Travel & Touring | WA Things To Do

There are thousands of towns in Western Australia, but today, not all of them are as busy (or ‘alive’) as they once were.

The gold rush of the 1900s has a lot to answer for when it comes to WA’s many ghost towns - as do the agriculture, pearling and telegraphy industries. These booms saw workers and their families from across the world pour into towns across the Pilbara, Mid West and Goldfields. But when the booms went bust, population numbers dwindled.

While it’s no secret there are many supposedly haunted places in WA, these living ghost towns also add to the list of eerie but interesting locations across the State where you can get a unique glimpse of local history. Here are seven that are definitely worth a look.  

1. Cossack, Pilbara region

Cossack within Australia’s vast North West was once a thriving pastoral, pearling and gold rush port at the mouth of the Harding River. A 20-minute drive north of Roebourne, this living ghost town is filled with National Trust-listed architecture, mangroves and plenty of old ruins and buildings to explore. The notable Jarman Island Lighthouse is another highlight, though you’ll need a boat to reach it. It was one of the most endangered lighthouses in Australia until recently, when the local mining industry and council funded its restoration and preservation.

If you’re visiting today, there’s a helpful Cossack Heritage Trail you can follow to tick off a few of the town’s significant features, including the wharf, the courthouse, the school house, a transit camp, police barracks and more. The trail is three kilometres long, and it’s advised to complete it between May and September, as there are limited facilities in the area in summer.

When it comes to haunted figures, there are more than a few skeletons in the Cossack closet. Many perished in a cyclone that hit the town in 1898, and land adjacent to Cossack was used as a quarantine reserve in 1910. Before 1925, this ‘leper camp’ was described as inhumane, having no protection from the heat or sun, so it was taken over by the Medical Department and a new site was constructed.

2. Goldsworthy, Pilbara region

All that remains of the old mining town of Goldsworthy is a row of trees. Located 30 minutes south of the town of Pardoo, the ghost town was once home to 700 people, and the 132-metre high Mount Goldsworthy Mine – it was the first town built specifically for iron ore workers.

Mining exploration began in 1962 and ceased in 1982, but the town continued to operate as a support base for nearby towns until all of its buildings were removed in 1992.

If visiting today, stop at the mine, which is now a filled-in pit. It has been left virtually intact, and holds a huge quantity of water, though in a very dry location without seasonal rains. The water is a striking cobalt blue against the rugged red cliffs that frame it.

3. Big Bell, Mid West region

Big Bell was a vibrant and busy town during the 1900’s, when the Big Bell Mine was in operation. A 25-minute drive from Cue, the now-derelict town closed its doors in 1955 but beforehand was the site of everything from a hospital and cinema, to a first-class hotel and a range of retail outlets. Mining at Big Bell ceased in 2003, and the plant was transferred to Westonia minesite in the Wheatbelt in 2007.

The ruins at Big Bell today are quite impressive. The Big Bell Hotel, which reportedly housed the longest bar in Australia during its heyday, is a brilliant example of the art deco architecture that reflected the opulence of the time. Though very few other buildings in town remain today, road markings are still prominent and the town is very visible from an aerial view.

4. Central Greenough, Mid West region

Located 25 kilometres from Geraldton, the town of Central Greenough was a thriving agricultural hotspot during the 1860s. However, a combination of drought and floods led to a steep decline in the town’s economy, and as such, its population. Once the town was deserted, its many buildings were left in a state of disrepair.

Today, the Central Greenough Historic Settlement includes many historic buildings, most of which are managed by the National Trust. Although it’s located in a deserted area, there are plenty of trees, and even a few friendly llamas, around the townsite. A stroll through the settlement will reveal churches, schools, homes and courts from the town’s heyday. It’s a popular place to visit, with even a ‘Greenno’ coffee shop, pub and visitor centre.

If you’re hoping to visit spooky sites, locals believe the doctor’s centre is haunted. The town’s doctor was said to be a drunkard, and when treating a man with gangrene, he accidentally chopped the wrong arm off a patient named Andy, who then died. Andy the ghost is believed to haunt the area to this day.

5. Gwalia, Goldfields-Esperance region

The Sons of Gwalia Ltd gold mine operated from 1897 to 1963, and was once one of the largest gold mines in Australia. There was a settlement of over 1,200 people living around the mine in its heyday.

The first manager of the gold mine in 1896 was Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st President of the United States. During his time in the role, he oversaw the design of the growing townsite, and recruited many workers from Italy. He departed the mine in 1898 before commencing his presidency in 1929.

Today, there are 31 buildings within the ghost town of Gwalia, including a guest house, hotel, general store and a miner’s hut. A stop at the Gwalia Museum is a great way to get your bearings and pick up a map of the town’s abandoned homes and businesses. You can even stay overnight at the Hoover House B&B; the house where its namesake Herbert Hoover stayed during several of his visits to the area after he departed.

6. Kookynie, Goldfields-Esperance region

In the early 1900’s, Kookynie was a busy and prosperous mining centre, boasting banks, hotels, and even the region’s first public swimming pool. There were well over 3,500 residents living in Kookynie, and four trains a day arrived from Kalgoorlie.

Today, there are still a handful of residents in this living ghost town, and the original Grand Hotel is still trading. The hotel also houses a collection of historic photographs and memorabilia about the town’s rich mining history. Many of the town’s other ruins are still relatively intact, which you can view on a walk – the Old Miner’s Cottage and Cosmopolitan Hotel are highlights.

Kookynie is also home to a spooky mystery; a lonely grave site in the town bears the inscription “This is a grave site. A mother and her two children”. Two Perth men dubbed the ‘Outback Grave Markers’ have put a call-out on Facebook to anyone with information on those who were laid to rest here.

Another notable attraction near the town is the Niagara Dam, which you’ll pass if travelling to Kookynie from Menzies. This famous dam was built by C Y O’Connor (who is best known for his work on the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline), and is a popular day trip destination for caravanners or campers – particularly when heavy rains fill it with cool water to swim in.

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7. Israelite Bay, Goldfields-Esperance region

Located in a scenic coastal region 200 kilometres east of Esperance, the Israelite Bay heritage site was a prominent telegraphy location from 1877 to 1927. The site today contains the ruins of the National Trust-classified post office and telegraph station as well as graves, a jetty, an old cottage and a fishing shack. For a short while, the telegraph station, originally built from wood in 1876, was a vital part Australia’s national communications infrastructure.

Today, Israelite Bay is perhaps best known for its rugged natural bushland, camping and fishing sites and impressive four-wheel drive track. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to access the bay from either Esperance or Balladonia, though the track may be impassable if wet. The beach is a notorious bogging spot, so take extra care and check the tide charts before attempting to cross it. As it’s a very remote location, you’ll need to be very well prepared and fully self-sufficient, including drinking water, a first aid kit, spare parts, ample fuel and two-way communication devices.

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Last updated: August 2021