Three Days in Kalgoorlie

Well, so much for exciting daily updates eh?

It’s now early Wednesday morning, which means I’ve gone three whole days without making an entry. I could claim this is because I’ve been having such a wonderfully exciting time in the Las Vegas of the Gold Fields, but I’d be lying. The simple reason is that I’m lazy.

I’ve spent the last few days alternatively sitting around on the couch reading, or wandering into town (five minute walk to the city center, excellent!) and taking tourist type photographs. While this has left plenty of time for writing, I haven’t done any at all. Hey, it’s my holiday, I can do what I like with it! πŸ˜‰

I’ve come to the conclusion that I quite like Kalgoorlie. Coming from the big city (OK, Perth only has a population of just over a million, but that’s big around these parts) I’ve never seen the attraction of living in a country town. But this place… I dunno. It’s nice to step out the door and be twenty minutes walk from everything. After only three days I feel like I know the town backwards. This is in part down to Dom, who (in sheer desperation to keep me occupied until Rebecca came off shift) drove me round and round the city for a good hour on Saturday, pointing out the landmarks. My Geek brain rapidly compiled a map of the place which (now that I’ve purchased one and checked) has turned out to pretty accurate.

I think this is about the right size for a city. Thirty-two thousand people. Big enough to have all the neccesary services (there’s a well stocked electronics boutique and a gaming store within five minutes walk of each other – Geek paradise!) but small enough to get around on foot. If they only got all the TV stations*, I could almost live here permenantly.

I say almost because I’m sure I haven’t been here long enough to experience all the inconviences of living in an isolated urban island in the middle of the desert. The lack of anywhere else to go for instance. If you get bored of what’s in Kal, it’s not like you can get into your car and go somewhere else. The nearest place that offers anything you can’t find in Kalgoorlie is probably Esperance, about 400km south. And all that has is beaches.

So, on refelection Kalgoorlie is a very nice and relaxing place to visit, but I probably wouldn’t want to live here, no matter how much I’m enjoying it so far.

Now of course to keep up my promises to everyone who’s been vising the Wyrmlog and then muttering visciously at me for not updating, I’d probably better say what I’ve been up to since I arrived. Saturday afternoon was taken up with Dom’s orientation tour. This zigzagged back and forth across the city taking in all the sights, or at least driving past them. We only actually stopped at one place, the observation deck of the Superpit.

When gold was first discovered at Kalgoorlie by Paddy Hannan (and two other Irishmen, but no-one ever remembers them) a series of underground mines were rapidly established to exploit it. The ore body being concetrated in a more or less straightish line, the resulting string of workings were known as ‘The Golden Mile’, and it became famous for being one of the richest square miles on the earth’s surface. The mines dug away, the owners became rich, and everyone was happy (except for the miners who died in cave ins, or of lung diseases, or their families who died from cholera or dysentry because of lack of water).

Then came new developments in mining. Originally the underground mines just followed the concentrated seams of gold, because technology wasn’t available to make extracting the scattered particles from the rest of the ore body economic. Scientific progress however discovered new refining methods, and eventually processing became cheap enough to make smelting the rest of the rock a viable proposition. So the mine bosses decided to dig the rest of it up.

All of it.

What was once the Golden Mile, a series of streets and alleys lined with frame heads, tailing piles, pubs, stores and other mining town ephemera, is now one of the world’s largest open cut mines, popularly known as the Superpit. It’s 3 kilometers long, 1.5 kilometres wide, and 290 metres deep. And it’s nowhere near finished. Just yesterday the paper announced that they’re going to extend it out by about another kilometre from the plan which was going to extend it out by about another kilometre anyway. It’s seriously big. What you see when you stand on the observation deck beggars belief. This gigantic terraced abyss with dump trucks crawling around the edges looking like they’d fit four to a match box. And these are big mining dump trucks, the ones taller than a double decker bus with a cabin you have to climb up a ladder to get into. The sides are speckled with openings that used to be underground tunnels from the original mines, and little specks run around that are only identifiable as people because of the sun glinting off their hard hats. The pit is so deep that you can’t even see the bottom, and because of the shape of the hole and the position of the deck you’re only seeing half of it. Wild stuff.

What’s even more crazy is that it’s right on the edge of town. It literally is the edge of town. The town grew up adjacant to the mines, the mines were built (obviously) on the ore body, and the Superpit is dug into said ore body. You can look east down almost any street in central Kalgoorlie or Boulder and see the mountainous tailings piles blocking the end of the road. In fact, if the mining companies had their way the Superpit would probably expand westwards and devour a good chunk of the rest of the city, which is built partially over the ore body. This is unlikely to happen though, as it’s too full of historic buildings and motels. The tourism market would collapse.

So, we stopped off and viewed this titanic hole. Then we drove around some more before returning to Becca’s place and waiting for her to get home. When she did I was press ganged *g* into making spring rolls for the party the next night, something that I turned out to be rather proficient at despite the fact that we rapidly ran out of fillings except for noodles, carrot and chicken. We decided that if anyone objected to their meagre contents we’d say they were a traditional Laotian recipe.

Sunday was pretty uneventful. Rebecca was working again (despite the fact it was her birthday, if I ruled the world everyone would get their birthday off school or work no questions asked, and one in lieu for each year it fell on a weekend or holiday damnit!) so it was just Dom and me again. We went out and did some shopping for the party, then back to his place to pick up some CDs Rebecca had been burning from MP3s. Unfortunately we didn’t know what songs had been burnt on the first CD, and which hadn’t. So we had an amusing half hour listening to the CD and trying to match them to the WAV files on the computer. We did fairly well, although we were somewhat thrown by one – “Can’t take my Eyes off of You” by “Frank Sanatra”. At first we presumed that Frank must have done a cover, but when the vocals came in we were startled to hear the most girly voice imaginable singing them. We came up with a number of theories…

a) The person labeling the MP3 was an idiot who’d never heard Sinatra in their entire life

b) Frank had been hit very hard in the groin just prior to recording the track

c) Frank “Sanatra” is a Japanese Karaoke singer with a very effeminate voice

The mystery remains unsolved *g*

Later on I walked into town and wandered up and down Hannan street (just about everything in Kalgoorlie from hotels to supermarkets to pet meat stores is named after Paddy Hannan) photographing the period buildings and getting to the mining museum just as the camera’s internal memory filled up.

This annoyed me. After muttering to myself for a bit I went in anyway and spent an informative hour or so viewing the exhibits. My visit culminated in taking a lift up to the observation deck on the massive head prop they’ve got set up over the main enterance. This, painted in garish red and yellow, offers a stunning panorama of the city, and I was seriously miffed that I couldn’t take any photos of it. After wandering about up there for a few minutes feeling rather put out, I descended and walked back to Becca’s place.

The party that evening wasn’t bad, considering I’m not a big fan of parties and didn’t know anyone except Rebecca and Dom. It was a cocktail party, so everyone was meant to dress semi-formally and bring some ingredients. This policy was adheared to with varying rigour. Towards the end everyone cleared off except for one guy who’s name escapes me, and a girl named Meagan who led a very entertaining* conversation involving safety tape, two way radio protocol and breaches thereof.

Monday had a late start as Rebecca wanted a sleep in to recover from the cocktails and prepare for her night shift that evening. We headed into town about 10:30 and did some more shopping, including a stop into Dick Smith Electronics where I purchased a 32MB memory card for the camera at a ridiculous price that I’m too embarrased to repeat here. But at least it gave me room for 100 extra images. Soon afterwards the cocktails – which had been beaten into retreat by the sleep-in but not yet defeated – regrouped and launched a counter attack, and Rebecca decided she really should get home and go back to bed. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading He Died with a Felafel in his Hand by John Birmingham, which is one of the most horrifyingly funny things I’ve ever read. I had to keep sticking my fist in my mouth to prevent myself from laughing and waking Bec up.

Around 5:00 Rebecca got herself up and headed off to work. I finished the book, heated up some of the spring rolls (which weren’t actually served at the party despite all my hard work damnit! πŸ˜‰ and watched SBS. There was a truly bizzare show on called John Saffran’s Music Jamboree, hosted by the afforementioned John Saffran, a former Race Around the World contestant who’s main claim to fame was recording a parody of Everybody Free to Use Sunscreen some years back…

Congregate in gangs around carparks and shopping malls,
It’s a free country,
It’s public space,
Skateboard on war memorials,
And if you see Quentin Tarva on the street,
Punch him the face for me,

In any case the show seemed to consist of him telling a long winded story about how the former turntablist for the Beastie Boys attempted to steal his girlfriend during a tour during the late 80’s. This was acted out as he spoke by people wearing large, oversized, two-dimensional Beastie Boy masks, and if not true has surely opened him up to massive libel suits. He concluded by interviewing the current Turntablist (Mixmaster Mike) via satellite and after a few general “tell us about the latest album” type questions attempted to get him to take an oath that he would never attempt to steal his girlfriend…

Mixmaster Mike: What?…. So you have this televison show and you interview musicians… and get them to swear never to hit on your girlfriend?!?
John Saffran: No
Mixmaster Mike: Then wha..
John Saffran: Just members of the Beastie Boys
Mixmaster Mike: What?!?
John Saffran: I’ve been burned before

I don’t know if this was actually real, but it had a very weird air of reality about it. Mixmaster Mike’s consternation seemed very authentic. Saffran has pulled numerous risky stunts on public figures before, so I like to think it was genuine πŸ™‚

He finished up by having some university music Professor give a brief history of the balalika, then got Scandal’us* to demonstrate the instrument by performing their hit “Me Myself and I” on it, which was surreal to say the least. It’s amazing how much the chorus of a crappy mass market pop song can sound like authetic Russian folk music on the right instruments πŸ™‚

The practical upshot of all this is that I am so gonna be watching next week πŸ™‚

On Tuesday I got up at about eight and read some of Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent”. People have always recommended him to me, but I’ve never got around to reading any of his work. I can now say I waited far too long. He’s great! Almost (although not quite) as good as Douglas Adams in Last Chance to See. At 9:00 (with Rebecca having gotten in at about 5:30 from her night shift and very deservedly asleep) I walked into town and did a bit of tourist style shopping – postcards, ridiculous golden key chains, that sort of thing. I then walked down to the east end of Hannan street and resumed taking photographs where I left off on Sunday. This neccesitated another trip to the museum, but this was OK as it’s only $2.00 to get in and it turned out I’d somehow neglected at least half of the exhibits. So I spent a further enjoyable hour looking at union banners and restored buildings out back and the southern hemisphere’s narrowest pub (3 metres at the widest). I was way too amused by a sign in the bucket toilet out the back of the replica miner’s cottage that read (in big letters)…

THIS IS A REPLICA!
Toilets in the visitors’ center

I really don’t want to know what sort of incident prompted them to put that up πŸ™‚

Finally, having made sure that I hadn’t missed anything else I proceeded back up to the head frame to take some panaramic shots of the city. This all went well until I pressed the lift button to go down. Nothing happened.

I pressed it again.

Still nothing.

I pressed it repeatedly.

Nothing.

This merry little game went on for a good ten minutes. I was entertaining myself with visions of being trapped up there all morning by lift failure – the fire brigade having to send up ladders, interviews with the Kalgoorlie Miner, appearances statewide in the humourous little filler bit they use to pad out the end of the news bulletins – when someone downstairs pressed a button and apparently stirred the thing into motion, causing it to finally respond to my summons. By the time it got me back down to the ground floor I was so relieved to have escaped that I completely forgot to inform the museum staff of the fault. So for all I know the next bunch of tourists got stuck up there as well πŸ™‚

I walked back to Rebecca’s and finished the Bill Bryson book, by which time she was up, and we went back into town just to do some stuff. This neccesitated a visit to the tourist bureau to try and figure out what stuff to actually do. In the end we plumped for “the largest gem and mineral collection in the goldfields” at the School of Mines geologic museum. A short drive through town later we arrived at the museum only to find that it’s opening hours were 8:30 till 12:00 (or something similarly ridiculous, they’re not on the brochure so I can’t say for certain), and as it was now mid afternoon it was closed.

We weren’t too happy about this, and spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out why they kept such odd hours. Front running theories included the staff all going out fossicking for more samples in the afternoon, and the staff hating the students, and thus closing before any of them got out of bed. With nothing else to do we decided to wander down to the Goldfields Art Centre, and see what was on at the gallery.

The Goldfields Art Center turned out to be a large, modern looking theatre with a small room labled “Gallery” stuck onto the back, seemingly to justify the title “Arts Center” rather than just “Theatre”. This room turned out to be full of jewelery, some of it nice, the majority truly bizzare. Like the semi-circular necklace with little gold tiles hanging off spelling out “Buddha Fist” or the “Impliments for the first Wash” which included a bit of seagrass on a bit of wire, a bowl made out of an old tin can, and a ladle made out of a kangaroo rib. To make matters worse the room was heated so heavily as to put much of the jewelery in danger of melting. On our way out I dropped $2.00 in the donation box to help them fix the air-conditioner.

We then wandered around to the front of the theatre to have a look at the posters of previous shows. These mostly consisted of performances by Rodney Rude* and a moustachioed man by the name of Col Elliot who’s posters made Rodney’s look sophisticated.

With the entertainment possibilities of the town exhausted we returned home to look at the tourist map. The only thing we could concievably do in the 45 minutes remining before Rebecca had to go to work was have a look at the Miner’s Hall of Fame, a multi-million dollar tourist trap at the edge of town. Admission costs $20.00 for adults, but as you can see virtually everything in it for only $2.00 at the town museum I had no intention of going inside. I just wanted to wander around the outside, take a few photos and generally mock the whole enterprise. So this we did, getting back to Becca’s just in time for her to cook some chips, and head off to work.

I spent the evening frying up more spring rolls, starting on another Bill Bryson book, and watching the Brad Pitt episode of Friends, which was shown in Perth abut three months ago, but was on it’s first run out here in the Goldfields.

So yeah, that’s what’s been going on. Rebecca now has four days off, so we’re going to actually do some stuff (when she wakes up). I’ll try and make entries with a bit more regularity from now on.

I wouldn’t make any bets though πŸ™‚

Sionara!


* Perth has five free-to-air TV channels. The ABC or Channel 2, which is the Government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has no add breaks and plays a lot of local content with some first run British stuff thrown in, Ten Entertainment Network, or Channel 10 which mostly plays Anerican stuff with enough local content stuck on to satisfy the regulations, Channel 9 which plays a mix of everything, Channel 7 which used to be mostly local content but now has a slice of the American shows and repeats of British stuff so old the ABC won’t touch it anymore, and SBS, the Government funded Special Broadcasting Service which plays more arty, alternative and foreign stuff. Kalgoorlie gets the ABC, SBS, GWN (Golden West Network) which is a sort of country cousin to Channel 7 and gets their shows about a year later than the city, and WIN, which is an unholy amalgam of randomly picked shows from 9 and 10. It can hardly compare.

* To listen to. Conversation is not one of my life skills.

* The Australian version of Hear’say. The band from our version of Popstars. You Brits know what I’m talking about! πŸ™‚

* A standard of Australian comedy. He stands on a stage for an hour or two swearing at the audience, cackling nasaly and singing songs that range from the merely bawdy right through to absolutely filthy. People love this and pay him lots of money.

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