Four mums and nine sons cut loose for a few days out of Perth.
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Some called us crazy and others said they couldn’t think of anything worse… but we couldn’t think of anything better than heading out bush with the kids, albeit it nine boys and four mums. Our hardworking, holiday-poor husbands couldn’t get time off work. But as my girlfriends and I know our way around a tent peg or two, we decided to plan the ultimate holiday adventure to the goldfields in Western Australia. Our bunch of five- to ten-year-olds are mad-keen rock collectors so this trip was going to be all about them – filled with fossicking, ghost towns, red dirt and the prospect of striking it rich.
Living in Perth, it’s an easy 600km to Kalgoorlie along the Great Eastern Highway but our plan was to get off the beaten track and bush camp as much as possible. As with all good trips, preparation is often the key to success. We meal planned, cooked and had dinners vacuum-packed in the Engel ready to go. My Tvan was acting as camp headquarters and, as we were rotating meals, I loved that I wasn’t cooking every night; and it meant the other mums didn’t have to cart cooking gear or lots of water.
Although my GU Nissan Patrol goes almost anywhere, I was travelling with a Prado and two Subarus (one with quite low clearance) so we had to ensure our trip plan was safe and achievable. Sometimes it is a fine line between off-road adventure and disaster. Although a 4WD recovery mission was the last thing on our radar, I got a refresher course from my husband on how to use our electric winch; and I made sure I had all the adequate recovery gear before I departed – better safe than sorry. I also had a satellite phone and a friend in Kalgoorlie I could call upon if we really ran into trouble.
First stop was Yellowdine, near Southern Cross, where the boys could fossick for crystals along a dry lake near Heaney’s Find Mine. The sign warned ‘Caution, Road Closed, Enter at Own Risk’ but the road was dry so we continued towards the crystal hotspot. We scored our first holiday scratches on the duco meandering our way through tight tracks and spindly trees until we found a camping spot bathed in golden light – just big enough for the four vehicles. The kids couldn’t believe it: The ground was layered in crystals and they rushed to find their mining gear (concrete hammers, safety glasses, shovels and gloves). We marvelled at how quickly they accumulated buckets of rocks. They were already filthy within minutes after discovering a red mud patch, where they made creations the size of soccer balls ready to ‘kiln’ next to the fire.
We left the ‘best camp ever’ to go to the ‘worst in the world’, if you listened to the kids when we arrived at a caravan park in Kalgoorlie. Us mums love bush camping too; but we had little choice as the kids wanted to see the Super Pit, Australia’s largest open-cut gold mine… which sits on the richest square mile of gold-bearing earth on the planet. They also wanted to visit Hannons North tourist mine as well as the local museum to see some gold nuggets and bars. The Super Pit tour was impressive and the boys loved Hannons North where they panned up gold specks from the old mine tailings. With all the talk of riches, the kids were getting gold fever. It was time for the next exciting instalment of the adventure.
STRIKING IT RICH
Armed with our newly-purchased Miner’s Rights and two metal detectors we hired in Kalgoorlie, we headed out of town to the freehold land where I had phoned the famer to let him know we would be prospecting there. The dirt seemed redder the further we got out of town, and the excitement amongst the kids was almost palpable as they had told all their friends at school they were going to come back with gold.
We found our way to the random spot where I’d told the lease owner we would set up camp; and found a clearing a bit off the road. There was no need for shade as the sun’s warmth was a welcome relief after the cold night. We were grateful for the lack of flies. It took little time to set up camp and once the kids had finished helping, they were off making their well contained camp fires and gathering wood for the evening ahead.
Although none of us had any experience in metal detecting, we all joined in on the quest for gold. It was Bailey, the youngest of the group, whose detector sprang to life first. When the beeping sound became more high-pitched, Bailey scouted along the ground and found a sunbaker – sitting proudly aloft in the red dirt. He was beside himself with excitement and his friends were just as thrilled when they saw the little nugget clutched in his hands. With newfound enthusiasm, the boys searched for riches and it wasn’t long before the next one-gram nugget was unearthed. Our little patch of dirt was remarkably productive and after a few hours of prospecting, all of the nine kids found almost identical sized nuggets to take home. Sometimes you just get lucky. And other times it all comes down to good trip preparation.
The Goldfields are famous for their ghost towns and Kookynie is a great place to explore. Although the ‘living’ ghost town still has a few residents and a working pub, it is just a shell of its former glory. Once a thriving metropolis with 400 buildings and a population of over 3,500, now all that remains are a few old buildings together with remnants of brick walls, footings and rusted-out vehicles.
From Kookynie we made our way to the quaint old town of Leonora and out to the old museum and mine at Gwalia. The mine manager back in 1898 was an American engineer, Herbert Hoover, who built a grand home overlooking the mine. He later returned home and became President of the United States. Hoover House has been fully restored to what it was in its glory days, and it now operates as a bed and breakfast. I would have loved to stay the night… but with all the antiques, it was not kid-friendly. We made our way down the hill to Gwalia’s old mining cottages, which were filled with relics. It was as if everyone had just moved out and left all their belongings – as a window into the challenging life miners had at the turn of the century.
After a week on the road with our cars overflowing with rocks and red mud creations dried by the fire, it was time to head for home – but we had one last destination on our list: The Gormley statues at Lake Ballard. There are 51 statues depicting local residents from the neighboring town of Menzies. These metal life-like figures adorn the vast landscape and it can take days to find them all. Lake Ballard is a saltpan during summer; but when we visited many of the statues were surrounded by sticky, red muck which just added to the kids’ pleasure.
The arid but incessantly beautiful setting with red dirt and blue skies was incredible although it was also the first place we encountered sub-zero temperatures. We all kept warm at night in front of the campfire and were grateful for our hot water bottles when we went to bed. The first morning we woke to a frost, which is quite unusual in Western Australia. It was incredible to see the sunlight transform the area – shining on the statues, creating long shadows and bringing us much-needed warmth.
As the trip was tailored for the boys, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The kids were great company and camping with three mums was so much fun. Drinking numerous cups of tea, consuming copious amounts of chocolate and sharing laughs around the campfire is what life is all about. We all came home with red dirt etched into our skin and some great memories. The kids had their gold nuggets, a swag of stories; and maybe just a little more respect for their mums after what was possibly the best school holidays ever.