The Super Pit in Kalgoorlie (or Boulder, depending on how you look at it) is genuinely one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Its name, granted, does not inspire thoughts of excitement but once you are standing there on the cusp of a bloody great hole, this vast gold mine seems every bit as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon. Alright, so I might be getting a little bit carried away but, trust me, this is an impressive hole in the ground. It’s forever expanding and deepening (the lookout has just been moved so it can be incorporated into the mine) and once finished in 2013 it will be a staggering 3.8km long, 1.35km wide and more than 500m deep. From the lookout the yellow haul trucks which bring out the dirt look like meandering insects but they are in fact the size of a modest house and each tyre on them is worth $26,000 (about £16,000). What makes it even more startling is the fact that all this is man-made. If the Grand Canyon is testament to the power of a river, then this mine is testament to the greed of man.
Because, of course, we don’t really need gold; it’s main function is to look pretty. The town of Kalgoorlie, surrounded by some of the harshest, most unforgiving landscape known to man, exists purely because we like to ornament ourselves and our things. It’s crazy that it’s here at all, let alone that it’s by far the most lively place for hundreds of kilometres around.
In the same way as Las Vegas is a law unto itself, so is Kalgoorlie. The ever-warm and sunny weather combined with the vast sums of cash to be made here make this a place to fly in and fly out of, making a quick buck in half the time it could take elsewhere and having a damn good time while you do it. Back when the mines were smaller and more numerous and the average wage in Australia was around seven shillings a week a man working underground here could earn 14 shillings a day. The ladies working in the brothels could earn enough to pay for a house every single month and could spend more than two thirds of the year travelling first-class around the world on the money they made here in the rest of it.
Things have changed now, of course, but wages are still high here and there’s still an I’ve-been-down-the-mine-all-day vibe to the nightlife. As darkness descends people flood the streets and fill the pubs, sitting on the balconies of these grand old buildings downing pints and swapping tall tales, their work boots still on.
I’ve spent most of the day listening to some of the most entertaining stories I’ve heard on this trip. At the Mining Hall of Fame I went down the mine shaft and listened to ex-miner Jim talk of near-misses with 100-tonne boulders, clouds of lung-clogging dust and dangerous machinery while at Questa Casa brothel (the oldest in Australia) madam Carmel told us about scantily clad prostitutes turning cartwheels in the street, a man who died then revived during his allotted hour and a woman who drove through the building in silent rage, reversing up to try again as she hit every mound of rubble.
I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of this barmy but loveable town today and wish I could spend longer hearing its stories. Because, in a place like this, I’d bet my bottom gold nugget that there are always more.