Shire of Leonora
236km N of Kalgoorlie-Boulder
The Sons of Gwalia lease was pegged in 1896 by Coolgardie prospectors Jack Carlson, Frank White and A. Glendinning. They were financed by Coolgardie shopkeepers Thomas and Ernest Tobias. It was Thomas who named the mine Sons of Gwalia as a nod to his Welsh heritage; Gwalia is an old name for Wales.
G.W. Hall purchased the lease for £5,000 in 1897, established the Sons of Gwalia Ltd and employed 110 men. A settlement of dwellings and businesses was soon built on the lease.
Hall recouped his entire investment within a month. The rich gold find, just 3.2km from Leonora, rapidly gained worldwide interest, including the attention of London-based firm Bewick, Moreing and Company. A bright young American mining engineer at the company’s Coolgardie office was sent north to investigate the promising new mine.
Herbert Hoover reported favourably on the mine’s potential and Bewick, Moreing and Company acquired it in November 1897. Appointed manager, Hoover designed the mine manager’s house and oversaw the design of the staff and office buildings, all built on the hill overlooking the mine and the growing township of Gwalia.
As part of his drive to cut operating costs, Hoover instituted sweeping changes which brought him into conflict with the powerful Miners’ Union. He increased working hours, banned double time on Sundays and bonuses for working wet ground. Hoover also recruited Italian labourers who were willing to work for lower pay.
Hoover was transferred to the company’s operations in China before he could complete his plans. During the first years of the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1933, he served as the 31st President of the United States of America.
Although never a gazetted town despite repeated campaigns by its residents, Gwalia’s population often outstripped that of nearby Leonora, with its own businesses and services including Western Australia’s first Government-owned hotel. Built to stamp out illegal alcohol production, the State Hotel remains one of the ghost town’s most impressive landmarks.
The Sons of Gwalia mine operated until 28 December 1963, when almost the entire population left within a fortnight, most finding work on the mines of the Golden Mile.
Many of Gwalia’s cottages and businesses remain as an open air museum, providing a fascinating glimpse into a past era of mining in the Northern Goldfields.
The mine was re-opened in 1983 and is now operated by St Barbara Ltd.