Mount Magnet was at one time a major mining hub but over the years deposits have been worked out and most of the
miners have moved on. Hill 50 mine was once the deepest and richest underground operation in Australia.
The town is still important as the geographic centre of the Murchison region and acts as both a supply and
The best time to visit the area is during the cooler winter months (May-August) as the long hot summers can
be very uncomfortable.
Named in 1854 by Robert Austin
who discovered that a nearby hill had magnetic properties. Austin also reported the likely presence of gold in the area but due to labour shortages
at the time, the authorities kept the information to themselves. The Aboriginal name was Warramboo.
In 1858 the area was once again explored by Trigg and Gregory who also reported the likely existence of gold. Their report was
ignored just as Austin’s had been.
In 1879 the Watson family settled on Yoweragabbic Station and became the first pastoralists and graziers in the area. They were
followed by the Jones family on Boogardie Station.
It was 1888 before M.R. Burke lodged the first gold specimen from the Murchison and it was he, not Austin, who was credited with making the
discovery. George Woodley
and Tom Sampey also found gold at the same time but did not register their claim until July 1891.
Settlement began in 1892 after gold was discovered and the townsite gazetted in June 1895.
Steadman was apparently looking for the swag of a prospector (who lost it when he was somewhat the worse for wear after a drinking session)
when he stumbled across a 2oz nugget of gold. He told his employer (Watson) who organised a search and turned up 200oz.
The Murchison Goldfields, covering some 32,000 square kilometres was proclaimed in September 1891. In the first 11 months 11,000 ounces of
gold were extracted.
By the time the railway arrived in 1896 the town was taking on a more solid and permanent appearance and the area developed rapidly until
1905 when fortunes started to reverse.
By 1902 there were 14 hotels in the town as well as 2 newspapers and 30 or more mines. Mining declined by 1915 but there are still some mines
working the area to this day.
'What's at Magnet?' the boy asked.
'Three gins and a goat,' Alan Lamb said, 'most days. And a street about half a mile wide.'
‘…a wide upland plain… …is covered with mulga bushes and occasional patches of salt bush. The aspect is dreary in the extreme, and in
consequence of the insignificant annual rainfall, the red earth is generally bare.’
Twentieth Century Impressions of W.A. 1901
When gold was found at Payne’s Find in 1911 a new track to Perth was opened up to the south.
By 1920 motor cars had started to appear, aeroplanes were starting to reduce the isolation of the bush and the introduction of the pedal
radio set was to make life easier (and safer) for those living in far flung towns and stations. In fact radio communications were so vital
that they were still in use on Narndee Station right up until 1985.
Mount Magnet suffered the highs and lows of any outback town. Wars, depressions, droughts, all came and went but after a revival in the
1960s there was a crash in gold and wool prices during the 1970s and for a while it looked as though the town would be abandoned.
Businesses closed and moved away, mines closed and even the local hospital shut down.
A few hardy souls kept the town going and the 1980s saw a mining revival that continued into the next century. The price of gold soared
and in the space of 4 years the town’s population increased by 300%. There was an acute accommodation shortage and it was common to see
up to 50 caravans squatting on vacant land around the town.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Flight Lieutenant John James Osmond D.F.C. grew up in Mount Magnet. His father had served as a machine gunner in World War 1 and was taken prisoner.
John joined the RAAF in World War 2 and flew with the pathfinder squadron. This was a particularly dangerous job as the pathfinders went in ahead of
the main formation to drop flares on the targets. This meant they were alone and heavily targeted by the flak guns below. It was said that on one
occasion John’s plane was caught by a number of searchlights and in order to shake them off he had to turn the plane upside down and dive with a full load of bombs aboard.
Eventually John’s plane was shot down but he survived and like his father became a POW. Sadly on his return home he was killed in a vehicle accident
when his motorcycle ran into a bogged truck stuck in a creek on a dark night. He was just 24 years old.
Another aviator to come out of Mount Magnet was Bruce Wood. After joining the RAAF and serving in Vietnam he returned to Australia and served as a flight
instructor, Squadron Leader, Flight Commander and was eventually posted to Washington DC (USA) as the Air Attaché.
Pretty Boy no longer pretty.
Pretty Boy (real name unrecorded) went on a bender and when he ran out of money got a very bad case of the D.Ts. Locals saw him wandering down the street
with a cigar in his mouth, but as he got closer they realised that it was actually a plug of dynamite with a fuse attached.
As Pretty boy proceeded to light the fuse everyone in the vicinity dived for cover and there was a loud BANG! The result of which was Pretty Boy’s body –
minus its head – lying slumped across the path.
New Chum’s luck.
Mickey the Priest (who was no Priest at all) was a ‘new chum’ on the goldfields near Lake Austin and used to constantly pester the old timers about where
he could find gold. Eventually they got tired of his continual questions and they pointed out a rocky outcrop that was known to be barren and told him to try there.
Mickey didn’t have the tools to break up the rocky outcrop so instead he sank a drive next to the reef. Imagine the surprise of the old timers when Mickey
struck a rich lode that he eventually sold to an English consortium for a good price.
Even with that bit of good luck Mickey was not wise with his good fortune and was seen some time later working for wages at Sandstone.
The ghost of a murdered man was said to haunt the railway yard and the story of his murder is as follows:
A stranger arrived in town by train looking for French Maggie. She was living in a building at the end of the railway yard with two male ‘friends’.
A violent argument was heard coming from the house and the next morning Maggie and her companions quickly left town.
Some months later the stranger’s body was found at the bottom of an abandoned shaft of the New Chum Mine.
A terrible thirst.
When a local miner was banned from the local pub he became desperate, so desperate for a drink in fact that he cut off a section of broom stick, wrapped it in red
gelignite paper, put in a fuse, lit the fuse and tossed it through the bar window. The drinkers all fled the bar only to return after some time when there was no
explosion, to find their glasses were all empty.
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Gold prospecting, Heritage walk, Tourist drive, Amphitheatre, Lennonville, Mining and pastoral museum.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Old shire building, Grand hotel, Mt. Magnet Hotel.
State : North West
Federal : Durack
Postcode : 6638
Local Government : Shire of Mount Magnet
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