Unnatural Attractions: The Super Pit, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
- 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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