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Laverton, WA

Outback mining town on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert

Laverton is a small settlement which has had a chequered career as a gold and nickel mining town. It once had the reputation as the wildest town in the west. The area, inhospitable land on the western edge of the Great Victoria Desert, is marginal desert country where the average annual rainfall is only 220 mm. Most people who visit Laverton are committed to driving across the desert to Uluru and Alice Springs in a 4WD. Alice Springs is 1660 km to the east. It is an extraordinary outback adventure which requires careful preparation and considerable courage.

Location

Laverton is located 952 km north-east of Perth via the Great Eastern Highway and Kalgoorlie. It lies 124 km east of Leonora and 457 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

It is claimed that in 1900 the Western Australian Premier John Forrest named the town after Dr Charles Laver who had arrived in the town on a bicycle and been active in attracting investors. It is now accepted that the people living at British Flag (the mine and the settlement prior to the renaming) agreed that the new town should be named Laverton after Charles Laver.

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Things to See and Do

The Great Beyond Explorers Hall of Fame
One of the great divisions between the east and west coast of Australia is the knowledge of explorers. People in NSW and Victoria all know about Burke and Wills, Charles Sturt, Ludwig Leichhardt et al but know very little about John Forrest, Ernest Giles, David Carnegie, Gus Luck (great name for an explorer) and Frank Hann. The Great Beyond Explorers Hall of Fame corrects this with exhibitions that record the achievements of the brave explorers who went into the harsh Western Australian hinterland and opened up the country for the pastoralists and gold miners. The brochure on the Hall of Fame explains that "Using various attention grabbing forms of technology that are sure to impress people of all ages, the Hall of Fame pays tribute to not only the explorers but also to the pioneers and women of the same era. From the gold rush days to the flora and fauna, pastoral history to the nickel boom of 1969, the Hall of Fame provides an overview from pre mining history to present day."

Dr Charles Laver's Bronze Statue
The outback has been home to many remarkable characters and Dr Charles Laver, who gave his name to the town and is now celebrated by a bronze statue outside the Great Beyond Explorers Hall of Fame, is deserving of celebration. Laver was born in Castlemaine in Victoria in 1863. The son of a very successful convict, he moved to Western Australia, worked in the Kimberley and, in 1884, developed a passion for gold when he was given a nugget. He returned to Melbourne, got his degree and became a medical doctor and then travelled overseas where he gained postgraduate qualifications at the University of Edinburgh. He returned to Western Australia and was working as a doctor at Coolgardie when he met Tom Potts, George McOrmish and Harry Dennis who had discovered gold at a mining site (modern day Laverton) they called British Flag. Laver was so curious and enthused that he cycled (literally pedalled) from Coolgardie to Laverton, found 600 ounces of gold and brought it back to Coolgardie by bicycle. He promised Potts, McOrmish and Dennis that he would travel to Britain and find investors. It was as a result of these efforts that, in 1900, when the town was gazetted, that his friend John Forrest, the Premier of Western Australia, and the people of Laverton, agreed that the town should be named after him. Apart from working tirelessly to promote Laverton he remained a hard working doctor travelling throughout the area on his trusty bicycle. Pause and reflect upon his remarkable life.

Historic Police Complex
Located at 14 Erlistoun Street the Historic Police Complex comprises a gaol (particularly primitive and appalling in summer), the police station and the Sergeant's quarters. It is an interesting insight into policing at the edge of the goldfields in the early years of the twentieth century.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Windarra Nickel Mine and the story of Poseidon and the Nickel Boom
For those of a certain generation (babyboomers and older) the name "Poseidon" immediately conjures an image of one of Australia's greatest acts of share hysteria. In 1969 the prospector Ken Shirley pegged 41 claims for Poseidon NL and claimed there was 3.65% concentration of nickel in the samples. Between 1 October, 1969 and January, 1970 the shares rose from $1.85 to $280. Mining shares went crazy as people gambled on other possible discoveries. Then it was discovered that the nickel concentration was incorrect and the shares tumbled.

Poseidon Nickel's website explains: "In 1969 by Poseidon NL discovered nickel at Mt Windarra and quickly began the construction and development of an underground mining operation and processing plant.  Western Mining Corporation (WMC) purchased the project and completed the development, with the first production of nickel concentrate in 1974.  A total resource size of 8.5 million tonnes of ore @ 2.02% Ni for 172,000 tonnes of contained nickel metal was defined by WMC at Mt Windarra.  The mine was advanced to a depth of 550m below surface and mining ceased in 1990 due to historically low nickel prices.  By 1990 WMC had mined 5 million tonnes of ore at an average grade of 1.59% Ni producing 80,000 tonnes of nickel metal.  By 1995 the processing plant was demolished and completely removed.  The site was rehabilitated and the remnant headframe and remaining structures were turned into a tourist trail.  In 2005 Niagara Mining began negotiations with WMC to acquire the project and by 2007 the infrastructure refurbishment was well underway, exploration drilling had begun and the company was renamed Poseidon Nickel Limited in honour of the original discoverers. Poseidon Nickel is currently drilling underground and infilling the resource.  To date a JORC compliant resource at Mt Windarra of 4.77 million tonnes at a grade of 1.68% has been defined for a total of 80,200 tonnes of contained nickel metal."

It is possible to drive the 28 km out to Windarra where Site 14 is the location of the former Windarra Nickel Project and the Windarra Heritage Trail. This is on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert and the fauna (lots of reptiles) and flora (spinifex, grevilleas, marble gums) is fascinating.

Driving from Laverton to Uluru
In recent times Laverton has become the western starting point for the interesting and challenging 4WD drive across the Great Victoria Desert to Uluru. It is a journey which needs considerable preparation but there are a number of roadhouses along the way offering food, accommodation and, most importantly, fuel.

Roadhouse Information
The following information about roadhouses between Laverton and Alice Springs provides basic details. If you are planning to make the trip check out each of the websites for additional information.

Tjukayirla Roadhouse, 315 km from Laverton, accommodation, caravan and camping sites, basic food items, diesel, unleaded petrol (opal) and avgas, minor mechanical repairs and tyre repairs, tel: (08) 9037 1108, operates on Western Standard Time, open 8.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday-Friday and 9.00am - 3.00pm Saturday and Sunday. Check out http://tjukayirlaroadhouse.com.au/ for additional details and road conditions.

Warburton Roadhouse, 567 km from Laverton, accommodation, camping sites, well stocked store with grocery items, takeaway food if booked in advance, diesel, avgas, unleaded petrol (opal), minor mechanical repairs, tyre repairs, tel: (08) 8956 7656, operates on Western Standard Time, open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday-Friday and 9.00am - 3.00pm Saturday and Sunday. Check out http://warburtonroadhouse.com.au/ for additional details and road conditions. No shop or fuel sales are made outside trading hours.

Warakurna Roadhouse, 798 km from Laverton, accommodation, camping sites, takeaway food and well-stocked store, diesel, avgas (vehicles), avgas (planes), unleaded petrol (opal), minor mechanical repairs, tel: (08) 8956 7344, operates on Central Standard Time, open 8.30 am - 5.00 pm Monday-Friday and 9.00am - 3.00pm Saturday and Sunday. Check out http://warakurnaroadhouse.com.au/ for additional details and road conditions.

All of the roadhouses are open at slightly different times and have different arrangement for people who arrive outside regular trading hours, so it is sensible to call ahead, as some charge a call out fee if you require fuel outside of regular hours. There is comprehensive information, books and maps at http://www.outbacktravellers.com.au/great-central-road.html which is well worth investigating.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the desert area around Laverton had been inhabited by people from the Wangkathaa Aboriginal language group for thousands of years.

* The first European into the area was the explorer John Forrest who passed through in 1869 looking for the lost explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt.

* In the 1870s and 1880s sandalwood cutters travelled through the area looking for the valuable aromatic timber.

* By the 1890s miners from Coolgardie were searching the area for new gold deposits.

* In 1896 gold was discovered by Tom Potts, George McOrmish and Harry Dennis at a place they called British Flag. It was north of Hawks Nest.

* Dr Charles Laver met Potts, McOrmish and Dennis in Coolgardie in 1896 and decided to cycle to British Flag. It was 390 km away. He returned with 600 ounces of gold.

* In 1899 a settlement grew up close to the British Flag mine.

* In 1900 the townsite was officially gazetted.

* By 1903 the town's population was 3,500.

* In 1904 the railway arrived. By this time Laverton was infamous for its frontier wildness. It was claimed that the only person buried in the local cemetery as the result of natural causes was a six weeks old baby.

* The last major mine was closed in 1957 and and the future looked bleak for the town.

* In 1969 nickel was discovered at Mount Windarra 28 km northwest of the town and prospector, Ken Shirley, pegged 41 claims for Poseidon NL.

* A report on 1 October 1969 claimed that a 3.65% concentration of nickel had been found. This led to Poseidon shares rise from $1.85 to $280 by 5 February 1970.

* In 1977 the Poseidon mine was closed down.

* The Windarra Mine was closed down by Western Mining in 1994.

* Today there are still gold mines in the area and the Murrum Murrin nickel and cobalt mine, 60 km east of Leonora, is a joint venture between Murrin Murrin Holdings and Glenmurrin Pty Ltd. It has reserves to last 40 years.

* In recent times Laverton has become the western starting point for the  4WD drive across the Great Victoria Desert to Uluru and Alice Springs.

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Visitor Information

The Great Beyond Visitors Centre, Augusta Street, tel: (08) 9031 1361, open Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 4.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 9.00 am - 1.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

The local council has a useful website - http://www.laverton.wa.gov.au - which provides information about the attractions and accommodation in the town and surrounding area.

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Got something to add?

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

4 suggestions
  • I was working at Granny Smith Mine for some time and went into Laverton on many occasions. The supermarket and the fuel station only carry very basic requirements. There were a few buildings being renovated and a walk around the town is quite informative. The pub there does a good feed at night. There is a Post Office with souvenirs as well.

    John Turner
  • We are caravaners driving though from Queensland in the winter of 2017. Looking to go gold fossicking. Is there an area around Laverton for this purpose? Cheers David

    Hi David, Laverton is in Western Australia. You have a lot of driving to do before you get there.

    David Lillico
  • Hi
    I was wondering whether you had any photos of the Old School House. I went to school there in 1973 before the new school took over. My teacher was Mrs Charnley.

    I don’t – but does anyone reading this site? Help needed.

    Tracey MIller