Perched on the edge of the Western Desert, miles from anywhere, lies Wiluna, gateway to two iconic outback desert routes - The Gunbarrel Highway and The Canning Stock Route.
The Canning Stock Route is a mandatory bush track for any self respecting 4WD enthusiast. It was established in 1908 in order to drive cattle from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the Mid-West. The track consists of 1850km of cross country driving through arid and remote country in order to follow the 48 wells that were sunk along the route.
The Gunbarrel Highway begins at at Victory Downs Station at the N.T./S.A. border and winds for 1400km to Carnegie Station west of Wiluna. It was legendary surveyor Len Beadell's ideal to construct highways as unyielding as possible (hence - 'Gunbarrel'). The difficulties he endured in forging a road for the atomic testing grounds of the 1950's are well documented. The Maralinga Atomic Tests caused the forced relocation of three aboriginal groups to Wiluna. The town remains a regional centre for the largely indigenous population that live in and around the township.
European influence first occurred in 1875 when John Forrest explored the area. He was followed in 1892 by Lindsay Elder. Lawrence Wells was a member of Elder's original party and on his return to the Wiluna region in 1896 he reported that the location appeared to be promising gold bearing country.
Wiluna was formally gazetted in 1898 and by 1930 the town was home to 9000 people and at the end of the rail line from Perth. World War 2 saw a rapid decline in the town's fortunes with mines closing and men leaving for the battlefields of Europe, Africa and Asia. Serious mining resumed in 1981 and the possibility of Uranium in the area means Wiluna may be in for another resurrection. It's likely to be minor as the tendency in Western Australia mining is to 'fly in, fly out' employees rather than house them in remote towns.
Wiluna Shire has a population of about 1700 with 75% being male. The township has around 300 residents and the remaining number live transiently on pastoral or mining leases explaining the disparity in the male/female ratio. The town is not without it's problems. Alchohol and substance abuse are major social problems and indigenous leaders are endeavouring to deal with abusers. At one point in 2009 a local mine site was forced to secure it's rubbish tip to stop adolescents accessing used paint cans.
In 2006 a contributor to Outback Crossing attended the inaugural Wiluna Rodeo which was organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canning Stock Route. He reports that it was a relaxed and humorous affair spread over two days -
"The rodeo ring was a hastily manufactured affair that didn't appear capable of holding back an irate lamb never mind a ton of rampaging bull. Small aboriginal kids clung to the railing, only to clamber down when some thrashing beast attempted to scale the six foot fence right over the top of them and the police van was filled with the local dogs who were constantly interrupting proceedings by entering the arena mid-event. By noon the outdoors bar was strewn with empty beer cans and a vacant seat could not be had due to unconscious revellers using them as beds. The loudest cheers went up for the Mounted Police, four of whom attended with their horses and duly put on a show. The cheers were not for the fine display of horsemanship but came later as the constabulary was cajoled into trying their hand in the ring and were unceremoniously dumped by a local bucking bronc." He also notes that the rodeo had a feeling of general good will and incidents of alcohol fuelled hostility were few and far between.
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