|The main street of Mount Magnet
Mount Magnet (including Paynes Find)
Mining and service town on the edge of the desert
Located 570 km north of Perth on the Great Northern Highway, Mount Magnet is a small township which now survives on a combination of gold mining and services for the surrounding pastoral area which boasts some of the largest sheep stations in Western Australia.
Mount Magnet was named by the Surveyor Robert Austin in 1854. Austin, while passing through the area, noted that a hill near the present townsite had magnetic ironstone which played havoc with his compass. His subsequent expedition report came to the conclusions that the Murchison was fertile in spite of a drought which was raging at the time (it is marginal land with an annual rainfall of only 228mm) and that there was almost certainly vast gold deposits in the area.
Surprisingly this rather glowing report did little to encourage settlement in the area and it wasn't until the Murchison goldrushes of the 1890s that the current township was settled. There is some confusion as to exactly who first found gold at Mount Magnet. Some sources claim it was H. Steadman at Poverty Flat in 1892 while other credit George Woodley who certainly can be credited with floating the Mount Magnet Mine. Like most of the Murchison the subsequent development was rapid. The town was proclaimed in 1895 and by 1902 it was booming with some 14 hotels, 2 newspapers and 30 goldmines. At the time the pre–eminent mine was that at Hill 50 which was producing up to 3000 oz a month and was widely regarded as a mine which would last forever. Interestingly although it fell into decline after 1915 (when the miners went off to war) today it is central to the town's renewed importance as a gold mining centre.
Today the town is but a glimmer of its former magnificence. It has survived but only as a settlement with a population of about 1000 people. Perhaps the clearest evidence that it was once an important centre is the extraordinary width of the main street. Even the novelist Randolph Stow, in The Merry–go–round in the Sea, comments on the width of the main street when he writes of Mount Magnet:
''What's at Magnet?' the boy asked.
''Three gins and a goat,' Alan Lamb said, 'most days. And a street about half a mile wide.'
This is, of course, unfair to the town which has survived the decline in gold and recently, with the increased gold prices, has seen a number of huge open cut mines established in the area.
Things to see:
Views over the town
To see the open cut mines at work, and marvel at the size of these huge undertakings, it is best to go to the old Mount Magnet (now known as Warramboo Hill) lookout which affords a remarkable view over the town and the mines. Turn to the west at the corner with the Roadhouse and the Hotel on opposite corners, continue on the sealed road until you see the sign for the Hill 50 Mine and 'Mount' then take the turn to the right which heads off towards the mine tailings. From this vantage point the entire mining operation can be seen. There are three companies - Hill 50 (part of Western Mining), Metana Minerals and Brunswick NL - currently operating in the area.
|The Granites near Mount Magnet
About 7 km north of the town are 'The Granites' a rocky outcrop spread over several hectares. They are an interesting formation but, more than anything, they have some striking Aboriginal art. The West Australian Museum is currently investigating and recording the Aboriginal sites in the area. The sites are located beyond a sign warning Aboriginal women not to proceed beyond this point. The art work, of a very simple nature to the unskilled observer, is located is small eroded areas in the granite boulders. To find the site enter from the Great Northern Highway at the sign which says 'Granites' and follow the dirt roads which keep turning right until you are behind the largest of the granite outcrops.
144 km to the south of Mount Magnet is Paynes Find named after the well known prospector Tom Payne who had earlier found gold at Sandstone. Payne found gold in the area and sold his interest for a considerable profit. Paynes Find is now nothing more than a roadhouse, the Paynes Find Tavern, and a disused mine.
The Shire of Mount Magnet has a 13 page history booklet titled Uncovering the Murchison which, apart from having a good detailed history of the area, also includes maps of the old goldmines and of the roads around The Granites. It is very useful.