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Kanowna, WA

Fascinating gold mining ghost town.

The Western Australian Tourism Commission describes Kanowna as: 'Perhaps the most incredible of all ghost towns. In 1905 there were 12,000 people living in this town 18 km north east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. There were 16 hotels, two breweries and an hourly train service to Kalgoorlie. Nothing now remains except rubble, tourist markers and memories.' Today it stands as an enduring statement about the nature of mining. From 12,000 people to nobody and from vast gold riches to nothing and then, when you visit the Kanowna Belle Gold Mine lookout and look over the vast open cut mine, a reminder that everything is dependent on technology and the price of the precious metal.

Location

Kanowna is located 615 km east of Perth via National Highway 94 and 22 km north-east of Kalgoorlie.

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Origin of Name

The mining boom town was originally known as White Feather but that was changed to Kanowra, an Anglicised version of 'gha-na-na' meaning 'place of no sleep' in the local Wangkathaa Aboriginal language.

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Things to See and Do

Wandering Around a True Ghost Town
Using a combination of sponsorship and monies raised through donations the Kalgoorlie Historical Society has managed to place signs along the dirt roads and in the scrubby bush to indicate where the town's main buildings were. It is fascinating to wander around Kanowna, read the plaques and imagine what life was like before the 1950s. All the evidence is that it was a wild town and certainly some of the stories belong more to mythology than to hard fact. At one point a man named Tom O'Connor found a staggering £15,000 worth of gold nuggets right next to the cemetery. Instead of respecting the dead the local community decided the cemetery was a good place for prospectors. Amusingly the Methodist section was soft clay and easy to dig where the the Catholic section was quartz and needed to be blasted.

By the end of the nineteenth century the goldrush was over but, in a stratagem to keep people in the town, the local priest, Father Long, went to the Kanowna Hotel, stood on the balcony, and quite falsely declared that a gold nugget weighing nearly 45 kg had been found. He named the non-existent piece of gold the Sacred Nugget. When the miners found out it was a hoax they were so furious they very nearly burnt down the town. There are a number of books about the town in its roaring days which are well worth reading before you make a visit.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Kanowna Belle Gold Mine Lookout
Signposted to the west of the town is the current, hugely profitable, Kanowna Belle Gold Mine which is now a mixture of underground and open cut mining. There is a lookout which provides a dramatic and impressive view over the open cut section of the mine.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of gold prospectors the area had been sparsely populated by people from the local Wangkathaa Aboriginal language group.

* Gold was discovered in 1893 and miners flocked to the district.

* By 1894 a town site had been selected. It was named White Feather.

* In 1895 a battery had been established. In that same year a hospital was opened.

* The town became a municipality in 1896.

* By late 1896 underground mining had replaced the search for alluvial gold.

* In 1897 both the railway and electricity reached the town although by this time people were starting to leave.

* In 1898 the local Catholic priest, Father Long, started a rumour that he had seen a 45 kg gold nugget. It was not true.

* In 1899 the town's population reached 12,500.

* By 1912 Kanowna was no longer a municipality.

* In the 1930s both the post office and the railway closed.

* During the 1940s the town's school was closed down.

* The town's last hotel closed in 1952.

* In 1989 gold was discovered at the Kanowna Belle Gold Mine.

* The Open Pit Kanowna Belle Gold Mine was officially opened in 1993. By 2002 it was employing more than 300 people.

* The Kanowna Belle Gold Mine was purchased by the Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold, in 2006.

* In 2009 Kanowna Belle Gold Mine yielded 284,000 ounces.

* In 2014 Barrick Gold announced they had sold their Kanowna interests to Northern Star Resources for $A75 million.

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Visitor Information

Kalgoorlie-Boulder Tourist Centre, 316 Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie, tel (08) 9021 1966.

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Useful Websites

There are no websites for the ghost town.

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Got something to add?

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

11 suggestions
  • You might want to check this article out concerning Frederick Bulstrode Lawson Whitlock. A pom bank embezzler who fled to Kanowna during the gold rush to evade capture. Turns out he eventually became a noted Ornithololgist in WA. What a weird old world. Here is the ref.: http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/Launch.aspx?EID=6f3066f2-9d53-4b1d-99b9-2945cd2aab77

    Mike Emslie
    • What an interesting place it must’ve been. But where did all the buildings go to? Were they relocated elsewhere? How could they all disappear? In fact there is barely any trace that they existed. Does anyone have any ideas about this? Would be very interested to know.

      Susan White
    • I have an ancestor Alfred Whitelock who was involved in mining in Kanowna. Any information would be very interesting to me. I don’t know if he had any relationship to Frederick Whitlock as in the other comment.

      Christine Linton
  • My Great Grandmother was a midwife in Kanowna when it was a “tent” city. My mother was born in Kanowna in December 1910; her father George Cook, was a miner who had re-located from the Bendigo goldfields.

    Lynne Danks
  • I appear to have a register of land that was bought between 1901 and 1907 which I found somewhere when I was younger. Which is odd!

    Fiona
  • I live in Northcliffe in the Lower South West. The long awaited rail service for Group Settlement Pioneers from Pemberton to Northcliffe was very slow in coming. The railway lines from Kanowna were used to complete the line after years of struggle. It is still there but like a lot of sad stories, no longer in use.
    Anne

    Anne O'Donnell
  • My mother told me that my Grandmother was born in Kanowna in 1897. Her father
    was a gold prospector John James Brown who went on to discover Menzies but
    unfortunately Mr. Menzies claimed the area first. My Grandmother’s name was
    Lilian Florence Brown.

    Jacklyn Subke
  • My mother was born in Knowna late 1890 name of Kathleen Niland. Any information recorded regarding the family?

    Kevin Hefron
    • My grandmother, Laura Dry was born in Kanowna in 1899. I’ve always wanted to know more about her and the town. There were Aboriginal links according to my mother but I don’t know where to start with the history. Her brother, my great uncle, was Alf Dry.

      Jenny
  • I have written a book about Kanowna. Wealth for the Willing: the Story of Kanowna. It relates the town’s discovery, demise and recovery as a gold mining district from 1893 up until today. Published in late 2016.

    Robert Baugh: Author