Unnatural Attractions: The Super Pit, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia

Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mine Super Pit, Western Australia

Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mine Super Pit, Western Australia

So what creative uses are there for a whacking great hole in the ground?

A hole 3.8 km long, 1.5 km wide and 600 metres deep that can make a 680 tonne shovel look like a kitchen utensil?? Or a 166 tonne truck like a Matchbox toy???

A hole so large it’s colloquially known as the Super Pit Kalgoorlie?

Red meets Shovel at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie

Red meets Shovel at the Super Pit Kalgoorlie

That’s the question the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mine (KCGM) needs to answer in approximately 8 years time when the Golden Mile Dolorite Seam runs dry. Post-mining regulatory obligations are quite specific about mining infrastructure, pit sides and site rehabilitation.

And it’d be pretty hard to just bulldoze it over and hope for the best …

In the meantime, the twin towns of Kalgoorlie-Boulder never sleep.

And not just because of the perfectly natural attractions of the Questa Casa, Australia’s oldest working brothel, either.

The thrum, clatter and vibration of fortunes being made is a continual counterpoint to all other activity 24/7, 365 days per year.

Because here in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, perched right on the edge of the massive KCGM Super Pit, the gold rush that started when Paddy Hannan first discovered gold in 1893 never stopped.

A Truck at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

A Truck at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

And the Golden Mile on which it sits is the richest square mile of gold-bearing earth on the planet.

Although none of the extensive mining activity that’s continued unabated ever since would have been possible without the vision of Irish engineer Charles Yelverton O’Connor who defied critics to plan and construct the world’s (then) longest freshwater pipeline over the 530 km (330 miles) from Mundaring Weir near Perth to Mt Charlotte Reservoir at the Goldfields.

Mt Charlotte Reservoir, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Mt Charlotte Reservoir, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Eight years in the making, The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme still supplies water to the goldfields. It’s also still the world’s longest steel pipeline and in 2009 was recognised as international historic civil engineering landmark, along with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Kalgoorlie Clock Tower, Western Australia

Kalgoorlie Clock Tower, Western Australia

Mining giant KCGM has a lot for which to thank O’Connor, who tragically took his own life during a public campaign of press vilification, including accusations of corruption and incompetence before the scheme was completed and his genius realised.

In the bad old days, a clutch of smaller companies and individual holdings jockeyed for position and battled for survival along the Golden Mile. Then – depending on ones point of view – visionary entrepreneur/environmental vandal Alan Bond started buying up the leases with a view to merging into one big company – and one giant pit. Economies of scale, and increasing size of operation mean greater profits all round.

But just how worthwhile is this consolidated venture? According to signage at the Super Pit Kalgoorlie lookout, 1600 tonnes of material is processed each hour – containing gold valued at around $AUD70,000. All up, around 800,000 ounces of gold per annum are taken from the Super Pit and neighbouring mine, Mt Charlotte.

SO worth it, that maybe I’ll become a ‘Void Engineer’ after all …

I’ll never understand why this wasn’t presented as a valid career path in High School careers class – its appeal as a passport occupation conversation starting point is FAR greater than ‘nurse’ or ‘teacher’. I guess those same folks who many years later failed to predict the Global Financial Crisis were cutting their teeth by not being able to predict a future mining boom at that point …

It's a LONG way down ... Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

It’s a LONG way down … Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

From the vantage point of the lookout, it’s hard to believe the trucks crawling like ants way WAAAAAY down in the depths of the Pit are HUGE machines worth $AUD4 Million.

Or that the shovels loading each truck with the 4 scoops of high grade ore it takes to fill it weigh 680 tonnes, hold 55 tonnes (and 36 m³) and cost $AUD10+ Million!

Or that each load of this high-grade ore averages gold worth over $10,000.

But on this clear and sunny Outback winter day in August 2012, we only care about the Pyrotechnic Demolition Explosion Choreographer! Although such people are far more likely lumbered with dull, meaningless titles like Blast Engineer …

As speculation ran hot over the day’s exact blast location in the public viewing area overlooking the Super Pit Kalgoorlie, I could have run a book if I’d had even a little of Bond’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Blasting at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Blasting at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

The Visitor Information Centre in Kalgoorlie’s main street is advised of Super Pit blast times, and visitors are welcome to take the rocky road to the caged-in viewing area. It’s a fine view even without the blasting, no matter what the closet pyromaniacs tell you.

Over an hour after the advised blasting time, the countdown started and cameras poised, ready to capture the moment.

It took us awhile to realise the dust and smoke at the top of the Pit was actually the explosion, with Pilchard and several small children devastated the whole cliff face didn’t fall away.

But, we’d seen a real, live Super Pit explosion!

Blasting at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie

Blasting at the Super Pit, Kalgoorlie

Returning to our campsite seemed a bit anti climactic after that. Strangely, I was finding it quite easy to resist the excitement of purchasing a signed Black Caviar poster from our campground neighbour. Given that Black Caviar is a horse – albeit the greatest racehorse in living memory – I was having trouble imagining how the poster was signed!

But I digress.

So to balance the unnatural with the natural, we took a walk in nearby Karlkurla Bushland Park. Although spectacular, however, landscape like this hasn’t been seen along the Golden Mile for over 100 years.

Karlkurla Bushland Park, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Karlkurla Bushland Park, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

It’s difficult to imagine Kalgoorlie-Boulder without the iconic Super Pit continuing to keep gold mining front and centre. Invoking St Barbara – patron saint of mining, in case you were wondering – just won’t cut it once the gold stream runs dry.

While it’s tempting to suggest that the Super Pit be fully restored to the original landscape, to completely erase all signs of ‘unnatural’ mining activity would be to erase Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s heritage.

Unnatural Attractions:  Kalgoorlie Mining Activity

Unnatural Attractions:  Kalgoorlie Mining Activity

If that happened, the Pipeline and all other traces of human habitation – also ‘unnatural’ – should be erased as well to be consistent. Which would be a unnecessary and unrealistic.

So what’s an environmentally conscious, community-minded Super-mining company to do with their enormous hole in the ground?

Section of Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Section of Super Pit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

My suggestions:

  • World’s highest Below-Ground-Level Bungee-Jump. Or Sky Dive
  • World’s first Outback International-Standard Ice-Skating Rink
  • World’s largest Below-Ground Cemetery and Crematorium
  • World’s first underground Arboretum and Botanic Gardens

Yeah, OK. I’m not as creative as I sound.

SO … what would YOU do with the largest defunct open pit mine in Australia?

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34 comments

  • Great post! I remember visiting when I spent some time in Kalgoorlie in a Winnebago with my folks. It reminded me of a mini grand canyon. A man made, mini grand canyon. Maybe they could sell donkey rides to the bottom when it’s all over?

  • PerthDailyPhoto

    I’m going with River’s first idea, I think it would make a fabulous tourist attraction for Kalgoorlie, maybe a few ‘climbs’ for the more adventurous. More hotels/motels to accommodate said tourists! It really is an awesome sight, I had a sister in law (no longer with us) who used to drive one of those huge trucks, she was tiny, just goes to show..anything is possible oui!

  • @Fernando – Thank you!! It’s even more spectacular close up!
    @Jana – Anytime! I’d go back there any day …
    @Jill – SO looking forward to getting back to WA & seeing all the bits we missed the first time round … but I have a feeling it’ll take a VEEEEERRRRY long time to see it all!!
    @Iris – Don’t despair … the Super Pit didn’t exist when you were in Australia! If it did, it certainly wasn’t this big!!! Another reason to come back!! Hahaha – the trees DO look like broccoli – do you know Aussie artist Pro Hart? His trees look like that too …
    @SFlaGuy – Hahaha, that’s SO innovative – a Gold Mine with a built in Gold WASH!! No wonder you US folks rule the world … but it might be a bit late for flood insurance if yr backyard is already under water?!?!?!
    @River – Agreed. But maybe we could flood it in & have the world’s first Outback Dive site???
    @Chris – That would be GREAT!! I wonder if such a plan would create it’s own micro-climate?? I’ll book an apartment half way up, thanks!!!

  • I think I’d create an underground city. A waterfall would flow from the top and be pumped back up again:) It would be something out of sci-fi.

  • Wow. How did we manage to get around that one??? We´ve been in Kalgoorlie, in Coolgardie and did not know about this enourmous pit???
    By golly, that is sad!
    Good luck with becoming a Void Engineer!
    Fantastic pics!
    Aw, and those trees always remind me of Brokkoli 🙂

  • Hi Red, they don’t call the Super Pit, “The Super Pit” for nothing. It certainly dominates the landscape of Kalgoorlie.
    We have just got back from a 4Wd & bushcamping trip down the woodlines from Kalgoorlier/Coolgardie. Have you been down that way. It is a great place to visit if you like 4WD, bush camping, bush walking, and exploring the granite outcrops.

  • even if unnatural, it is still breathtaking! thanks for the tour:-)

  • I really like that image Andrew linked us to, that would be a great idea for the pit.

  • I was so excited about the prospect of finding gold in my back yard I started digging my own super pit. At two feet I hit water. Must have been high tide. It does give one pause about global warming and renewing ones flood insurance policy. I wonder how long it will take to put the super hill back into the super pit.

  • Belo post…Espectacular….
    Cumprimentos

  • It would be interesting to see how complete restoration would transpire in a pit this size, it’s like Fort McMurray here, a once beautiful place is totally destroyed due to oil exploration. Here’s a link to a video that shows how much damange is being done (120 billion invested in tar sands development over the last 12 years, convert this to the amount of damage being done through capitalistic greed. Here’s the link type text

    How are these multi billion dollar companies held accountable for the damage they are doing to the earth? Ummmm right, they’re not because they are the ones who decide who is in government and if the government doesn’t work with or for them a new government is elected.

    Yup, it’s pathetic how the oil companies are definitely destroying not only the planet, they are also killing off wildlife and driving up our cost of living as we speak.

    The pit you’re showing here, the Tar Sands here, that’s only two of the businesses in existence in this world which are destroying our planet, no wonder the weather and everything else is going to hell in a handbasket!

    Thanks for educating me on the gold pit. Have a wonderful day!

  • @diane b – We watched the trucks endlessly circling … so I wonder how long it’d take a Grand Prix racer?? That track would REALLY test out their skills!
    @TMWH – There’s only one flaw in your brilliant rehabilitation plan – only ONE bakery!!! I think there should be a series of them all the way down … and I would have seriously re-thought my career options if ‘Explosion Choreographer’ was on the menu!!
    @darlin – It’s also about money. When governments are SO cash-strapped they’re unlikely to be re-elected, they’ll do ANYTHING – like selling off oil exploration rights in the Great Barrier Reef, or approving untested coal seam gas exploration …
    @Mary – Hahahaha, GREAT idea – but can just see the new ‘reality’ TV show now: Kardashians KICK Ass in Kalgoorlie!!!!

  • SO … what would YOU do with the largest defunct open pit mine in Australia?

    I would put all the criticial, aggressive, & constantly self-validating people in it. And the Kardashians.~Mary

  • Landscape the whole thing with native trees and plants, put in pathways, with places to stop and rest, and let the wild come back in a bit. Nature trails that use the terrain as it is now, instead of trying to put it back. Put a bakery along the edge at the top, with a museum/water park/hotel or some other incarnation. Voila! New reason to visit!

    I like the new term for Blast Engineer. An Explosion Choreographer would certainly be a well-attended session on career day.

  • Great photos. I hope to be able to visit Kalgoorlie one day, as it appears to be such an odd town.

  • They could turn it into a Grand Prix racing track.

  • It is a mighty big hole. Did you know that it takes a truck 45 mins to climb to the top and back?

  • That Super Pit is unbelievable. It’s a marvel in and of itself. In many ways it would be a shame to not preserve at least part of it.

  • @Sallie – Well, it’s not all moonlight & magnolias down here, whatever I might say!! But despite its purpose and eventual end, I did think it had a certain beauty!!
    @Andrew – That’s an AWESOME idea!!!! And yes, with all that water pouring down the pipeline, there must be a way to harness at least some of it!!! Well Done!!! What a shame this isn’t a reader competition or you’d get a prize …
    @George – The whole area has been mined for so long, it’s hard to know what ‘natural’ is any more!! I’d be disappointed if it disappeared altogether.
    @River – That’s a great idea!! And I’m sure we could easily build a pipeline from the Wet Tropics to the Dry South – the government is just waiting for another reason to bump up the Medicare levy to meet budget shortfalls!!!
    @Sami – It’s a perfect example of an Outback mining town – with a dash of intrigue, history and science!!
    @Glen – You’re too kind … that is, if you were actually paying ME a compliment with that ‘clever’, and not just my facts!!
    @Dianne – There’s not a lot of info about all the jobs that will doubtless be affected when the pit closes. Despite my normal antipathy to ‘unnatural’ attractions, I found this a deeply fascinating place, unlike anything I’d ever seen!

  • @Filip – It’s the biggest hole in the ground I ever saw!!
    @Kath – Hahaha, my legs are already feeling weak at the knees at the thought of your fine suggestions!!
    @eileeninmd – 8 years isn’t really that long – it’ll be VERY interesting to see how the company deals with the issue!
    @FruitCake – I thought of some sort of housing, but not sure what the below-ground temperature would be in summer!! Maybe something creative could be done with all that piped water …
    @Beach Bum – BUT … how would she know?!?!?!
    @Jeanne – I usually visit natural attractions – but this is something else!
    @Saucy – The gold is still going strong (else the mining company would have bailed out already)!! You make a good point about rehabilitating the site keeping people employed – there’ll be a lot of jobs down the drain once the mining activity stops.

  • Think of all the gold that pit has given to our country ….. I guess it’ll be a sad day when it comes to an end.
    Very interesting post Red.

  • Now that is one big hole!! great facts to go with, clever.

  • What would I do with the most beautiful pit in the world?
    I’d leave it open, and fence the perimeter, then advertise it as a tourist attraction. Like America’s Grand Canyon.
    On another note, I find myself annoyed that 330 miles pf pipeline can be constructed to bring water to Kalgoorlie/Boulder from Perth, but governments can’t construct pipelines from Queensland’s flood areas to supply South Australia’s dry areas. Even out the country’s water supply problems and the inner regions can be settled as much as the coastal regions.

  • Wellll…interesting post, but it has the honor” of being the first one on your blog that did NOT make me wish I could buy a ticket to OZ!

    We’ve seen some of these “unnatural disaster” open pit mines around the States…and that’s more than enough.

  • It is obvious to me. It should be done like this, http://www.chilbyphotography.com.au/info/sites/default/files/imagecache/product_full/DSC_04511.JPG

    What you say? Too hot for hydrangeas and azaleas? Nonsense. Put that long pipe to good use.

  • What an interesting place to visit and this is such a great post! Looks like an incredible place

  • World’s biggest stair run event?

    Have a week-long festival to see who can make it from the bottom to the top…?

  • This pit must be enormous. Great sight to visit.

    Greetings,
    Filip

  • Eh, Red, is there any gold left in that pit – WOW – is that ever deep. One keeps hearing about not so much gold about now and you show us a gold pit. That a beauty of a photo showing Karlkurla Park and really hard to think that this deep super pit could be filled in once the mining was done and everything restored – that in itself would be quite a project and probably keep people employed for years n years.

    • They probably won’t be bothered to do anything with it, just like parts of the Hunter Valley, it is just degraded country. Sad I think .

      • I sure do hope you’re wrong, Jill – but I guess we’ve got history to teach us otherwise. Let’s hope this becomes an exception – there’s so much potential to create a really mind-boggling attraction with the site!

  • And not just because of the perfectly natural attractions of the Questa Casa, Australia’s oldest working brothel, either.

    All things considered despite my natural and ingrained interest in that one attraction my wife would have a problem if I ever stepped foot in such a place. Bummer.

  • The below ground bungee jump has some potential, but what about terrace housing?

  • Wow, that is one large pit and the truck does look like a toy. What can you do with this big hole in the ground? I hope they find a good use! Interesting post and great photos. Have a happy week!

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