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Niagara Dam
A Western Australian goldfield oasis
Words and Images by: Colin Kerr W7871

It was back in 1897 that Niagara Dam was built just 10 kilometres outside of the booming little gold mining town of Kookynie, some 200 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie. In those days the town of 1,500 people and many more in surrounding mining camp areas, including the Niagara mine area, had a critical shortage of water, and at a cost equivalent to $128,000 – a huge sum in those days (and not peanuts even today) – the Dam construction went ahead. Water was also needed for steam trains which were to be heading north with the extension of the railway from Kalgoorlie.

The huge quantity of cement for the Dam wall was carted by camel trains, involving some 400 camels, from 250 kilometres away in Coolgardie. When completed, the Dam wall measured in at 228 metres long, 18 metres high and seven metres thick, with a holding capacity of 141,000 cubic metres of water. The wall was built across an ideal breakaway to dam the water fed from a 720 acre watershed. 

But there was just one problem; whilst all this was going on and before the Dam could actually start providing water for the town, a new permanent, good quality, underground water supply was found in the town itself. And so, the Dam that relied on the collection of rain water, which  would then need to have been piped some 10 kilometres to town, was no longer required. And thus, despite the significant cost and effort to build it over 100 years ago, Niagara Dam (also called Niagara Falls on some maps) was never used for the water supply or railway for which it was designed. Call it a ‘white elephant’ if you like, but today it is a beaut place for swimming, fishing, camping, picnics, and for visitors to call in and have a look.

Pink & grey galahs

The water in the Dam attracts a variety of bird life coming in for a drink and, once you have set up your campsite or enjoyed a cuppa, there are a couple of beaut, quite easy and well-marked walking trails with regular information panels to enjoy. One is the Round the Dam Trail (1,150 metres) and the second is the Breakaway Trail (1,600 metres) which takes walkers along the rim of the main breakaway and returns along the usually dry creek bed to the Dam. Up on top of the breakaway there is a nice lookout point which is worth stopping at before the short descent to the creek bed. The original name ‘Niagara Falls’, after its much more famous overseas namesake, must have been a real ‘tongue-in-cheek’ declaration as before the Dam was constructed the falls here were nothing more than a miniature replica and only flowed for a very short time with any vigour after really heavy rain.

Niagara Dam

Today, there is a fully sealed road to Niagara Dam some 60 kilometres north of Menzies via the Kookynie Road off the Goldfields Highway. There is a free gas barbecue, fire places (BYO wood), and toilet facilities as well as a chemical toilet dump point. Bins are provided, and for camping, there are beaut areas either on the edge of the breakaway overlooking the Dam or below the Dam wall which is nicely protected from the wind. This is one of the goldfield’s best freedom camping spots and a great place to rest for a day or two during your travels through this fascinating and quite historic goldfields region of Western Australia.

Remains of The National Hotel, kookynie

Whilst in the area, check out the scant remains of the old mining town of Niagara and the more substantial remains in the nearby town of Kookynie, including the still operating Grand Hotel.

Category: Destinations
Written: Tue 01 Jan 2013
Printed: January, 2013
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Colin Kerr W7871