Remote Lake Ballard north of Kalgoorlie is home to a sculpture park that’s out of this world.
Could it be that in 2003 a party of 51 extra-terrestrial beings landed on the remote salt bed of Lake Ballard and were turned to black pillars of salt as punishment for some biblical misdeed? Or, could it be that the Perth International Arts Festival commissioned British sculptor, Antony Gormley, to produce Inside Australia, an installation consisting of 51 carbonised steel statues rendered from the full-body laser scans of citizens of Menzies?
The statues conjure up all sorts of images. Perhaps they are dark ghosts of the hundreds of miners who perished searching for gold in the region, or Dreamtime ancestors wandering a landscape they could not bear to leave. Without doubt, the statues of Lake Ballard should not be missed by anyone visiting the WA Goldfields.
Kalgoorlie continues to draw miners after 120 years, with the ground still yielding gold from one of the largest gold mines in the world. Wander along Hannan Street from the visitor centre to the WA Museum and see the numerous historic buildings. The museum exhibits the life of prospectors and includes a reproduction of the Golden Eagle, a nugget weighing in at a staggering 1136 ounces found by a 16-year-old boy in 1931. There is also a Cobb & Co carriage and a bicycle made from wood, and you can learn about the construction of the 560km water pipeline running uphill from Perth to Kalgoorlie. It was completed in 1903 and was shrouded in such malicious politics that it drove the head engineer, CY O’Connor, to suicide.
GOLDEN QUEST DISCOVERY TRAIL
Gold fever struck further north as well, and a self-guided drive up to Laverton known as the Golden Quest Discovery Trail (956km in total) commemorates the history of the region's goldfields, which has seen 50 gold towns come and go. A few of this trail’s highlights can be seen on the way to Menzies, 132km north of Kalgoorlie. A worthwhile, 27km diversion takes you from Broad Arrow to Ora Banda’s historic town and inn. Broad Arrow itself has a historic hotel and a current population of about eight, down from 2400 since its gold rush ended.
From Menzies, you can continue on the Golden Quest Discovery Trail up the sealed roads to Leonora and Laverton, which both have caravan parks and other facilities. Again, there are interesting diversions along the way.
But the highlight of the entire trail is surely one of the most unique, unexpected, astonishing art exhibits in the world: the statues of Lake Ballard.
GETTING TO LAKE BALLARD
The caravanner has several options for taking in this must-see destination. One is to leave the van in Kalgoorlie and do the 374km round trip in a day, and keep in mind that the 108km return trip from Menzies to the lake is unsealed.
Another option is to leave the van at Goongarrie, 90km north of Kalgoorlie and 42km south of Menzies. The campground is at the homestead of a former sheep station, now a conservation reserve. There is bushwalking at Goongarrie, birdwatching and a 4WD track along the Comet Vale siding.
A final option is to drive the van to Menzies and leave it at the caravan park in the centre of town. This will give you plenty of time to meet all the statues at Lake Ballard in the early morning or late afternoon (the prime viewing times) without having to race to or from Kalgoorlie. The hotel in Menzies serves meals, and if you shout one of the locals a beer, they might tell you how they became immortalised as one of the statues.
MEETING THE STATUES
So, with a packed lunch, plenty of water, sun protection and suitable footwear, it is on to Lake Ballard. The wide, unsealed road from Menzies has some corrugation, dust, floodways, cattle grids and numerous bends that should be taken at an easy speed. There are plenty of signs to indicate the way, and after about an hour there you are, parking near a posting that advises you about the statues along with a few cautions.
After a short walk, you’ll be carefully making your way along the shimmering surface of a salt lake, breaking through the thin, white crust to the mud underneath. The footprints of previous visitors add to the impression that aliens have landed, and there are even footprints of dingoes.
Spread out over 7sq km and at about 75m apart, the statues stand on a dead-flat landscape. Don’t make the mistake thinking you can spend half an hour here and be satisfied. There is something about each statue that makes you feel you must go and say hello to the next one. Here is a woman, middle-aged and a bit stooped, but with plenty of life still left in her. There is a man with a bit of a pot belly and plenty of tales to tell of too many rounds at the pub. A child, too, wanders along and you feel the urge to unite him with his parents. They cannot come to you so you must go to them. For proper introductions all around, allow at least two hours.
Afterwards, head to Snake Hill Lookout for an expansive view of where you have just been. This is Golden Quest Site 20 on the Discovery Trail, and the information board reveals that on the rare occasions that Lake Ballard floods, it becomes a frenzied breeding ground for banded stilts. No one can be sure what the stilts will think of the statues next time it floods.
Take it easy on the drive back to Menzies and stop in at the service station to add your comments to the guest book. It’s strange, but you’ll find that that mob of beings poised in the white terrain will stay in your memory, and, over that glass of wine and some nibbles, you’ll be sharing your Lake Ballard adventure with fellow travellers for years to come.