If you ever wanted a physical depiction of the way ‘gold fever’ gripped and then deserted areas of WA in years gone by, then you probably don’t need to look much further than Broad Arrow.
In its heyday in the mid-to-late 1890s, Broad Arrow (located 38km north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder) had a population of 2400 in the town itself with substantially more in the surrounding area. All those people supported a stock exchange, a cordial factory, a hospital with a special fever ward, two banks, a resident magistrate and mining registrar, three churches, a chemist, a police station, a post office, a Salvation Army Hall, half a dozen grocery stores, two drapers, two blackmiths, two bakeries, two breweries and no fewer than eight hotels!
Originally known and gazetted as Kurawah – an Aboriginal name for the site – Broad Arrow was declared a municipality in 1897 and provided administrative and public facilities for a variety of smaller mining areas such as Smithfield, Black Flat, White Flag, Grant’s Patch and Ora Banda. It’s said the name of the town came from one of the original gold prospectors and discoverers Charlie Reison, who reportedly marked broad arrows on the ground to direct mates who were going to join him in his mining venture.
Broad Arrow was a stopping point on the Kalgoorlie-to-Menzies railway line and there was a “several times a day” service to Kalgoorlie.
Yet by 1911 the population had dropped away to less than 300 and by the mid-1920s Broad Arrow had effectively been abandoned.
Today all that really remains of the town is an old water tank, a few houses and the iconic Broad Arrow Tavern. It’s not much, but in the context of other boom-and-bust locations like Kunanalling – reportedly home to the first pub counter meals in Australia – that’s actually relatively substantial.
Why Broad Arrow has been able to sustain a pub while other Goldfields ghost towns have disappeared entirely is not entirely clear. The fact it sits just off the Goldfields Highway, only half an hour’s drive from Kalgoorlie-Boulder, has probably been of assistance.
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The outback pub’s enduring popularity is reflected in the hundreds (and likely thousands) of signatures and messages that adorn the tavern’s wall…a long-time practice that had to be ended in 2020 because some of the “artists” weren’t showing the required levels of respect and decorum.
Based on our visit in August 2022, the Broad Arrow Tavern attracts a steady flow of tourists to go with more local customers, some of whom work in mining operations in the area. The Broady Burger is, by all accounts, highly recommended.
As a previous owner noted in 2020 when the venue was up for sale: “You’ll never make a million dollars but you can make a living out of it.”
While surrounding gold deposits weren’t enough to keep Broad Arrow thriving, the ghost town does hold a claim to fame in Australian cinematic history, having been home to production of the 1970s movie Nickel Queen (starring radio personality and Valvoline spruiker John Laws, and based loosely on the infamous Poseidon nickel bubble).
And successful mining does continue nearby, with Norton Gold Fields’ Paddington operations also just off the Goldfields Highway, located only a few kilometres closer to Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
This story was compiled with the assistance of the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society, including a very helpful “Broad Arrow Facts and Figures” document and a history of Broad Arrow between 1895 and 1955, written by noted Goldfields historian Harry Ware.