Discovering the Northern Goldfields

Discovering the Northern Goldfields

Regional Arts WA

This story was submitted by a member of the regional arts sector: Sarah Hinton from Artgold Inc. We love sharing stories from the sector. If you want to find out how to submit your own stories, take a look at the submit your story page. We can’t wait to hear from you!

The Northern Goldfields is an absolute treasure trove, and I don’t say that just because of the current record-breaking price of gold!

This region is bespeckled with isolated communities which – though kept buoyant by mining – are home to many talented artists and community development workers who create projects which deeply enrich the lives of those who call this vast region home.

In my role as Hub Coordinator for Artgold (Arts and Culture Goldfields Association) which is a member of the Regional Arts WA Network of Hubs, I am the ‘boots on the ground’, making connections with our wider community to service their unique needs, seeking opportunities for artists and arts workers to develop their skills and talents and, to encourage and support local decision making. This trip will be the first of many as we continue to activate local hubs and build the Regional Arts Network throughout the state.

I left Kalgoorlie-Boulder for Leonora the morning after I flew back in from Perth and the busy 3-day Hubs Network congregation. Fortunately, whilst towns like Leonora and Laverton seem very far away, from Kal northwards the drive is broken into manageable 2-hour-ish stints from the Great Western Woodlands, across the mulga line, and further into Wongatha country of salt lakes and pastoral lands. It makes for interesting scenery when you’re stuck behind a 50-metre road train!

A mural on a tin wall, depicting a pair of women (dressed in attire which looks dated - perhaps late 60's) preparing for a tennis match and a man on a motorbike (dressed quite formally - including suit, bow tie, and bowler hat) - another man sits on the back of his bike catching a ride. The word "Gwalia" can be made out faintly in the background of the mural.

Painted in 2018 by Roderick Sprigg. Picture by Sarah Hinton.

As I had already visited the Shire of Menzies the week previous my first stop on this trip was the Shire of Leonora. I met with local artists and members of the Shire council. Everyone was excited to hear about the recently announced Resilience Grants and how they could apply to support existing projects or some exciting new ones – more info to come!

Just south of Leonora, on your left as you make your way into town, is the historic town of Gwalia. It hosts the first of many public art installations painted by local artist, Roderick Sprigg. He and his wife Talitha are members of the committee which coordinate the biannual Leonora Inland Art Prize exhibition, held over the long weekend in June as an artistic addition the popular Golden Gift footrace event.

The Gwalia Townsite and Museum also houses the famous Herbert Hoover house and the entire complex has seen a boost of investment to continue the award-winning work which goes into retaining the town’s heritage and history.

Following on from the success of Gawlia’s restoration and worldwide recognition, local stakeholders believe it is now time to turn the spotlight onto the hub of Leonora, by creating contemporary public art murals and researching the potential resurrection of historical buildings .

Painted by Roderick Sprigg on public toilets in Main Street. Picture by Sarah Hinton. Barne’s Federal Theatre. Picture courtesy of Shire of Leonora.

Before departing Leonora to make it to Laverton in time for dinner, I had a lovely afternoon tea visit with talented artists and cultural champions Kado and Deeva Muir. Dedicated to the preservation of culture, this entrepreneurial couple with collaboration from their multi-talented children, are developing systems which enable local artists to stock their art and souvenirs in visitor centres and online. These systems will help advocate against fake Aboriginal art and encourage youth to develop a better understanding of business, arts law and e-commerce opportunities.

The road to Laverton is an easy 1.5 hr drive and I passed through some bushland that had seen recent bushfire activity. Watch out for cows and eagles!

Dinner at the Laverton Sports Club was a lively affair. Conversations were similar to those in Kalgoorlie, with community members wearing different hats to serve their 800 strong population; a mix of local Aboriginal families, migrants and mine workers. The local nurse was serving on the bar, the gentleman who cooked our BBQ dinner kept her baby happy with jiggles and peek-a-boos, whilst a darts champ also runs the local arts gallery and has helped coordinate a large investment into refurbishing their sports grounds. It was so sweet to see this isolated community in good spirits and mostly untouched by the panic of disastrous global events.

Nestled on the edge of the Great Victorian Desert, Laverton has a really strong community feel. Constant and meaningful conversation between the Shire, residents of town, and outlying communities means everyone is on the same page. They work to establish a set of guidelines which promote good citizenry and a sense of ownership in the rapidly expanding town centre, including its community facilities and a recently announced expansion to the Great Beyond Visitor Centre.

Friday was a very busy day beginning with a tour of the Laverton Remote Community School. Passionate and culturally aware, the school has permanently placed educators who are working on many projects to enhance the learning opportunities for students.

I toured the multi-purpose use quadrangle and proposed music room which is full of instruments for the children to find their favourite, supported by weekly visits from a qualified music teacher. From this visit, I have been able to connect teachers and staff to many opportunities which will support their goals in expanding the music program, developing entrepreneurial skills and preparations for the school’s end of year concert.

Laverton Remote Community School “Good Vibes Studio”. Picture by Sarah Hinton.

Next up, I popped into the Great Beyond Visitor Centre; a very popular attraction for tourists and – because of their reputation for great coffee – the locals too. The Manager, Laurinda, showed me the site plans for the upcoming renovations and expansion. These include a sculpture walk and plans to develop more locally designed and made souvenirs and giftware. The gift shop has a large range of social history guides and local language kids’ books written by current and previous residents.

To finish up my Laverton tour, the Shire CEO took me out for some sightseeing to popular recreational sites around the town. There’s no lack of fun to be had on the weekends with swimming and even a flying fox out at ‘The Cut’.  We’ve since been in discussion to create more locally designed public art pieces such as banners along the highway and the possibility of a large-scale mural welcoming people to town.

It’s important not to catch yourself out on these highways at dark so mid-afternoon I packed up and departed Laverton for Kalgoorlie, my mind filled to the brim with the possibilities and outcomes of these Northern Goldfields towns embracing art as a way to build up community spirit and to show visitors just how proud they are of their heritage and culture.

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