The tiny West Australian town of Sandstone was born in the goldrush but today gold can be found in another place – the hearts of the locals.

Story By John Denman

Beth Walton stood on the verandah of the Sandstone Primary School and laid a hand on the old brick walls. “I went to school here,” she says. “It seems a long time ago and it is, but I’m back in Sandstone, and I love it.” Deeply attached to the little town, 660 kilometres north of Perth, Beth has a rich vein of stories and lore on the region, many passed on to her by her mother. “Mum came here at the age of three and became a great stock woman, and spent a lot of time as a contract musterer,” she says. “Before that she and Dad took a couple of mobs down the Canning Stock Route.” In later life, Beth’s mother Betty continued to muster cattle using a quad bike right up until her early seventies. “The dogs would ride on the bike with her, but they’d get off if she came to a sandy creek bed,” Beth says. “They’d seen her tip over before and didn’t want any part of that!” Sandstone school has a total enrolment of about 10 children, and after spending time away from the town and completing a business-administration course Beth returned to handle the administration of the school. She also took on the job of Shire President. “You don’t have any time to get bored here,” she says. One of the people Beth works with is Bill Atkinson, chief executive officer of Sandstone Shire. In the modest offices of the shire Bill oversees the running of an area covering 28,000 square kilometers. “We’re about 6,000sq km bigger than Israel,” he says. Like most of the people who call Sandstone home, Bill is deeply committed to it, even if he can only claim two years residence. “We’ve got a permanent population of 150 in the Shire,” he says. The town that was born in a goldrush, and then faded, may be in for a new influx. “The future of the town is well and truly tied to mining,” he says. “There have been new discoveries of gold, and uranium, and there’s some intense exploration going on for iron ore.” A fly-in fly-out population of mining people boosts the permanent numbers by another 100 or so.

This story excerpt is from Issue #54

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2007