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Marble Bar, WA

Old mining town known as "the hottest town in Australia".

Marble Bar, one of the most famous outback towns in Australia, is a fine example of a pioneering town dating the gold rush days at the end of the nineteenth century. Named after what was originally thought to be a colourful marble bar which crosses the Coongan River, the bar is actually made of jasper.
Today Marble Bar is synonymous with heat. It is known as 'the hottest town in Australia' a fact which is still recorded by the Guinness Book of Records. For 161 consecutive days to 20 April 1924 the temperature in the town never dropped below 100°F (37.8°C). This record still stands after over eighty years. During all the time that records have been kept, the temperature at the town has never dropped below 0°C.
Marble Bar does not fit the preconceptions most visitors have of it. If you imagined a reckless mining town in a barren wasteland, Marble Bar is nothing like that. It has a neatness and tidiness which is decidedly modern and attractive and the main street has a wide, green median strip and an attractive Community Resource Centre.

Location

Marble Bar is located 1492 km north of Perth on the Great Northern Highway via Newman; 1,939 north of Perth via the coast road; and 202 km south-east of Port Hedland. It is 173 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Marble Bar was named after a deposit of mineral which was thought to be marble but which later proved to be jasper (a highly coloured cryptocrystalline variety of quartz). So, if the original discoverer had been more geologically knowledgable, the town should have been called Jasper Bar.

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Things to See and Do

Marble Bar Heritage Trail
There is a map of the Marble Bar Heritage Trail available at the Visitor Information Centre/Museum. It lists a total of 18 places of interest around the town and they are clearly marked on a map. The sensible way to experience the history of the town is to take the map, which offers a route around the town, and wander from place of interest to place of interest. Each place has a sign outside with detailed information. The information below is taken from those signs. These are some of the places of particular interest.

3. Pioneer Memorial Wall
Located in the main street between the Shire Offices and Old General Store this memorial, known as the Memorial to the Lonely Graves, records the names and dates of every person whose graves have been found around the town. It is a powerful and sad comment on those miners and people living on isolated properties who died around Marble Bar and who were buried where they died.
The signage notes: "Pioneer Wall was constructed in 1993 as a memorial to the 'lonely graves' of the early pioneers in the Pilbara region. Due to the harshness of the climate and the vast distances of the region, many of the early Pilbara Goldfield pioneers died anonymously with no more than a stick or a pile of rocks marking their grave sites. Len Lever, a long term local Marble Bar resident, came across one of these lonely graves whilst working on town works with his earthmoving equipment. The discovery was of the grave of William Breen who died on 10 July, 1927. From this event, it was realised that there are many unmarked graves in the region to be recognised and remembered." The wall includes a plaque to the sister of mining magnate, Lang Hancock.

4. Site of the Old General Store
Located in Francis Street, the Old General Store is now a ruin. In 1893 a liquor license was granted and the store was built in 1894. It was initially run as a butcher's shop and then in 1897 Thomas Mallett bought the shop. It changed hands a number of times before being declared unsafe in 1999 when the roof of the building was damaged. It closed as a result.

5. Town Well
Located on General Street near Sandy Creek, the town well, originally known as Francis's Well, was purchased by the government in 1892. Prior to that it was privately owned by Francis & Co who charged a fee for the water. In 1897 it was deepened and the government charged nine pence for 100 gallons of water. Horses and cattle of town residents were charged six pence per head per week; hand water bags were charged six pence per man per week and animals of teams and travellers were charged one penny per day per head. In 1904 a windmill was built and two 5000 gallon tanks were installed. It continued to be used until the 1940s when a bore was sunk on the banks of the river.

6. Government Buildings - old Post Office, Mines Department and Police Station
The Government Offices (now a series of National Trust listed buildings) were constructed out of local stone with corrugated iron roofs and elaborate stuccoed window dressings. Located just west of Sandy Creek on General Street they are the most impressive set of buildings in the town. Typical of mining towns they were constructed at a time when the prospects for the town were such that major civic buildings seemed appropriate. The Heritage Council of Western Australia have described the buildings as: "very handsome, unified and harmonious collection of government offices. Roofed with corrugated iron, it is constructed in local stone which blends with the countryside, and is decorated with stucco window dressings and brick quoins painted white.” 
George Temple-Poole, a famous Western Australian architect, had a strong influence on the design of the offices. In total the complex included offices for the Mining Warden and the Mining Registrar, a Court House, Police Station and Quarters and the Post and Telegraph Office. Drawings of the buildings were signed on 31st October 1894 with the contract price being £7,949/1/2 and the date for completion being 27th August 1895.

Marble Bar Museum
Located at Station Street, the Marble Bar Museum (part of the Government Buildings), was established in 2015. At the moment it is a single room in the Government Building. The displays highlight the mining and cultural history of the area. There is also an exhibition of minerals from the local area. It is where you can acquire a copy of the Heritage Trail map of the town.

7. Nursing Post/Old Hospital
On Station Street below Water Tank Lookout is the Old Hospital which, in 1904, was created as a reserve for a leprosy hospital. The reserve was cancelled in 1979. The first reported case of leprosy occurred in 1903. The 24 year old man was isolated and it was agreed he should be sent away as soon as possible but, by 1905, he had died within the vicinity of the hospital.

8. Water Tank Lookout Hill
The sign on the side of the town's Water Tank reads "Our Summer is HOT, Our Winter is WARM, And Water is Precious". The Water Tank lookout offers a great view over the town and surrounding countryside. It is particularly impressive at sunset and sunrise.

11. Poinciana House
Named after the large Poinciana tree which stands in the front garden, this house was built in 1908-1909. "The walls are of local stone and the roof of corrugated galvanised iron held down with cyclone battens and the work was done by day labour and took six years to complete. The stonemason was brought in from England to build the house. He died in the last year of a heart attack. The plan consists of a cruciform passage dividing the square central core into four rooms and opening out into a large lobby at the intersection of the cruciform. The wide part of the cross was called the ballroom . Verandas on all sides of the central core are supported on steel columns and have concrete floors." The house was built for George Miles, a parliamentarian, who built it for his wife. She stayed in the house for only one year. The summer after her arrival was particularly hot and oppressive. It has been classified by the National Estate. It was where the first local meeting of the Country Women's Association was held.

15. Road Board Hall
This building was damaged by a cyclone in 1941 and demolished soon after. It was built in 1925 after the local Race Club fund raised enough money. The Roads Board contributed £100. A comment on the times: in the 1930s it was used as a venue for local dances. Women were free and men had to pay two shillings entrance fee.

16. Miners Institute Site
Built in 1898 for £370 the Miner's Institute was used for dances, balls and social functions. As well it opened daily from 9.30 am - 10.00 pm and stocked newspapers from all over the world as well as daily and weekly newspapers from Perth and the Eastern Goldfields. From 1909-1911 it was used as the first school in the town. It was seriously damaged - the roof lifted off - in a cyclone in 1912 and was demolished in 1918.

17. Ironclad Hotel
Located at 15 Francis Street, the Ironclad Hotel (no one is sure about its name with some sources insisting it was named after Iron Clad ships by Americans and other saying it took its name from an early mining lease, the Ironclad Lease), is historically significant as the site of one of the first two permanent buildings erected in Marble Bar. It is a complex of buildings of various styles and ages which has had frequent additions and renovations. The building has a corrugated iron roof with corrugated iron walls and retains its original facade.
A hotel has traded continually from this site since 1892 and records reveal that it has traded under the name Ironclad Hotel since November, 1893. The Hotel has always incorporated a public bar and veranda on the Francis Street frontage and efforts have been made to maintain some integrity of design with early hotel photographs. 
"During World War II the Ironclad was a rare but nice change from rations for RAAF troops based at Corunna Downs Stations. A three course meal cost one shilling and three pence, with a 7 oz glass of beer costing the same. The Ironclad had been with the same owner, George Miles, for 60 years until it was sold in 1966 to J.A. Johnson & Sons, pioneers of Marble Bar's tin mining revival. At the time of the sale they invested $60,000 modernising the building, including 3 air conditioned bars, the first in Western Australia."

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Other Attractions in the Area

The original "Marble Bar", the Marble Bar Pool and Chinaman's Pool
Marble Bar was named after a local deposit of mineral which was initially thought to be marble, but which was jasper, a highly coloured cryptocrystalline variety of quartz. It crosses the Coongan River about 5 km west of the town and is clearly signposted off General Street via the Hillside-Woodstock Road. The so-called "marble bar" of jasper spans the Coongan River and the watering hole below the bar is a popular swimming place for locals. Both the Marble Bar Pool and the nearby Chinaman's Pool are suitable for swimming and picnicking. The latter was named after the Chinese market gardens which were once established there by Chinese migrants to the goldfields.
The Marble Bar Pool attracts an abundance of wildlife and is set in a beautiful and rugged landscape. Geology enthusiasts should note the spectacular outcrops which incorporate some of the oldest Archaean Rocks in the world. Both the Marble Bar and Chinaman's Pools are located in an A Class Remove and the removal of rock can attract a $10,000 fine. 

Marble Bar's Pippunyah Solar-Diesel Power Station
Located to the north of the town (continue out along General Street), the Marble Bar Solar Power Station was completed in 2011 and combines solar technology with back up diesel generation. The Horizon Power website (https://horizonpower.com.au/about-us/our-assets/marble-bar-and-nullagine-solar-power-stations) explains: "The power stations at Marble Bar and Nullagine incorporate technology which converts energy provided by the sun. The technology being applied provides the highest solar penetration possible, with 65 per cent of the day time load to be met from solar energy. They incorporate a single axis tracking solar farm with diesel technology and an energy storage system. This combination of technology can provide high levels of solar energy penetration and a reliable supply of power to the town. 
The new power stations:
* Generate 1048 MWh of solar energy per year
* Provide 65 per cent of day time energy demand from solar power
* Save 1100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year
* Save between 35-40 per cent diesel consumption per year (405,000 litres of fuel per year)
The Marble Bar and Nullagine Power Station Project received $4.9 million Australian Government funding through the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program (RRPGP)."

Marble Bar Pioneer Cemetery
Located opposite the Solar Power Station on the road north from General Street, the PIoneer Cemetery has a record of known burials, a Pioneer section and, outside the main cemetery, a special Chinese Burial Ground.

Corunna Downs Airfield
Located 35 km south of Marble Bar is the Corunna Downs Airfield which was built in 1943 to launch long range attacks on the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies. The Marble Bar website has a detailed history of this isolated airfield: "Today there are very few reminders of the once busy airfield. One can see some crumbling foundations and half filled post holes.  73 OBU operated the Corunna Downs airfield which comprised two intersecting bitumen runways. One ran approximately north-south, 5,000 feet in length while the other ran approximately east-west, 7,000 feet in length. Both runways were approximately 150 feet wide. A 50 foot wide taxiway linked the northern end of the north-south runway to the western end of the east-west runway. Approximately 20 camouflaged revetments to disperse aircraft to minimise bomb damage were constructed at Corunna Downs. American and Australian Air Force units operated out of Corunna Downs airfield during World War II. They included 25 Squadron (City of Perth) RAAF and the 380th Bomb Group of the American 5th Air Force. They carried out numerous bombing raids on Japanese bases and shipping." Check out http://www.marblebar.org.au/destination/marble-bar/corunna-downs-airfield for more details. The museum has a brochure with an excellent and detailed map of the airfield and surrounding area.

Coppins Gap
Located 68 km from Marble Bar on the old Shay Gap road is Coppin's Gap, a safe and attractive water hole in a deep cutting. It is edged by eucalypts and tall rock faces. It is a natural beauty spot and is best accessed by 4WD vehicles.

Dooleena Gorge
Located 41 km north of Marble Bar on the road from Port Hedland, the Dooleena Gorge is on the Coongan River. It is an ideal place to have a picnic. Further up the gorge is a waterfall. It is known as a place of safe swimming, scenic sights and shady picnic areas.

Flying Fox Lookout
Located 5 km from the town on the road to the Comet Gold Mine, this is a lookout with the panoramic view of the Coongan River. Historically it was a river gauging station which recorded the levels of the Coongan River which in the 1960s only ran for 210 days a year.

Comet Gold Mine
The one important remnant of the town's gold mining past is the Comet Gold Mine which is located 7.5 km from town via the Hillside-Marble Bar Road. The mine was created by Tommy Star in 1936 and operated continuously until 1955.  It allegedly boasts the tallest smoke stack in the Southern Hemisphere (at 75 metres). There are underground tunnels, a crushing plant, and a processing plant which includes cyanide tanks but there are no tours. There is an opportunity to sit on the veranda, which overlooks the mine, and listen to a history of the mine.
Today the Comet is a museum and tourist centre with a diversity of gemstones, jewellery, rocks, minerals and local history on display. It has a particularly impressive display of Pilbara Jade - which is for sale. The Museum is open everyday from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 9176 1015.

Carawine Gorge
Located 173 km from Marble Bar on the Ripon Hill Road, Carawine Gorge is a beautiful, peaceful, bush camp site near the Woodie Woodie Mine. It is really only accessible to 4WDs but the reward is a peaceful stretch of water with impressive cliffs which is rich in birdlife. It is ideal for fishing, kayaking, canoeing or swimming.

A Poem About Marble Bar
The town has been immortalised in the very funny, but sadly, little known poem The Man from Marble Bar by Victor Courtney.

Satan sat by the fires of Hell
As from endless time he's sat, 
And he sniffed great draughts of the brimstone's smell 
That came as the tongue-flames spat; 
Then all at once the devil looked stern 
For there in the depths of Hell 
Was a fellow whom never a flame could burn 
Or goad to an anguished yell; 
So Satan stalked to the lonely scene 
And growled with a stormy brow, 
'Now, stranger, tell me what does this mean? 
You should be well scorched by now.' 
But the chappie replied with a laugh quite new; 
'This place is too cold by far 
Just chuck on an extra log or two 
I'VE COME IN FROM MARBLE BAR!'

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Marble Bar was home to the Nyamal Aboriginal language group.

* Marble Bar emerged as part of the gold rushes to the Pilbara in the late 1880s. The gold which had created a rush to the Kimberleys had all but disappeared and the fossickers and prospectors headed south seeking the elusive metal. 

* Gold was actually discovered near Marble Bar in 1891 by Francis Jenkins (he is remembered in the name of the town's main street)

* By 1892 the population of the town rose to 5,000 as miners poured in hoping to find wealth in the region. That year the Ironclad Hotel was built.

* In 1893 the settlement was officially gazetted and declared a town. 

* By 1894 the General Store in Francis Street was operating.

* In 1894-95 the Government Offices (now a series of National Trust listed buildings) were constructed.

* The first Medical Officer started working in the town in 1896.

* The hospital and doctor's quarters were built in 1897.

* 1898 saw the construction of the Miner's Institute.

* In 1899 the 332 ounce 'General Gordon' gold nugget was discovered.

* The goldrush was shortlived. By 1905 prospectors had left the area and headed for the richer fields at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Day Dawn and Cue.

* In 1909 Poinciana House was constructed.

* In 1911 the railway from Port Hedland to Marble Bar - the Spinifex Express - was opened.

* 1912 saw the Marble Bar School opened.

* St Hughes Anglican Church was constructed in 1931.

* By 1941 the Church of Christ the King had been consecrated.

* During World War II Corunna Down Airfield was used by US and Australian bombers.

* In 1943 a machine gun nest was built near the town.

* In 1949 a new Post & Telegraph Office was built in Francis Street.

* The local railway was closed down in the 1950s.

* By 1891 the Marble Bar Shire had been established.

* In 1972 the shores of Marble Bar and Nullagine amalgamated to form the Shire of East Pilbara.

* 1977 saw the construction of the Marble Bar Civic Centre and the Marble Bar Administration Offices.

* In 1993 the Pioneer Wall was constructed.

* In 2006 the Ironclad Hotel was Heritage listed.

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Visitor Information

Marble Bar Visitors Centre, Francis Street (in the Shire Offices), tel: (08) 9176 1008.

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Accommodation

Iron Clad Hotel, 15 Francis Street, tel: (08) 9176 1066
Marble Bar Holiday Park, Contest Street, tel: (08) 9176 1569

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Eating

Iron Clad Hotel, 15 Francis Street, tel: (08) 9176 1066
Mad Clappin Harry's Cafe, Station Street, tel: 0400 699 752

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.marblebar.org.au. If you are driving through the area there is an exceptional and detailed blog which is worth accessing. Check out https://www.snowys.com.au/blog/marble-bar-region. It is full of useful information.

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