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Kambalda, WA

Modern mining town south of Kalgoorlie.

Kambalda is a modern mining town comprising Kambalda East which came into existence between 1967-1973 and Kambalda West which was established between 1969-1975. It has the feel of a purpose-built mining town with carefully laid out streets and uniform mining town architecture. Over the half century since its creation, trees and gardens have ensured that the twin towns now look like a typical suburban development with plenty of eucalypts and bushes. Kambalda West is 4 km from Kambalda East. Apart from the Red Hill Lookout, with its views over Lake Lefroy, the towns have little appeal for the visitor.


Kambalda is located 57 km south of Kalgoorlie via the Goldfields Highway and 630 km east of Perth via the Great Eastern Highway. It is 309 m above sea-level and is located on the edges of Lake Lefroy.


Origin of Name

The name Kambalda was chosen in 1897 by the Western Australian Government Surveyor, W. Rowley. No one knows what the word originally meant.


Things to See and Do

Red Hill Lookout and Walking Trail
At Kambalda East (it is easy to get confused - there are two separate entities Kambalda East and Kambalda West - this is in the East)  the Red Hill Lookout provides panoramic views across Lake Lefroy, a vast salt pan which stretches to the horizon. The route to the lookout is along George Adams Road and Red Hill Lookout Road. There is a 1.4-km walking trail which winds about the hill. It has information bays and resting places along the way. There is a causeway which runs across the salt pan to a mining operation. It is not possible to drive across the causeway. The salt lake at sunset is popular with photographers because of the unusual effects which the reflections create. There are good picnic facilities with covered benches and excellent viewing at the lookout.

Great Western Woodlands
Kambalda is surrounded by 16 million hectares (about the size of England) of Great Western Woodlands. It is the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean climate woodland on the planet. It is a continuous band of native vegetation and is a combination of woodlands, mallee and shrublands which extends across an ancient landscape of broad, flat valleys and ridges that connect Australia's south-west corner to its inland deserts. More than 20% of Australia's native plant species and 20% of its eucalyptus species exist in the woodland which, not surprisingly, are culturally significant to the local Aborigines.

Nullarbor Links Golf Course
A very typical Aussie outback joke the Nullarbor Links Golf Course is the world’s longest golf course with the first hole in Ceduna, South Australia and the 18th hole 1365 km away at Kalgoorlie. Check out the details at http://www.nullarborlinks.com. It is real and can be a lot of fun for committed golfers.
Hole 16: Kambalda Silver Lake Par 4 and is 392 metres.
Located at the Kambalda Golf Club this is a straightforward hole. The ruggedness of the Nullarbor Plain is over and the simplicity of small golf courses in outback Australia has returned. The golf course is simple. Very little grass on the fairway and the green, although not astroturf, is the old style sand with oil to slow everything down.
Robbie’s Guide to the Nullarbor Links
A good drive to the middle of the fairway will set up a long iron to the firm sand green. The green is guarded by dirt mounds that rise out of the ground - a gap in the centre allows an accurate approach shot to run up to the green.
The notes on the website explain: "Lake Lefroy is approximately 510 sq km in area and nestled on the edge of Kambalda and Widgiemooltha and is widely used for land sailing. It is considered by many all over the world to be one of the best places to sail a land yacht due to its size and the texture of its surface. The lake and its surface have been used in the past for Australian land speed record attempts and also hosted the 2007 Pacrim Land Sailing Event in which competitors from all over the world descended on its flat smooth surface. Just recently, in 2008, an English adventurer spent two weeks on the lake with his own designed and built yacht to attempt the world wind powered vehicle record but Mother Nature failed to help out." The tee is called the Kevin Higgins.


Other Attractions in the Area

King's Battery
Located 16 km north of Kambalda, just off the Goldfields Highway, King's Battery is now a pleasant picnic location. It does have remnants of an enormous 20 head gold stamper battery, an historic water paddle wheel and the remains of a tower. It was used in the decade between 1897-1907.

Lake Lefroy
Lake Lefroy, which is Kambalda's main attraction, is 510 square kilometres in area and a popular destination for land sailing. Land sailing experts consider it to be one of the best places to sail a land yacht as it is suitably large and the texture of the salt creates an ideal surface. At various times the lake has been used for attempts on the Australian land speed record. In 2008 an English land sailor spent two weeks attempting to set a new world wind powered vehicle record but the winds did not provide the necessary assistance.
The signage at the Red Hill Lookout points out: "This lake forms part of an ancient Paleo-drainage river system which dates back many millions of years when, with a wetter climate, extensive rivers crossed the inland areas. Salt lakes form when the water flowing into the lake, containing salt or minerals, cannot leave because the lake is landlocked. The water then evaporates, leaving behind any dissolved salts and thus increasing its salinity, making a salt lake an excellent place for salt production. The salt crust of these lakes always remain damp with deep greasy mud beneath it. High salinity will also lead to a unique flora and fauna in the lake."



* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by people from the Malpa First Nations language group.

* In 1897 a gold prospector named Percy Larkin discovered gold and within weeks the Red Hill Gold Mine was established. It yielded 30,000 ounces of gold over the next decade but by 1907 it had closed.

* By 1908 the township had become a ghost town.

* In 1945 the Lister Brothers - Arthur, Jack and George - founded the WA Salt Supply company and harvested salt from Lake Lefroy which they shovelled into carts pulled by horses.

* In 1954 George Cowcill  and John Morgan took samples of what they thought was uranium to the Kalgoorlie School of Mines. The analysis revealed that it was gossan, containing nickel.

* In 1966 Western Mining Corporation established Kambalda's Silver Lake nickel mine. Kambalda East and Kambalda West became Australia's first nickel mining towns.

* Kambalda East was developed as a mining town between 1967-1973.

* Kambalda West which was established between 1969-1975.

* Today Kambalda continues to mine nickel. It sees itself as the first of Australia's nickel mining towns.

An interesting postscript from Graeme Hunt:

Almost every published reference to the discovery of nickel ore at what is now known as Kambalda declares January 1966 as the discovery date. In fact, WMC was aware of the existence of significant deposits of nickel for at least a year before that.
Two prospectors, George Cowcill and John Morgan, who had been fossicking around the old Red Hill Westralia Gold Mine near Lake Lefroy, looking mainly for uranium, were in the habit of taking their samples to WMC in Kalgoorlie for assay.  While working on some of their samples, WMC geologists, under the supervision of Dr Roy Woodall, Chief Geologist, found traces of a substance they could not identify.  Dr Woodall eventually identified the substance as nickel and he and the then Operations Manager of WMC in Kalgoorlie, Arvi (later Sir Arvi) Parbo, took on the task of convincing company management in Perth – mainly L. C. Brodie-Hall (“Brodie”) – that the find was worth investing in and developing.
There was considerable debate over some months about cost and logistics, until, eventually, the Kalgoorlie proponents got their way.
Arvi had been to a meeting in Perth in January, 1966, and was heading back to Kalgoorlie on an MMA (MacRobertson Miller Airlines) DC3 aircraft, via Norseman. Arvi was in the aisle seat and Jack Hocking, owner of the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper, occupied the window seat. Jack, who was then chairman of West Australian Newspapers Ltd (owner and publisher of The West Australian newspaper), was returning from a board meeting in Perth.
Shortly after leaving Norseman, the plane flew over Lake Lefroy and Jack noticed Arvi surreptitiously leaning slightly towards him and trying to look out of the window at the vast salt lake below.  Jack asked Arvi what he was looking for and Arvi brushed aside the question, without a definitive answer. This was repeated several times, until Jack, a very perceptive and persistent man, insisted on getting Arvi to tell him what he (Arvi) was looking at or for.
Eventually, Arvi relented and told Jack the bare details of the discovery and how he had obtained top-level approval to get the development process under way, centred on what would become Kambalda.  He emphasised to Jack that the details were confidential and not to be repeated.

Big mistake.
At that time, I was a 22-year-old, newly-qualified (after a four-year cadetship) journalist, on secondment from The West Australian to the Kalgoorlie Miner office in Hannan Street as The West’s Eastern Goldfields correspondent.  I worked a 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift most days, so I was sitting at my typewriter in the upstairs editorial section when Jack came bounding up the stairs and into the room about 9.30 p.m., with an excited “I’ve got a big story for you!”.
He briefly outlined the details and then suggested I telephone Arvi Parbo to get the story.  This I did, to no avail. Arvi hesitated, but eventually suggested I should telephone Brodie Hall in Perth to try to get the story. This I did.
Mrs Brodie-Hall answered the phone and was reluctant to pass my call on to Brodie, who, she said, was suffering from the ‘flu or a severe cold.  Brodie was known to be curt with inquirers at the best of times, so I didn’t like my chances of getting much of a response, especially as the time was now approaching 10 p.m.
To my surprise, Brodie was polite, though obviously stressed, and answered my questions in enough detail for me to get the story.  The scoop!
With Jack hovering over my shoulder, I pounded out my report on the office teleprinter (there was no such thing as an internet or world-wide web in those days!) and sent it off to The West in Perth.
At that time, the world’s only other commercial producing nickel mine was in Sudbury, in Canada, so both Jack and I were sure we hade a Page One story and a world scoop.  So you can imagine our dismay when we finally got our hands on the next day’s edition of The West, about 2.30 p.m. when it arrived by air via MMA, only to find no reference to the nickel discovery until Page 12!  I was doubly disappointed, because it did not have my byline on it. Jack immediately reached for the phone and rang the then editor (W.G. “Griff” Richards) and let fly with a tirade that must have had poor Griff trembling in his executive chair. The story made headlines in major newspapers around the world, especially those with a leaning towards mining and financial news.
Within a matter of days, the skies over Kalgoorlie were their busiest ever as a multitude of light aircraft, most with strange protuberances from their tails or being towed from their bellies, took off from Kalgoorlie Airport and headed off in all directions, mostly to the south, in search of precious metals, mainly, we surmised, nickel.


Visitor Information

Kambalda Tourist Information Centre, 4 Barnes Drive, tel: (08) 9080 2114. It is open weekdays from 8.00 am to 6.30 pm.


Useful Websites

The most useful website about the town is http://www.nullarbornet.com.au/towns/kambalda.html which has information about accommodation and eating in the town. Be warned: some of the information is out of date.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • Oil and Spice Cafe is a must.
    Located in the Kambalda Rec Centre

  • In C.1960 when I was 6 years old, and my brother 10, my mother set out to drive us across Australia in 1200cc mid-’50s Fiat towing a tiny caravan. The road turned into dirt at Coolgardie and promised to be dirt all the way to Port Perie in South Australia. However. we had only just passed through the little village of Widgiemooltha when the car blew out its cylinder head and left us stranded. A huge semi-trailer rig hitched us up and towed the car and rig back to Widgiemooltha and we got permission to park the little caravan next to the pub. In the morning arrangements were made to load it into a passing near empty trailer heading east and drop it off in a garage in Norseman for repairs. We stayed at least a week in Widgiemooltha, and every day one of the 5 families that lived there, working at loading salt into train carts for shipment somewhere, would take us out to see a sight, and then give us dinner. After the car was fixed one of the families drove us down and we spent some time in the town swimming pool. Then we drove the Fiat back to Widgiemooltha, hitched up the caravan and went back to Coolgardie and then Kalgoorlie to put the rig on the train and let it carry it, and us, over the nullabor plains.

    Some 60 years later those wonderful friendly people are still in my mind. And every time in the years later, even after the highway bypassed the settlement, I would detour through it and stop at what was left. The last time I passed through was about 1980, then I left Australia for Vanuatu, Israel and now California.

    Now Widgiemooltha doesn’t even exist in your list of Australian town A-Z.

    Bryn Deamer
  • Cowcill and Morgan were in the habit of taking their samples to Western Mining Corporation’s office in Kalgoolie for assay. It was a WMC geologist who identified traces of nickel. Arvi Parbo (later Sir Arvi) was WMC Operations Manager in Kalgoorlie at the time. I was a young journalist representing The West Australian newspaper and working out of the Kalgoorlie Miner office. As a result of a tip from Jack Hocking, then owner of the Miner and Chairman of WA Newspapers Ltd, I got the scoop on the discovery of nickel at the old Red Hill Westralia Gold Mine. At that time the world’s only producing nickel mine was in Canada. The story of how Jack came to know about the find is quite interesting and amusing. I can recount it, if you’re interested.

    Graeme Hunt
  • A really nice town with great people a Woolworth supermarket and a pool