realize it was the ghost town.  Tired from the day's drive we decided to have dinner out and were looking for a good place to stop.  When we came across this area we thought we had driven into a dodgy neighbourhood and turned back.  No wonder it looked so run down, it's a ghost town!

The only bad part of touring the area is the fact that I can't get the song "We'd Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover" (from the musical "Annie") out of my head!  This hasn't just started since our visit either.  It started a couple of days ago when I first read about Gwalia.  It's driving me insane, and poor Mike even more so!

Now, about that decision we needed to make.  As you may remember, in the early part of our trip we visited Alice Springs and had planned to go to Uluru and then across to Western Australia via the Great Central Road.  Unfortunately we had massive rain storms while we were in the area making the unsealed road potentially impassable and leading us to change our plans.

So, here we are at Leonora which is at the crossroads of heading home via Kalgoorlie and the Nullarbor or continuing on to Laverton and the Great Central Road to Uluru.  The temptation to go via the Nullarbor back into the part of Western Australia that we fell in love with on our last trip is strong, plus we are concerned that we may have left it too late and could arrive at Uluru to scorching temperatures (in our non-air conditioned camper - eek!).

On the other hand, as much as we adore it, we've already toured southern WA.  And, we're talking about Uluru for goodness sake!  If  we don't go now, what if we never get back to this area?  It would be horrible to miss it!  The road itself is another concern, although we feel as though we've got the right equipment to make it through, and have heard that it's generally good with a few rough spots.

So, wish us luck on our 1147 kilometer adventure along the dusty "Outback Way".  We will be stopping at Laverton tomorrow for permits and road information.  If all sounds do-able and safe we'll head off the following day.  We'll be out of touch for the 3 to 5 days it takes us to cross, but should be able to update before we head off in Laverton, and of course will give you the (red) dirt at the end of our journey.

We'd like to thank you Herbert Hoover!! - Oh crap!

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