Old gold mining town now a virtual ghost town
Located 157 km east of Mount Magnet and 661 km north of Perth, Sandstone is a town which started life as a boom goldrush town in the late 1890s and had become a virtual ghost town by the end of World War 1. Consequently the history of the town is very much the history of the East Murchison - the discovery of gold, the sudden influx of miners, the dreams of a town that would last forever, the sudden decline in the goldfields, the disappearance of the population, and the town settling down to become a small centre for the surrounding pastoral leases.
The first European into the area was John Forrest who, in 1869, led an expedition through the East Murchison in search of the remains of Ludwig Leichhardt.
The Western Australian goldrushes of the 1880s led to the opening up of the Murchison. In 1894 a prospector, Ernest Shillington, discovered gold about 20 km south of the present site of Sandstone and in 1903 (very late in the history of the region) George Dent and two brothers from the Hack family found gold only a few hundred metres from the present townsite. If you turn south at Griffith Street (which becomes Paynes Find Road) you will see the remains of the mine on your left.
Between 1903 and 1916 over 700 tons of ore were extracted from the mine. With a shaft 332 metres deep the mine produced nearly 930 000 ounces of gold in its 13 year operation.
A few days after the discovery of the Hacks ReefBlack Range Mine a prospector named Tom Payne (after whom Paynes Find is named) found gold at Oroya. Payne sold the mine to the Oroya Black Range Company Ltd and it was worked until 1914 during which time it yielded about 364 000 ounces of gold. The site of the mine can be visited by continuing through Sandstone heading west on Agnew Road. In 1932 a miner was trapped in the disused shafts and, when the walls became unstable, rescuers were forced to abandon attempts to save him. He is remembered on a nearby plaque.
From 1903 onwards more reefs of gold were discovered to the north of the present town so that in September 1906 the town was officially gazetted. Looking at the tiny town today it is hard to imagine that between 190612 a floating population of between 60008000 lived here and that the town¹s services included four hotels, two banks, a railway line, a brewery (the remains lie beyond the Oroya Gold Mine - turn south) and a State run gold battery. - which was dismantled in Paynesville and pulled to Sandstone by teams of bullocks and donkeys in 1904. The battery only closed down in 1982 and can still be seen off Menzies Road (which runs southwest from Paynes Find Road).
The town¹s decline coincided with the outbreak of war in Europe. Many of the miners went off to serve overseas and never returned. Others, seeing the declining fortunes of the mines, slowly drifted away from the area. By 1919 the population had dwindled to a mere 200 people. The town continued to be home to resilient prospectors but it became a service centre for the surrounding large pastoral holdings.
The town was the inspiration for the mining town in Randolph Stow's novel Tourmaline which Stow described as 'rust-red roofs, the skeletal obelisks of headless windmills...It is not a ghost town. It simply lies in a coma. This may never end.'
The Sandstone Heritage Trail, which may still be available at the Shire offices, is an excellent guide to the town and the surrounding area.
Things to see:
Further up the track from the State Battery is the town¹s most interesting natural phenomenon - London Bridge. It is the most spectacular and unusual of the sandstone breakaways in the area and, in the early 1900s, was so large that carts could pass both across it and through it. The sandstone in this area is estimated to be 350 million years old. The bridge itself is nearly 800 metres long and at the centre is 10 metres high. It is now regarded as too dangerous to walk on.