Exploring Gwalia-Ghost-Town

The sun dipped below the horizon as we entered the empty house.

By the light of our head torch we picked out items discarded years beforehand.

Living room chairs, a coffee table, an ironing board, sewing machines long since used.

As we walked into the bedroom our light shone on a child’s bed with a rag doll laying, staring into space.


The Town

Gwalia-Ghost-Town lies in the goldfields of Western Australia’s Great Victoria Desert.

In 1897 the Sons of Gwalia started gold mining in the area and the town of Gwalia grew as mine workers came to live in the area.

They lived in shanty homes made of corrugated iron and hessian cloth with dirt floors to start with but the town grew.

At the height of its population there were over 1000 people living here.

A fire at the mine in 1921 caused it to close for three years and more than half of Gwalia’s population left.

After the mine reopened people did return but not in the number it had seen before.

In 1963 profits of the mine slumped and the Sons of Gwalia closed the mine once more.

The town became deserted almost overnight as its population left.

Gwalia remains as it did in 1963 when the remaining inhabitants decided to leave.

In every sense of the words Gwalia is an authentic ghost town.


We pulled into Gwalia late in the afternoon and drove up to the museum that overlooks the deserted town and the open cast gold mine.

The museum was just closing but we spoke to the lady who runs it and she kindly said we could stay overnight in the museums car park.

The occupants of an RV were also staying the night there so we decided to stay too.

The car park was a large flat area on top of the hill that overlooked the town.

As it wasn’t dark yet, we decided to go and investigate the empty town below.

The sun was going down as we walked around the ramshackle of buildings that make up Gwalia.

The blades of a wind pump turned and creaked eerily in the light breeze.

The buildings stood empty, long since abandoned.

Most are simple dwellings made from corrugated iron sheets and limited fixtures inside.


As the light faded and we needed to see our way around by torchlight the place really got quite creepy.

The doll on the bed was last straw and we retreated out of the house.

We walked back to our camper van and settled in for the night knowing we’d see more of the town in the daylight tomorrow.


After a good nights sleep, and astonishingly no creepy doll nightmares we were ready to have a good look around town.

The morning was sunny and warm as we strolled down to the town.

By daylight it felt much more friendly and less threatening ( not that there was anything to threaten us anyway ).

We went back to the house with the doll who looked much more innocent in the sunlight filled room.

The houses aren’t dressed at all and feel like everyone just left in the middle of what they were doing.

A pair of shoes sat outside a front door waiting for their long gone, owner to return.

Rusted old car shells dot the town and the mechanics garage.

It all felt like a some horror or apocalyptic movie set that we were walking around but we got a really strong sense of life here before the mine closed.


Away from the deteriorating buildings of the ghost town the mine has reopened and continues to produce gold.

In the 1980’s the Sons of Gwalia decided to start operating the mine with modern extraction methods and the mine is now the deepest superpit in Australia.

Gwalia never regained its population though, with most workers living in nearby Leonora.

You can get a great view of the mine from a viewing platform in the museum grounds.


The Museum

The Gwalia museum sits atop a rise overlooking the town and the mine.

Gwalia’s claim to fame is that when the Sons of Gwalia were looking to fund their mining project they approached a British company who insisted on sending a young American geologist to the site.

That young man’s name was Herbert Hoover, who would later in life become President of the United States.

He suggested he should become manager of the mine and amongst other money saving ideas also suggested that the mine employ Italian labourers.

As a result, the town of Gwalia was mostly made up of Italian and other European families.

The house Herbert Hoover occupied during his time at the mine sits within the museum grounds and has become bed and breakfast accommodation that people can rent.


We got talking to the lady who runs the museum and she kindly let us have a look around the bed and breakfast part of the Hoover house.

We chatted to her about the area and life here as well as our travel adventures.

Being in the goldfields gave us a bit of gold fever ( especially after chatting to modern day prospectors on our road trip ) and we looked everywhere we walked out in the countryside for anything that resembled gold.

We’d picked a bit of something up that looked sparkly a few days beforehand so we decided to ask this lady about it as she new quite a bit about such things.

To our dismay her verdict was that it was Fools Gold, but it was quite exciting to know it that it was even that.

The museum also houses mining equipment and the mine head from the original mine workings as well as the history of the mine and town of Gwalia.


Our Opinion

The Ghost Town of Gwalia is certainly interesting and probably the best ghost town we’ve seen anywhere.

It’s very atmospheric, especially at twilight ( although we don’t recommend a visit in the dark ).

Although the town is taken care of by the museum, it doesn’t feel contrived in any way.

Some of the buildings have been restored but most of it ( when we visited in August 2016 ) is very original and authentic.

The museum is full of history and information about the town and the mine.

You can get a great view of the open cut mine from the viewing platform inside the museum grounds.

We would definitely recommend a visit here if you’re going to be in the area.

The Nitty Gritty

How to get to Gwalia

Gwalia is pretty remote.

It’s situated on the Goldfields Highway just South of Leonora in Western Australia.

You’ll need your own vehicle to reach it.

We rented a camper van as part of our Western Australia road trip

Where to stay

There are plenty of accommodation options in Leonora or you could stay in the Herbert Hoover House bed and breakfast.

We just parked out on the museum car park for the night, which we had checked was OK with the museum first.


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