Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Going for gold and on the edge!

After reaching Norseman earlier today (where the Coolgardie/Esperance highway meets the Eyre Highway heading east ..... next stop Adelaide!), Mark turned right and has now embarked on the very long haul of 1000 miles across the Nullarbor Plain of south Australia.

Norseman is the closest point on Mark's route to the goldfields of Western Australia. Gold was first discovered in the Norseman area in 1892 and the town is apparently named after the horse of a prospector who got lucky and found a rich gold seam! An idea of the settlement today can be gleaned from the following photos .....

The area suffers acutely from a shortage of water (its average annual rainfall is 276 mm) In its early years rainwater was supplemented by distilling saltwater from the numerous lakes in the region.
Services in the area improved slowly between the wars - the railway arrived in 1927, reliable water came to the town in 1936 and the southern road through Esperance and Port Augusta was upgraded in 1941 - but the gold dwindled. The photo above shows derelict miners' housing in Norseman. Today there are a number of small goldmining operations in the area but only the Central Norseman Gold Corporation can be considered a major producer. Still, it is claimed that since 1892 over 100 tonnes of gold have been extracted from the area. Modern Norseman is basically a large, sprawling town driven by mining and tourism and dominated by a huge tailings (mining waste) dump.

Mark's journey north to Norseman today was also significant for another reason - he passed the point where cultivation ends and scrubland (here with salt lakes) takes over. The image shows what are literally the last wheatfields before the desert! The official desert limit for rainfall is 250mm so Noreseman is right on the edge.

Going east of Norseman, the real Australian bush takes over, with salt lakes, flocks of emus and finally the Nullarbor Plains, endless treeless expanses with a road and railway, straight as an arrow, stretching into South Australia. I sense we are going to see a lot more of this type of landscape in the days to come!

In fact, I think the next 1000 miles could be my biggest challenge so far - am I going to find something different to write about on a regular basis? We'll see!

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