A project from the National Trust of WA
A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.
“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert”
Burracoppin was originally known as Burancooping and saw the very start of the rush to the ‘fields. It was gazetted in 1891 so owes its existence to the Yilgarn gold rush. As the site of one of Hunt’s Wells it was used by those heading to Southern Cross.
But, then gold was discovered further east at what was to become Coolgardie. Vera Whittington in Gold and Typhoid: twin fevers writes how hundreds of men, gripped by gold fever that swept through the colony in the second half of 1892, followed Hunt’s old track from Mt Bakewell near York.
They struggled through thick forest to Durdguding Rock, north of today’s Merredin, proceeding in a north-easterly direction over scrubby sandplain to Burancooping and Sandford Rocks (Yorkrakine Hill). Then on through dense thickets and forest to Koorkoordine (site of a Hunt’s Well) and south, south-west to Lake Polaris near Southern Cross.
By 1894 Burracoppin had become the head of the railway and E.S. Wigg & Son of Perth published a useful guide for the benefit of the many newcomers heading for the field. It described three routes to Coolgardie: steamer to Fremantle or Albany or sailing ship to Esperance Bay from where there was no organised road transport. But from the East Northam station (from where contractors were building the rail line to Southern Cross), arrangements after the arrival of the train from Perth or Albany were clear:
Coaches meet the train, taking passengers to the hotel for tea, and afterwards conveying them (one hour later) to the contractor’s train, which carries passengers to Burracoppin, the present head of the line, arriving there at 6 o’clock next morning … From Burracoppin passengers provide their own food, water, and blankets by coach to Coolgardie, generally camping out. Time … three days … Thirty-two lbs. weight of luggage allowed by coach; excess, 6d. per lb. Teams take swags from Burracoppin to Coolgardie for 25s. Passengers walking with teams have to camp out five nights. At Coolgardie there are several hotels, but sleeping accommodation is limited. Travellers Guide to Western Australia quoted by Vera Whittington in Gold and Typhoid: two fevers.
Today you might not realize this was a bustling railhead as you drive past the few remaining buildings but towards the end of February 1894 Staff Captain Hunter, officer in charge of the Salvation Army in Western Australia, travelled to Coolgardie and described it as such. He saw piles of goods lying around and many teamsters camped at the railhead waiting to load their teams. He waited for the coach at Mr Leake’s homestead where he found a garden like ‘an oasis in the desert’ and bought fruit.
As a little aside, the machinery, intended to be the equipment on which Coolgardie’s first newspaper was to be printed, was delayed at Burracoppin when Editor WE Clare found his team was not strong enough to take the full load to the field.
And, probably more significant to those awaiting their arrival with great anticipation on the typhoid-stricken Coolgardie field, two experienced nurses were marooned at Burracoppin for some time because of a water famine. In the heat of summer and the constant drain on them, many supplies of water on the road to the goldfields failed, wells and soaks drying up, meaning travellers couldn’t undertake the journey to Coolgardie from the railhead.
Click on any map section or place below to discover The Golden Pipeline.