Re-tracing history in inland WA

Headshot of Stephen Scourfield
Stephen ScourfieldThe West Australian
The Granites, near Mt Magnet.
Camera IconThe Granites, near Mt Magnet. Credit: Tourism Western Australia/Supplied

Caravans, camper trailers, RVs and vehicles have been arriving in WA by the shipload.

Camping gear has been streaming out of stores.

Travellers are geared-up and ready to explore our western third of the continent in this year in which we get to immerse ourselves in WA— a playground as big as Western Europe.

Big, flat and boring? Nah.

Western Australia has a variety of climates, landscapes and human history.

It has wide horizons. And at this time of the year, my gaze is turning from blue to red — away from the summer past on the coast, and into the cool season ahead inland.

And the Gascoyne Murchison region of Australia’s Golden Outback has all I want — red earth, rock formations, agricultural and goldrush towns and plenty of space to explore.

And last month, some parts of the Gascoyne recorded their biggest February rainfall for at least 20 years. The Gascoyne River peaked at 7m, and the Murchison and Wooramel rose, too — a scene-setter for a good touring season.

go now ON THE ROAD

The best time to drive the Gascoyne Murchison is between now and the end of winter, with expectations of a good wildflower season from perhaps July (northern parts of the region) to early September (southern parts).

The three trails are on both sealed and unsealed roads — but generally those are of good gravel and a credit to the shires.

The sealed roads, like main roads through Geraldton and Carnarvon, Mullewa and Yalgoo, Cue and Meekatharra, are good and well maintained bitumen roads.

Other roads, like the Murchison Settlement road (Carnarvon-Mullewa Road), are good unsealed roads and possible in a 2WD or SUV.

On the road in the Gascoyne.
Camera IconOn the road in the Gascoyne. Credit: Tourism Western Australia/Supplied


Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways is a set of three separate self-drive trails — Miners Pathway, Wool Wagon Pathway and Kingsford Smith Mail Run. Following a researched and marked trail adds theme and history and helps to open up the landscape, and each has a different story to tell.

Miners Pathway Yalgoo, Mt Magnet, Cue, Meekatharra, Sandstone, Paynes Find.

Miners Pathway traces goldrush history between Yalgoo and Paynes Find, and there are interesting heritage buildings, like the Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth, designed by Monsignor John Hawes.

Four days are recommended for the full trail. I spend a fair bit of time around Mt Magnet and Cue, under its big blue skies, which give extraordinary views of stars and planets at night.

Kingsford Smith Mail Run Carnarvon, Gascoyne Junction, Bangemall Inn (Cobra Station), Mt Augustus, Burringurrah, Meekatharra. I’d allow at least three days, on the mostly unsealed roads. Allow time to hang out at the highlight, Mt Augustus (traditionally called Burringurrah).

Charles Kingsford Smith had already been a pilot with Australia’s first commercial airline (flying out of Geraldton), when he arrived in the Gascoyne in 1924. He and mate Keith Anderson bought a truck and set up Gascoyne Transport Company, driving the mail from Carnarvon to the Bangemall Goldfields, near Mt Augustus. The trail follows in their wheel tracks. I’d allow at least three days, on the mostly unsealed roads.

Wool Wagon Pathway Geraldton, Mullewa, Pindar, Murchison Settlement, Gascoyne Junction, Kennedy Range National Park, Exmouth.

The story of grazing and pastoralism and its pioneers is unearthed by the Wool Wagon Pathway — from the droving days of great flocks of sheep to settlement and the founding of big stations. Allow at least three days on unsealed roads. And I’d allow extra time to hang out at the Kennedy Range.


The key towns are Paynes Find, Mt Magnet, Cue, Meekatharra, Yalgoo and Sandstone — each with such individual personalities.

Paynes Find I’ve spent plenty of time around here, in the footsteps of Tom Payne, who was the first to find gold and register a lease — the Pansy lease in June 1911. For doing so, he was given free use of the gold battery. He found more gold at what became the Carnation lease, and owned and operated the mine from July 1911 until his death in a shaft, near here, sometime just before 1925. Paynes Find Gold Battery and Museum houses the only working gold battery remaining in WA. The tourist centre is open seasonally, with a museum, gold panning, wildflower displays and crafts. Check for openings on 99 636 513. paynes-find-roadhouse.com.au/ gold-battery

Mt Magnet This is a “just about” annual favourite for me to visit. A nice 37km tourist drive trail loops through old and new goldmine sites, and visits Warramboo Hill, with its good view, and granite formations that include a natural amphitheatre. The Mt Magnet Mining and Pastoral Museum in Hepburn Street is the result of 25 years of work by Mt Magnet Historical Society, and teaches about not just the gold history, but the grazing and pastoralism around here since 1878. Visit the original Boogardie State Battery, too.

Cue The Queen of the Murchison is just that — a bit dusty but still dressed in finery. Some fancy buildings date back to the gold rush of the 1890s. The nearby natural attraction is the big granite Walga Rock. About 48km west of the town, a whopper — it’s about 1½km long. There’s a cave and Indigenous rock art. Then head up to Nallan Lake nature reserve (20km north of town) or Milly Soak.

Peace Gorge area just outside Meekatharra.
Camera IconPeace Gorge area just outside Meekatharra. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Meekatharra Meekatharra Museum (8am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday), State Battery, Peace Gorge (3km from town), and the new Meeka Rangelands Discovery Trail, which winds around Meekatharra Creek and then takes in a “super pit” mine lookout, has interpretive signs with plenty of information about Indigenous, settlement, goldrush and agricultural history.

Yalgoo Courthouse Museum is full of treasures — including some of the most memorable old photographs I’ve ever seen in WA. The Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth, designed by Monsignor Hawes, adds a pretty heart to the town, and Jokers Tunnel (10km south of town) was carved through rock by early gold prospectors (and named for the Joker mining syndicate). Visitors can walk through during daylight hours. A lot of work has gone into Yalgoo Caravan Park, which has everything from rammed earth units to drive-through sites for big motorhomes or caravans, large, shady sites with concrete slabs and powered and unpowered sites.

Sandstone We have to start with London Bridge — a weathered basalt “arch”, about 350 million years old, and getting more and more fragile. (Yes, London Bridge may well fall down.) Back in town itself, the Heritage Museum is open from April to October and has plenty to see, and call by the Miner’s Cottage, on Thaduna Street, opposite Black Range Chapel. Built about 1924 by a local pastoralist, it’s an example of a classic miner’s cottage of that time. But the heart of the town is the pub — Sandstone National Hotel is a classic. Even though it was the smallest of the four hotels built in Sandstone during the gold rush, it’s the only one still remaining.

The streets of Cue.
Camera IconThe streets of Cue. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian


Regular readers may remember that we were there for the launch of the Murchison GeoRegion in Mt Magnet last year.

GeoRegions celebrate not just the geological foundations of landscape, but its wildflowers and animals, and the cultures that have lived there.

And the Murchison GeoRegion is the result of seven years of co-operative work between the seven local government shires of Mt Magnet, Murchison, Meekatharra, Cue, Yalgoo, Sandstone and Wiluna with the Mid West Development Commission and local communities.

There are 21 sites in the Murchison GeoRegion, telling the ancient and modern story of the region.

The self-drive trail takes tourists to London Bridge at Sandstone, Jokers Tunnel at Yalgoo, Walga Rock near Cue, with WA’s biggest gallery of rock art, and Poona, north of that, which is the home of WA emeralds.

Better for some travellers will be to target places in the Gascoyne Murchison region which have a cluster of sites — for example around Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra.

Download the Murchison GeoRegion app or guide book, and visit murchisongeoregion.com.

Lake Nallan Nature Reserve, 20km north of Cue.
Camera IconLake Nallan Nature Reserve, 20km north of Cue. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

fact file

Download Australia’s Golden Outback’s 21 Road Trips booklet at roadtripcountry.com.au.

There is more inspiration and trip planning throughout the site. australiasgoldenoutback.com/ region/gascoyne-and-murchison

Visit outbackpathways.com and download the Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways Guidebook.

For more on national parks, including Kennedy Range and Mt Augustus, search parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au.

Popular Dash gets bigger

The Coral Coast Helicopters Kickstarter Gascoyne Dash is over the Easter long weekend this year.

The Dash is one of Australia’s toughest races, over about 500km of tough terrain between Carnarvon and Gascoyne Junction.

After being postponed last year because of COVID-19, it has attracted a record number of competitors. Entries for the bike race filled up within 24 hours and an additional 25 spots were opened for competitors.

“That’s double the amount for normal entries,” says Michael Gibbings, acting president of the Gascoyne Off Road Racing Club. “For car entries, there are just 50 spots.”

Michael, who has been involved with the Dash for the past 20 years “on and off”, says: “This year the conditions are different to previous races,” referring to recent rain and flooding of the usually dry Gascoyne River.

“There’s been a lot of rain along the racetrack and as a result the country is looking beautifully green with some standing water around. For spectators on the ground, visibility will be excellent.”

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