With only a short drive of 60km from Kambalda we arrived about 11am and were allowed to check into the caravan park early. We managed a quick lunch after set up and even a load of washing to hang under the awning in the sun before we found out way into the tour office for our Super Pit tour. Each person was provided with a high vis vest and safety glasses and we had to wear long trousers, long sleeves and shoes and socks that fully covered our feet. There was probably about 40 people on the tour. As we drove out to the mine we watched a safety video on the bus and Wes, our driver explained that the mine is managed by KCGM (Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Pty Ltd) which is now American/Canadian on behalf of joint owners Newmont Mining Corporation and Barrick Australia Pacific. The operation runs 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. The mine employs about 1000 workers who work 12 hour shifts, 7 days per week on a week on, week off roster. The shift is from 5:30am to 5:30pm although they do have some school shifts from 9am to 3pm. The workforce is 60% men and 40% women.
Heading out of town towards the pit we passed the headframe for Mt Charlotte underground mine and we stopped outside the gates to watch the conveyor belt taking out the waste rock. Wes told us the underground mine was below the road we were travelling on. This waste rock is then crushed and fed back in to the mine to stabilise the area.
We had to wait our turn to enter the Super Pit site as only one bus is allowed on site at any time and Wes explained that all workers and visitors can be random breath or drug tested at any time. There is zero tolerance and if caught you will not removed from the site and not allowed to return in the future. In this instance non of us were selected for testing so we drove in to the mine area.
Our first stop was at the Tyre Change Out Facility and the workshop area. The building must be high enough for the haul trucks to be serviced. They are first washed down using salt water which is underground here but is seven times saltier than the ocean. Water is precious here as they only average 230ml per year and all water for consumption is piped in from Perth. The size of the tyres was such that they are as tall as the full height of the bus and they each weigh about 5 tonnes when fully dressed and take 45minutes each to change using a tyre handler. The bus could also drive under the bucket of the haul truck. There was also some older machinery here waiting for disposal. We think we have used some diesel on this trip but the mine uses 5 to 6 million litres of diesel each month.
The costs of machinery is simply too much to consider. The PC 8000 Face Shovel in the third photo costs $18.5 million each and there are 4 on site. They have a maximum speed of 2.4km/ph. There are 40 793 haul trucks on site at a cost of $4.4 million each and their maximum speed is 55km/ph.
Continuing along the roads in the mine we stopped at a lookout point at the eastern end of the mine and got our first up close of the pit itself and the machinery at work. Gold was first discovered in Kalgoorlie in 1893 and that started the pegging of the Golden Mile. Alan Bond in the 1980’s was one of the brains behind amalgamating the four remaining mines which eventually became the Super Pit. The small black hole towards the back of the photo are existing mines that they continue to find and on the right of the photo you can see a recent landslide which has hindered operations. You can just make out the equipment on the bottom.
The Super Pit covers more than 35,000 hectares of leases and is made up of 260 individual mining leases joined together. It can be seen from space and fills the landscape to the north east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. It is 3.5km long, 1.5km wide and 600 metres deep. In the photo below you can see a usual size 4WD heading up the road while one of the haul trucks is heading in to the mine.
Back in the bus we then headed for a lookout on the side of the mine for different views before finishing the tour and heading back to town. Wes pointed out the top of the tower on the town hall which is pure gold and was given to the town by KCGM.
He also told us that the large police station here is home to the Gold Stealing Detection Squad. It investigates criminal activity and allegations at all stages of the gold production process in the state.The unit consists of a very small number of detectives but is the oldest specialist police service in Western Australia.
KCGM produces around 700,000 ounces of gold each year or 22,000 kg a year or 60kg per day. Current plans will see processing continue until 2029 although this is always under review. The tour ran for just under two hours in total and we thought it was worth the money spent. There is a public viewing platform above the super pit which we checked out. While it gives you a good idea via information panels and views across the narrow side of the mine we learned a lot more on the tour.