Shire of Wiluna
534km NNW of Kalgoorlie-Boulder
When surveyor and explorer Lawrence Wells travelled through this area bordering the Western Desert in 1892, he reported seeing promising auriferous country.
Four years later, prospectors Woodley, Wotten and Lennon discovered gold at nearby Lake Way and, within three months, 300 miners had established a rapidly growing settlement that was initially known as Lake Way.
The name was soon changed to the Aboriginal term for the area, Weeloona, believed to mean “Place of the Winds”. Another interpretation of the name is that it echoes the cry of the native curlew. The spelling was modified and the town of Wiluna gazetted in 1898.
In 1906 the Western Australian Government appointed Alfred Canning to survey a 1,500km stock route from Wiluna to Halls Creek. Commercial droving along the Canning Stock Route began in 1910 and, with the pastoral industry augmenting strong gold production, the town flourished.
By the mid-1930s the population had grown to more than 9,000. At the height of its prosperity in the years before World War II, Wiluna boasted a regular railway service to Perth, four hotels and a wide range of businesses and services.
The war severely affected the gold mining industry and many mines shut. However, as arsenic was being produced as a by-product, workers were ”manpowered” to keep production going for the war effort. Arsenic is a component of the chemical warfare agent Lewisite which was manufactured by the US, Germany and Japan before and during the Second World War.
Wiluna's rail line closed in August 1957 and by 1963 its population had fallen to less than 100.
The Gunbarrel Highway, linking Western Australia to the Northern Territory, opened in 1958 and is today a popular tourist route with Wiluna its western starting point.
Gold mining resumed in 1981 and today still thrives in the region, with Wiluna now home to more than 1,500 people including a large population of Aboriginal Martu people and fly-in fly-out mining employees.
Just north of the present-day Mount Keith nickel mine, Waldeck’s Find was a gold prospecting area in the 1930s. There was a minor rush to the area and one prospector, Logan, found rich “floaters” in 1934, but no substantial discoveries were made.