Liquid Gold in Coolgardie

Published on Thursday, 10 August 2023 at 12:13:37 PM

Fresh water was an immediate problem for communities living in the Goldfields in the late 1800s.  Rainfall was unreliable, the underground water was saline and transporting water over vast distances was extremely difficult.

The only way to survive the harsh conditions of the Western Australian landscape was to rely on water being carted into the communities by camels with barrels of fresh water being hauled from faraway places such as Northam – some five hundred kilometres away from Coolgardie.   It is alleged that one such camel set a world record by walking almost a thousand kilometres without a drink.

Another alternative for these remote communities was the use of water condensers - a rough and ready desalination machine that was fuelled by burning timber which converted salt water taken from nearby salt lakes into drinking water. The poor quality of water from the condensers was so bad it had to go through the process of being boiled before consuming it.  It was alleged that babies became quite ill ingesting it. This liquid gold was then sold at an extraordinary price of nine pence a gallon (approximately 4cents a litre) – it got to a point that it was cheaper to buy beer than it was water.

But this would not sustain the rapidly growing population of Coolgardie and the surrounding area.  As the numbers grew on the Goldfields, the government established huge condensers.  The Coolgardie condensers, located on the salt flats behind Fly Flats had the capacity of producing 455 000 litres of fresh water per day. This equated to 545 000 litres of salt water and 100 tonnes of wood.

The off spin of this booming industry was the huge demand for firewood which saw timber companies move into the Goldfields region.  By doing so timber companies were able to haul huge daily tonnages of timber across a vast network of rail lines, ensuring the supply of fresh water to the community of Coolgardie.

But alas this would still not quench the thirst of an ever growing and expanding Coolgardie “Mother of the Goldfields”.  This challenge would be taken up by one of Western Australia’s famous pioneers - C.Y.O’Connor and his 600km pipeline that would secure the existence of Coolgardie and the surrounding Goldfields – but that is another story.

This amazing story is one of the many that showcase Coolgardie as a pioneer’s wonderland.

The Coolgardie Visitors Centre is the keeper of these chronicles and houses physical items from the period which bring these stories to life.

Join us as we relocate the Coolgardie Visitors Centre with an official event.

Free entry, networking opportunities & light refreshments provided

For full event details please visit our events calendar here.

Back to All News