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Sandstone, WA

Historic gold mining town now a service centre and 4WD destination

Sandstone came into existence as a boom goldrush town in the late 1890s. By the end of World War I it had become a virtual ghost town. Today it is a small centre for the surrounding pastoral leases and a stopover point for 4WD explorers heading into the vast Western Australian desert. The town was the inspiration for the mining town in Randolph Stow's novel Tourmaline which Stow described as "rust-red roofs, the skeletal obelisks of headless windmills ... It is not a ghost town. It simply lies in a coma. This may never end."

Location

Sandstone is located 154 km east of Mount Magnet and 716 km north of Perth via Wubin and Paynes Find.

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Origin of Name

The site for the town was gazetted in 1906 and Sandstone was chosen based on the recommendation of Warden Lawlers who reported: "I have since been to Black Range, but could not get the native name of the locality, and cannot suggest a suitable native name. I would recommend the town be called 'Sandstone' or 'Sandhurst' ... but I would prefer the name 'Sandstone'."

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Things to See and Do

Sandstone Heritage Trail
The Sandstone Heritage Trail brochure, which is available at the Shire offices or the Sandstone Heritage Museum and Visitor Centre, is a comprehensive and informative guide to the town and the surrounding area. The trail is clearly marked with signage around the town.

National Hotel
Dating from 1907, and located at 17 Payne Street, the National Hotel was the smallest of the four hotels that were built in Sandstone between 1906 and 1919. It was built by W.A. Richardson in 1907 using bricks fired in a local kiln near the Hacks Mine. It has operated continuously since it opened and has been recently renovated.

Post and Telegraph Office
Located in the heart of town this impressive building was completed in 1909, the year the telegraph arrived in Sandstone.

Sandstone Brewery
The Sandstone Brewery, which has been carved into the rock, was established in 1907 (the remains lie beyond the Oroya Gold Mine) by Irishman J.V. Kearney "the Brewery catered for the drinking needs of local people for many years. Water was pumped to the equipment on the upper level for brewing and then stored in the cellars below which being carved in solid rock insured that the beer was kept cool, even in the hottest weather." These details appear on the plaque at the site.

State Battery
In 1904, due to increasing success on the Sandstone goldfields, the state owned gold battery in Paynesville was dismantled and pulled to Sandstone by teams of bullocks and donkeys. It continued to operate until 1982. It is located off Menzies Road which runs southwest from Paynes Find Road. The plaque at the site explains: "First established at Paynesville, the State Battery was moved to a site west of here in 1904 before finally being shifted to this site in 1925. During its operational life 135,808 tons of ore were treated at the battery, producing 115,787 ounces of bullion. It closed in 1982."

Sandstone Heritage Museum
Located in a converted grocery store on the corner of Hack and Oroya Streets, the Sandstone Heritage Museum has an interesting collection of implements and appliances which provide an image of life in the town prior to World War I. It is open from April to October from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm seven days a week. Check out https://www.sandstone.wa.gov.au/heritage-museum.aspx for more information. Tel: (08) 9963 5061.

Miners Cottage
Located in Thaduna Street, opposite the Black Range Chapel, the Miner's Cottage has been restored and furnished with items that reflect life in Sandstone in the 1920s. It was built by a local pastoralist in 1923-1924 and is a typical miner's cottage of the period.

Black Range Chapel
Built in 1908 as a Catholic Church, St Athanasius, the church was restored and changed to a non-denominational chapel in 1995. It is worth visiting because of its unusual stained glass windows which depict local fauna and flora.

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Other Attractions in the Area

London Bridge
Located 3 km south of Sandstone is London Bridge. It is part of the Sandstone Heritage Trail and the plaque notes: "The 'breakaway', a unique natural structure consisting of weathered basalt, is believed to be about 350 million years old. In Sandstone's early years it was possible for a horse and buggy to cross the bridge, but unfortunately it has undergone considerable erosion since that time and visitors are requested not to walk over it." It is recognised as the most spectacular and unusual of the sandstone breakaways in the area. The bridge itself is nearly 800 metres long and at the centre is 10 metres high.

Contradiction Well
Located on the Sandstone-Agnew Road and part of the Heritage Trail, the Contradiction Well was sunk by the Western Australian government in the early 1900s and designed to provide water from miners and their animals. It was probably dug to a depth of around 100 metres and the remnants of the windlass are still evident. The water would have been raised by bucket.

How to See WA Wildflowers - A Guide
When planning a trip there are a number of very simple rules.
(1) Start by downloading Your Holiday Guide to Western Australia’s Wildflowers at http://www.westernaustralia.com/en/things_to_do/forest_and_flowers/pages/wawildflowers.aspx#/. It is a comprehensive guide to the wildflowers. There are over 12,000 species and 60% of them are found nowhere else on the planet.
(2) There is a tendency to say "But I won't know what I'm looking at" but that is rubbish. There are a number of great books and the best, by far, is the answer to "Wildflowers for Dummies" titled "Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia". It is privately published by Wajon Publishing Company, written by Eddie Wajon, and comes in three volumes – 1. Kalbarri and the Goldfields, 2. Perth and the Southwest and 3. Esperance and the Wheatbelt. They can all be purchased online from Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth. Check out https://www.aspectsofkingspark.com.au.
The publication's design masterstroke is that the flowers are listed according to their colours and all the pages are colour coded. Thus Mr and Mrs Wildflower Illiterate, when gazing at a Spiny Synaphea, only need to open at the "yellow flowers" section and flick through until they find the colour photo which matches the reality. The company can be contacted directly on (08) 9310 2936.
(3) No one should ever underestimate the power of local knowledge and assistance. The Western Australian wheatbelt, probably because of the declining prices for both wool and wheat and the increased levels of salinity, has decided that the spring wildflowers are a good for the local economy and worthy of patronage.
(4) There is a logical route which can be honed or expanded according to the amount of time you want to spend.
The best starting place, if you want to get a good foretaste of what you are about to experience in the wild, is to visit Kings Park & Botanic Garden in the heart of Perth. Apart from offering sensational views over the Swan River and the Perth CBD the gardens boast a 17 hectare area which has more than 1700 native species of wildflowers. This is, not surprisingly, rather pristine and not very wild but it does allow you to develop a working knowledge of devils pins, kangaroo paws, desert peas, everlastings, starflowers, grevilleas, firebush, a range of orchids and hundreds of other natives.
You really don't need to be a flora expert. All you need are your eyes and a sense of wonder because the Western Australian wildflowers in spring (Sandstone is particularly good in July and August) really are as remarkable and significant as a unique part of Australia as Uluru, the Great Ocean Road or Cradle Mountain.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the two groups of First Nation people. It is believed the Wongi lived in the eastern half and the Yamagee in the western half.

* The first European into the area was John Forrest who, in 1869, led an expedition through the East Murchison in search of the remains of Ludwig Leichhardt.

* The Western Australian goldrushes of the 1880s led to the opening up of the Murchison.

* In 1894 a prospector, Ernest Shillington, discovered gold about 20 km south of the present site of Sandstone.

* In 1903 George Dent and two brothers from the Hack family found gold only a few hundred metres from the present town site.

* Between 1903 and 1916 over 700 tons of ore were extracted from the mine. With a shaft 332 metres deep the mine produced nearly 930,000 ounces of gold in its 13 year operation.

* From 1903 onwards more reefs of gold were discovered to the north of the present town.

* A few days after the discovery of the Hacks Reef–Black Range Mine a prospector named Tom Payne found gold at Oroya. The mine was worked until 1914 during which time it yielded about 364,000 ounces of gold.

* A state owned gold battery was dismantled in Paynesville and pulled to Sandstone by teams of bullocks and donkeys in 1904.

* In September 1906 the town was officially gazetted.

* Between 1906-1912 a floating population of between 6000–8000 lived in the district and the town had four hotels, two banks and a railway line.

* The Sandstone Brewery was established in 1907 (the remains lie beyond the Oroya Gold Mine). The population at this time reached 6,000 people.

* In 1909 the telegraph line was connected from Mount Magnet and the town's Post and Telegraph building was opened.

* In 1910 the railway from Mount Magnet reached the town.

* The town’s decline coincided with the outbreak of war in Europe. Many of the miners went off to serve overseas and never returned. Others, seeing the declining fortunes of the mines, slowly drifted away from the area.

* By 1919 the population was only 200 people.

* The gold battery closed in 1982.

* The town continued to be home to tireless prospectors but it became primarily a service centre for the surrounding large pastoral holdings.

* The Troy Resources mine closed in 2014.

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Visitor Information

Sandstone Heritage Museum & Visitor Centre, corner Hack and Croya Street, tel: (08) 9963 5061. Open 9.00 am - 4.00 pm seven days a week.

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Useful Websites

There are two useful websites. Check out https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/destination/sandstone and the Shire of Sandstone website at https://www.sandstone.wa.gov.au.

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