To mix it up a bit, as is our want, rather than head straight home after finishing the Great Central Road, which ends at Laverton approximately 350kms north east of Kalgoorlie, we headed north a short stint to get to Sandstone.
Sandstone was founded on gold in the late 1800’s and once boasted a population of 6000, four pubs, two butchers etc. etc., you know the drill. A few years later, early 1900’s, the alluvial (easy to find) gold dried up and the town shrunk to 200 residents and it currently has just over one hundred permanent residents. Most of the town buildings were deconstructed and moved to other booming town sites however the old Telegraph/Mail office and the National Pub still remain as the original buildings.
We thought Sandstone would make an unusual place to stay for our trip home and we weren’t disappointed. Firstly, for a tiny town the caravan park is excellent. There’s plenty of transient gold prospectors around and the council run caravan park is a credit to the shire. A block away is the old National Pub, the only remaining ‘store’ in the town which is pub by night and general store by day. We headed there for a looksee and arrived just in time for happy hour! As you’d expect in a town like this, the small bar was relatively crowded with rough’ish looking locals and the prospectors. We managed to plonk ourselves on the bar and proceeded to drink and observe, before engaging in some banter with the punters.
During the evening, we met and got chatting to a couple from Fremantle who’d come here in January to prospect, found 23gms of gold and had returned for another go but so far after three weeks they’d not found a single gram more. There was the young English barmaid, who had travelled here from Melbourne after running out of money there and had been in Sandstone for 3 months. She was leaving for Perth, via Kalgoorlie, on Monday before heading back to the old country for a white Christmas. She worked for Scruffy, the publican, who we got chatting to later in the evening. He was dressed in the traditional fluoro yellow safety clothes and it didn’t take much imagination to figure out how he got his nickname. He was obviously reasonably positioned to be running the pub and we later found out he was also the local gold buyer, buying the gold from the prospectors and got talking to an ‘old timer’ who’d brought his dog into the pub with him – another paragraph on him later. There’s plenty of memorabilia around the place, old photos’ etc. and on a wall in the pool room, there’s the beginnings of a painted mural of the bar area and some of the locals. Even though we’d only spent a few hours in the bar, Jules and I were easily able to pick out 5 of the 15 or so characters painted on the wall…. All in all, a nice evening, in an old pub with an open fireplace, full of characters.
Jules had read on WikiCamps about Di’s Pies and a Saturday street market so this morning we stopped in at the two stall marketplace. Stall one is run by William, an Asian bloke who’s been in Sandstone for 7 years, loves it. He grows and sells his own vegetables and makes and sells lovely bread (we bought a loaf). Next to William is Di’s stand… Di is very much larger than life, engaging and chatty, and verbally as rough as guts. She’ll make you a pie or pastie on the spot as she has all the pie and pastie filling in preheated warmers and the pastry ready to go, so when you order she bungs it all together into a pie cooker for the hottest and freshest pie you’ll ever eat. The pie is a mince based affair, not your traditional beef and gravy gig, but she adds her own ‘special bush spices’, which she also sells by the bag (we got one of those as well). Jules got the pastie and I got the pie and our only complaint was that they were too bloody big and we struggled to finish them. Even though I told Di they were, they weren’t the best pies I’d ever had, Gemtree still has that title, however, they were bloody good and well worth the interaction with Di, another local Sandstone character. Which brings me back to the old timer in the pub with his dog…
He was also at Di’s pie stand in the morning so we got talking to him again. In our two brief conversations the previous night and this morning, we’d learnt he was 64, 65 in Jan. He was from east of Meekatharra. His wife had died a little while ago and since then he’d basically travelled with his dog, where he liked, prospecting. He was in Sandstone to sell his gold to Scruffy and he informed me that “he was doing pretty good” with finding gold, although his next stint was to go prospecting for fossils. Whilst patting his pooch, he also happened to mention that his last dog, Sky, had been taken by a shark… Now that’s a story you don’t hear too often and Jules remembered reading something like this a few years ago, so following some post conversation Googling we found this article. In 2014, Franz as we now know him, who was 62 at the time, was spearfishing for his dinner off Point Samson when he noticed two sharks nearby. Sky his dog was in the boat waiting for him. However, when he surfaced he noticed blood in the water and no Sky in the boat, presumably Sky had jumped in and been taken by the shark. Of all the people we met in Sandstone, Franz is the one that captured our imagination and hearts. A quietly spoken gentleman of the bush who’s obviously lived a full and adventurous life.
Sadly we were so entranced by the people of Sandstone that I only took one pic, that is of the London Bridge, a slowly eroding natural rock bridge. Oh well, this just means we’ll have to revisit sometime.