Leinster – Western Australia’s Newest Ghost Town and Gold Fields History in the Making?
Things are changing fast – Leinster as it is now will be very different to how it is described in this article.
When I visited on my most recent road trip through the Gold Fields it was a seemingly thriving mining town (albeit with possible signs of imminent decline), but the latest news is that BHP is winding up its nickel mining operations in the area – and as Leinster is owned and run by BHP for the singular purpose of supporting the mines, it’s future is looking very uncertain. Shops and services are closing up and the population is moving out.
So take this article as a historic snapshot in time rather than a usual destination guide. Most of the attractions and things to do will still apply, but the services, shops and accommodation will probably not exist any more.
But you never know – with the way the mining industry goes things could change again in the next few years and Leinster might be back in business again… or it might languish and turn into a ghost town or a town-that-once-was.
Leinster, Western Australia : As it was…
Why visit Leinster, Western Australia? Well, that’s a good question! Leinster is not a tourist’s town, but it is a great place to stop, refresh and resupply when you’re on a long road trip passing through the Gold Fields of Western Australia.
When we visited, Leinster felt to us like an orderly little oasis of green trees and modern suburbia plonked in the middle of the vast dry outback, thousands of miles from civilisation. It was so very different to other towns we passed through on our journey such as Menzies, Leonora and Sandstone, all of which are older and rougher and seem to blend into the harsh ancient landscape surrounding them.
Leinster as it is today
Leinster as it is today in 2015 is Gold Fields history in the making. As the mining operations stop and the businesses in town close and the residents move out, it will be following the likes of so many WA mining towns such as Sandstone, Kookynie and Agnew through times of prosperity and decline. I can’t say exactly what the future holds for Leinster, and will be very interested to see what’s there when I’m next travelling through the Gold Fields.
Some History and Background Info About Leinster, Western Australia
Leinster is located 374km north up the Goldfields Highway from Kalgoorlie. It is a town purpose-built to house and provide services for the workers on nearby minesites, and some of their families.
Apart from mining, the land surrounding Leinster has also long been used for grazing sheep on large stations.
Like every WA town, Leinster has/had its corny town slogan or two, either the “Home of the Wedge Tailed Eagle” or “The Jewel of the Northern Goldfields”.
The area where Leinster exists now was first mined on a large scale back in 1897 when the East Murchison United Company (EMU) began working on alluvial gold deposits near where the Agnew gold mine is today.
During the 1970’s there was a speculative boom in nickel prices and exploration throughout Western Australia’s Eastern Gold Fields followed.
The actual town of Leinster began in 1976 when the Nickel Mine of Agnew Gold Mining Company was granted a special 21 year lease to create a town in support of the Agnew nickel mine. The town was named after the nearby Leinster Downs Station, which itself was probably named after Leinster province in Ireland.
In 1989 the company Western Mining took over operations of the mine, recommissioning it and renaming it “Leinster Nickel Operation”. The company also took over the management of the town of Leinster. Most recently the Leinster Nickel Project and the Leinster townsite have been owned and run by the mining company BHP Billeton.
Between 2002 and 2007 gold was also mined at Leinster. But the main mineral mined around Leinster over the past 40 years was nickel. One-third of the world’s known nickel ore reserves are located in Australia, predominantly Western Australia, and most of the mines are located around Kambalda, Leinster and Laverton.
Around the early-mid 2010’s the townsite consisted of 283 houses and around 800 single persons quarters, plus various shops and services. The number of permanent residents was around 700 and there are an additional 700 or so workers who fly in – fly out.
On the 31st October 2013 there was a collapse in Leinster’s Perseverance Mine following an earth tremor, trapping nine mine workers for nine hours. Luckily none were injured. The mine was deemed unsafe and closed down, resulting in the loss of about 200 jobs.
In recent times (April 2015) the mining boom is on the decline, and nickel mining has become less profitable. WA nickel mines are closing down, and Leinster is closing down too. Time will tell what happens next.
Visiting Leinster: Travel Information
Attractions and Things to Do
Leinster is pretty thin on tourist attractions and things to do, to be honest! The main attraction is simply vast the outback landscape and breakaway rock formations. One rock outcrop that’s worth checking out is on the road into town, the one shown in the photo at the top of this page. It’s quite small but it has a hole through which you can frame some interesting landscape photos.
About an hour’s drive west of Leinster towards Sandstone on the Agnew-Sandstone Road, the rest area Peter Denny Lookout is worth a stop for the views looking out from the top of a large breakaway formation. This would be one of the nicer roadside stops to camp the night at if you don’t want to stay in town.
For a bit of early 20th century gold rush history head over to Agnew, a ghost town not far away. Have a drink or a meal at the old Agnew pub (if it’s still open).
Otherwise, the main things to do are to relax or run errands in town or make the most of the sporting facilities which include a swimming pool and a very dry and dusty golf course, or go out exploring and gold prospecting in the surrounding country.
The water out of the tap in Leinster is from an underground bore and has a high mineral concentration. It’s safe enough to drink for adults as in it’s not going to poison you, but the high nitrate level makes it unsuitable for babies. You can get filtered water from a tank located outside the medical centre at 25 Link Road or buy some at the shops.
Shopping, Services, Supplies and Petrol
Leinster is great value for an outback outpost so make the most of it and restock everything you need there!
The Leinster supermarket gets its stock flown in daily so it’s all nice and fresh. The costs of getting stock to such an isolated location are subsidised by BHP, making the prices comparable to supermarkets in Perth. The petrol also seemed to be cheap compared to other outback towns but I don’t know for sure if it’s subsidised as well.
Other shops and services in town include a beautician, post office, service station, newsagency, coffee shop, hairdressing salon and plant nursery. There is also a public swimming pool (closed during winter), a gym and sporting facilities.
Where to get a meal in Leinster
The Leinster Tavern
Drinks and pub grub eg. pizza, salad, chicken parmigiana, steak, burger, chips. Decent quality food and value for money. Open in the evening for dinner.
Leinster Workers’ Mess
All you can eat for $15, by all accounts good quality food although we didn’t eat there. Maybe next time!
Cafe in the shopping centre
Coffee, milkshakes, toasties, breakfasts, etc. Typical country town cafe.
Good range and value. Stock up at the supermarket for self-catering.
Options for accommodation in Leinster are limited because not many tourists stay there overnight, but are not bad value for money.
A motel associated with the tavern. Has 16 rooms with ensuite and air-con some double, some single. (08) 9037 9556
Leinster Caravan Park/Campground
$20/night includes free use of washing machines. Showers and toilets; powered and unpowered sites; trees provide some shade; extensive natural scrubland area for tent camping. (08) 90271328
Free roadside camping outside of town
Various locations. Peter Denny Lookout although a fair distance west of Leinster is a good option.
One Night in Leinster, WA : Staying at the Leinster Caravan Park
For a bit more about Leinster and a review of the caravan park as it was when I stayed there, click here to read about the time I stayed there.
Please note that Leinster will be very different to how I saw it last. Things change quickly in the mining world from boom to bust, and Leinster’s very existence as a town depends on the profitability of the nickel mines that support it.
Anything written in an old-fashioned font and with a grey background may be out of date. Ring the Leonora shire office to find out exactly what’s happening: (08) 9037 6044.
Alternatives to Staying in Leinster:
- Leonora – an old gold mining town about 2 hours drive south of Leinster with several accommodation options including a caravan park, plus a well-stocked supermarket, petrol station and other services. Lots of interesting tourist attractions in the area.
- Sandstone – an old town about 2 hours drive west from Leinster with a dwindling population but lots to see and do in the area. It has a good-value caravan park and a hotel.
- Niagara Dam (free camp) – a beautiful spot to camp by water north-east of Leonora. No facilities.
- Kookynie Hotel – an old characterful hotel in the ghost town Kookynie. The hotel is the only building still open in town.
- Peter Denny Lookout – a nicer than average roadside rest area where you can free camp. Enjoy beautiful views from the top of a breakaway. No facilities.
- Roadside rest areas and free camping – if you just need a place to stay the night this is always an option. Niagara Dam or Peter Denny Lookout are both nice spots.
- Station stays – Some stations in the Gold Fields and Murchison that provide accommodation for travellers.
Last Updated: 14th May, 2015.
First posted on 20th April, 2015 by Bonny.
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