Back to the established routine. Up well before the sun, breakfast of muesli, toast and tea, out on the road as soon as it was light enough to be clearly visible to my fellow road-users.
I left Norseman and headed north up the Coolgardie – Esperance Highway, passing several rather spectacular salt-pans just outside of the town, the biggest of which is known as Lake Cowan. Not quite as big or as brightly-white as some of those in South Africa, but quite impressive just the same.
The road was fairly narrow in parts, and although there seemed to be fewer road trains, there were sufficient to ensure that I had some interesting moments. There were also quite a number of uphills, but in keeping with most of the other Highways, they were not steep. I wondered if these roads were engineered for the road trains, winding along the contours whenever possible and avoiding any steep climbs or passes.
After approximately ninety kilometres I passed the settlement of Widgiemooltha. Well, to be more accurate I passed the Widgie Roadhouse, which is located at the edge of the highway; the settlement of Widgiemooltha itself being some distance away and remaining undisturbed by the highway traffic. Another delightful name, Widgiemooltha. A little further on we passed Lake Lefroy which, unlike the lakes we had seen earlier in the day, actually had water in it.
I benefited from the fact that I had a rest day yesterday, in that, although I never felt at my best and it was one of the “long days”, I wasn’t really tired and my legs felt ready to take on the rest of the trip.
It was cool and cloudy for the first part of the morning, quite pleasant weather for cycling, but after eleven o’clock the clouds gave way to clear skies and it became suffocatingly hot. The wind from the north was slight and a bit of an irritation, but nothing like the menace of the wind on Saturday.
We passed signboards marking many mining sites between Norseman and Coolgardie, some of which appeared to be abandoned while others were still being operated. The vegetation was a delight, with many forests of numerous varieties of gum trees.
A water pipeline ran adjacent to the road for most of the day. This pipeline has a fascinating history that goes back over a hundred years, the work of the engineer Charles Yelverton O’Connor. This ambitious water scheme now supplies water to approximately 33,000 rural and town services, from Mundaring, through the wheatbelt to the goldfields. The water is used for household and commercial purposes, for farm stock and even for the mining industry. In keeping with modern trends, many towns now supplement their water supply from this scheme by using treated wastewater to irrigate playing fields and other public areas.
At the outskirts of Coolgardie, which announced itself as a “Ghost Mining Town”, Jane was stopped by a traffic officer who wanted to check her driver’s licence. I stopped a few moments later to see if there was a problem and when the officer heard where I had cycled from, he shook his head. “You should be driving, mate. That’s why they invented cars.”
We found a convenient caravan park and spent the afternoon wandering through the historic streets of Coolgardie. There are wonderful information boards at almost every corner of Bayley Street, which ran through the centre of the town, revealing interesting snippets of the local history and marking the location of the significant buildings from the early days. Although it isn’t really a ghost town in the strictest sense, Coolgardie has clearly past its heyday as a gold mining centre. All good things must come to an end, but it is rather sad when a town outlives its original purpose without an alternative purpose being found for its existence.
Some of the shops in Coolgardie are absolutely incredible. One in particular was packed with enough furniture and knick-knacks to stock several shops of similar size. Walking through the shop one was forced to manoeuvre with the utmost care to avoid dislodging a precariously balanced item from a shelf or treading on some artefact standing carelessly on the floor. Furniture, paintings, second hand long playing records. The soundtrack from Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii was available, the cardboard cover curling a little with age. Dolls, books and toys, each with a veneer of dust of varying density, presumably proportional to the length of the item’s stay in the store.
Many of the shops and even the office of the caravan park in which we stayed had gold nuggets for sale. Only an expert, I thought, perhaps overly cynical, should dare to buy gold from a caravan park.