Today Kanowna is a virtual memory. Rubble, withered fence posts and a handful of historic gravesides are all that remain of what was once a rambunctious gold town.
Kanowna was once described as 'Rougher and Richer than the mob on Hannan's', and referenced Paddy Hannan's gold discovery in Kalgoorlie which lies only 18km south west.
Gold was discovered in Kanowna in 1893 and, as was common, an immediate influx of hopeful prospectors swarmed into the area.
Originally called 'White Feather' (possibly named for an incident that saw a group of diggers flee from a claim dispute), Kanowna was probably named for the Aboriginal word "kana", meaning a place of no sleep, no doubt referring to the hard stony ground.
1894 saw a townsite established and a year later a battery was built to service the 4000 people who had established themselves in order to eke a living from the arduous flats.
By reputation, the town was always wild and unsophisticated yet by 1905 an hourly train service ran into Kalgoorlie.
Kanowna's population had swelled to 12,500 and 16 hotels and two breweries sprang up to cater to the insatiable thirst of the Western Australian goldfields.
Kanowna made fortunes for many of the prospectors, Tom O'Connor pocketing £15,000 alone. O'Connor's claim lay adjacent to the cemetery which was opened up for mining and unceremoniously blasted.
Incidents such as these highlight the respect the fever for gold held over the community. A Catholic priest, Father Long, swore from the Kanowna Hotel balcony that he had seen a nugget weighing 100 pounds and gave vague reference to the location of it's origin.
By 1896 the easily discovered alluvial gold had dried up and the field was declining and Father Long's declaration was a probable ruse to prolong the fortunes of the town. Whatever the case, the search for another 'Sacred Nugget' created another small rush although the miners of Kanowna were reputed to have become riotous after the trick was discovered
But Kanowna's fortunes were destined to go the way of so many goldfields ghost towns. Even social niceties like electricity, a school and a rail station couldn't hold the gold hungry townsfolk . The post office and rail line closed during the Depression and the only remaining hotel of 16, served it's final beer in 1952
The fortunes of Kanowna live on today at the nearby Kanowna Belle mine which employs around 300 people who live on site and fly-in/fly-out to their respective homes. Two viewing platforms and an interpretive centre allow a view into modern mining techniques.
Of interest, a talented Western Australian film maker has produced a short film called, appropriately enough, - "Kanowna".
Chris Richards-Scully was born in the region and based his film on real events, retelling the 1902 story of a local policeman who fathered a child to a Japanese prostitute.
This article is part of a project to record the history of ghost towns in Australia. If you can contribute any information about any of Australia's abandoned towns please use the 'CONTACTUS' link at the top of the page to send us an email.
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