The Agnew Loop

The Agnew Loop: Survival in a Strange Land (398.4km, 50% gravel roads, full day outing)

The discovery of gold in the 1890’s sparked a rush to this region – but the country the settlers came to was hot, harsh and horribly unforgiving. This trail tells many of the stories of what was often a struggle for survival as Europeans set out to make their way in a land that was both foreign and pitiless.

From coach roads and stock routes to wayside hotels and staging posts, and from vast pastoral stations to historic mines and the shooting-star settlements that they spawned – the social history of this struggle for survival is strung out along this Loop for your enjoyment. Drive the 300km in a clockwise direction – it is a comfortable day’s outing, but do check road conditions first as half the route is on gravel surfaces.


The Combined Experience: The Best of Both Trails (432.8km, 85% gravel, two days)

Starting from Leonora, you can overnight at Leinster, and drive the 430km "round the outside" of the combined loop in a two-day outing. However, it is important to check accommodation in both places before setting out, as room numbers and public availability are limited. Or you can camp out along the way, and take in the spectacular stars of the outback sky.

To undertake this drive, travel the Agnew Loop section in a clockwise direction until you reach the Darlot-Weebo Road, 15km south of the Lawlers-Darlot Track site. Then join the Darlot Loop section at the same junction midway between Goanna Patch/Thunderbox and the Transition Zone sites.

Leonora Information Bay
Length: 298.4km(s) (Is Loop)
Time: Full day
Difficulty: Medium
Historical Site
Drive Trail


All major junctions and all sites (stopping places) are signposted, but please note: this signposting is only fully functional for travel in a clockwise direction.

Note also that in some cases only the Trail logo appears on signage - so please familiarise yourself with these: the logo for the Agnew Loop is the man with a shovel.

You are strongly urged to carry up-to-date and detailed road and/or topographic mapping to augment the map in this guide, which is symbolic in nature. You will be travelling in remote locations and are responsible for knowing your surrounds - and your options - at all times!

These trails pass through a number of active pastoral properties - please do not travel off-road without the prior permission of the owner of manager.

Please also keep off active mining leases.

Old mine workings can be extremely dangerous. Be very careful, as many shafts are unmarked and unstable. In particular, keep children close to you at all times.

If you're travelling with a pet, never let them roam free. Baits containing 1080 poison have been scattered throughout this region to control wild dogs and foxes.

Points of Interest

Eight Mile Well

Information Bay to Eight Mile Well (14.7km)

The trail commences at the information bay and passes through Leonora, heading north out of town on the Goldfields Highway. You may wish to stop at the Visitor Information Centre on your way past. The gold mines that spawned the town are clearly visible on the left, including Edward "Doodah" Sullivan's original "Johannesburg Lease", which is now the Trump Mine. Sullivan is buried nearby, on a short track leading east off the highway.

The landscape visible from the road is clearly degraded, as is often the case close to a townsite. Buffel grass and over-grazing have combined to produce a heavily disturbed environment. Mulga becomes the dominant species after you turn onto the Old Agnew Road. 


Eight Mile Well to Kurrajong (18km, 32.7 cumulative)

From Eight Mile Well the trail continues north-west on the Old Agnew Road. Evidence of the historic stock route that followed the road in this area is still visible in the degraded nature of much of the vegetation on these mulga flats. Explore the remnants of the old Chaffers Mine site if you wish, but please do not salvage any "artefacts" you may find.

Crossing Sullivan Creek is a highlight - its fringe of rivergums is visible from quite a distance, and they make a cool and lovely border to the actual watercourse. Stop awhile, and take a stroll up or down the creek - you may well spot birds nests in the branches. 

Boxers Well

Kurrajong to Boxers Well (11.3km, 44km cumulative)

A few kilometres after leaving Kurrajong the trail passes through the low stony hills that attracted early prospectors, including Cutmore, Sullivan and Doyle. Several significant mines sprang up here, including the Diorite King, the Little Wonder and the King of the Hills. You can see many old shafts south of the road as you pass through the hills - but if you stop to explore, take care!

Old maps show two historic stock routes heading broadly north/north-west from Leonora. One is Reserve 9699, usually shown as the "Leonora-Peak Hill Stock Route" and the other is Reserve 17398, most commonly referred to as the "Leonora-Wiluna Stock Route". This latter route is thought to have connected with the Canning Stock Route, but information is now somewhat sketchy.

What is clear is that early movement of large numbers of stock along a relatively narrow corridor has left a lasting impact on this landscape. Understorey vegetation is almost non-existent, the result of sustained heavy grazing and the trampling impact of thousands of hard hooves. This impact is particularly noticeable around water points like Boxers Well, where stock would have often gathered for an overnight stop. Naturally, ongoing pressure from pastoral stock coming in to drink would have only exacerbated this situation. 

Doyles Well

Boxers Well to Doyles Well (14.8km, 58.8km cumulative)

Over-grazed gibber (stony) flats dominate the first part of this section. Then, some 5km into the drive, there is evidence of a major research project that took place on Sturt Meadows Station between 1998 and 2004-look for the fenced earth bund and unlikely rivergums.

As you approach Doyles Well you will encounter a series of tree-lined watercourses - these make up the combined drainage systems of Victory and Turkey Creeks, which flow southward into Lake Raeside. You may want to stop and walk around Cutmore's Well, sunk by the first prospecting party to come to this area in 1894. The remnants of the original long drinking trough are still evident, but the well is open, so please take care!

Boundary Fence

Doyles Well to Boundary Fence (21.9km, 80.7 cumulative)

Mulga flats dominate this section of the trail. However, the Bannockburn gold operations - that have been in a care and maintenance phase since 1998 - are a significant feature, with the operating plant immediately to the left of the road and two massive dams to the right. Interestingly, one of these dams has been revegetated while the other has not.

Poison Creek

Boundary Fence to Poison Creek (18.3km, 99km cumulative)

Topographical maps show significant north-to-south drainage patterns over much of this section. Rocky outcrops (including Wildara Pinnacle, 494m) send water spilling onto the road - where it is frequently trapped, or at least diverted into artificial drains, resulting in substantial areas of "road drought" on the southern (left-hand) side.

Poison Creek is a classic rangelands watercourse, lined with gnarled yet graceful rivergums. It is well worth walking the 500 metres downstream from the parking area to the main pool in the creek bed. Because of its depth this pool retains water for longer than most, making it highly attractive to travellers, past and present. The old well, some 200 metres beyond the site, is also worth investigating.

Sometime in the late 1890s James Nicolas (of Cobb & Co fame) registered "Business Area 23" adjacent to the pool here. This quickly became a change-station on the Lawlers-Leonora coach route, and by 1902 the premises had become a licensed inn. It is not known how long the inn here was in operation, though it would have continued to serve as a staging post at least until vehicles replaced coaches in 1910. It is thought the inn may have been situated near the old well, some 200 metres north of the parking area. 

Lawlers Townsite

Poison Creek to Lawlers Townsite (27.2km, 126.2km cumulative)

Once again creeks and watercourses dominate this section, especially in the second half. All of this water drains off the low hills and breakaways that parallel the road on the northern side. Take care at these crossing, as they can erode after storm events.

Look at a map of this part of Western Australia, and try to imagine just how remote Lawlers was in the early days. The nearest points of "civilisation" were Mt Magnet and Coolgardie. One was more than 320km to the west, while the other some 360km south. In both cases the land between was hot, dry and brutally inhospitable. Getting to and from Lawlers was a major challenge.

In 1896 the town was linked to Coolgardie by bicycle courier, and to Mt Magnet by a weekly coach trip taking three days. The Leonora-Lawlers coach run was well establish with a fortnightly mail run using camels, and the following year the Coolgardie-Lawlers telegraph line was completed. Transport and communication services sprang up remarkably quickly, especially given the harsh conditions. Now we can drive here in little more than an hour from Leonora, and all in air conditioned comfort!

Lawlers Cemetery

Lawlers to Lawlers Cemetery (2.2km, 128.4km cumulative)

The turn off for the cemetery is only 2.1km away from Lawlers townsite, so keep an eye out for the signage!


Lawlers Cemetery to Agnew (6.8km, 135.2km cumulative)

By 1900 the many small leases were being consolidated into a number of larger holdings. Primary amongst these was the East Murchison United Limited (or EMU as it was known). To facilitate the efficient transport of ore from the scattered mine sites, EMU set about building a light tramway.

By 1901 6km of light steam tramway had been built, to bring ore from the Donegal leases to the main crushing plant. The tramway doubled as a woodline, bringing in firewood to keep the steam boilers working. The following year the line was extended northward, to the Waroonga lease. In total almost 20km of line was laid, at the narrow gauge of just 2 foot, on a raised embankment which can still be found in places, some distance west of the road.


Agnew to Leinster (24.1km, 159.3km cumulative)

Modern Leinster is an excellent example of a purpose-built outback mining town. But the European history of this place extends well before it construction in 1976.

In 1895 Julius Anderson discovered a quartz reef "bristling with gold" about 30km north-east of Lawlers. Ironically, it was at a spot bypassed by hundreds of others who'd rushed past here to the new strike at Darlot a few months earlier. He and his prospecting mates registered Lease GML 15 here, and named it Leinster, most likely after the Irish province of the same name. Anticipating the need for a future townsite, the Government set aside a large reserve nearby and called it Leinster Common.

A few years later the mine had given up the best of its gold, and the mine manager's house, a substantial brick residence, became the Leinster Downs Station homestead. It was gutted by fire in 1936, but was soon rebuilt. For several decades the property was in the White family, who suffered through a crushing series of family tragedies. In the late 1970s it became the Agnew Pastoral Company, and not long after was sold to Western Mining, who were in the throes of developing the Leinster Nickel Operations - and the modern mining town you see here today. At that time it covered 361,544 hectares. In the late 1990s the station was still running some 5000 sheep, but in recent years it has been de-stocked.

Lawlers-Darlot Track

Leinster to Lawlers-Darlot Track (20.6km, 179.9km cumulative)

As you leave this shady spot in Leinster, it is worth noting that over a million trees have been planted since the town was established in the late 1970s. No wonder it feels so like an oasis. Having said that, nature does a might good job too, with several lovely stands of marble gum in this section of the trail. In particular, the area around the 15km mark is worth watching for - it is a classic marble gum spinifex landscape.

Indeed the drive down the highway brings tremendous variation in ecosystems, and an excellent opportunity to observe how strongly the dominant vegetation type is driven by the soil. Note the stunted mulga on the top of the rocky plateau, around the 18km mark.

Goanna Patch/Thunderbox

Lawlers-Darlot Track to Goanna Patch/Thunderbox (21.4km, 201.3km cumulative)

So much of the history of the goldfields seems to be tied up with the first 10 dramatic years, from 1895 to 1905. It is easy to forget that miners and prospectors have been out here, still doing it tough in their search for the yellow metal, for the hundred years since.

Goanna Patch is a classic example - discovered in 1958, it never produced a substantial mine but threw up just enough gold to keep a number of hardy men at work on various leases for ten years or more.

Sullivan Creek

Goanna Patch/Thunderbox to Sullivan Creek (54.8km, 256.1km cumulative)

**Please note: Wilson's Patch stop (located between Goanna Patch and Sullivan Creek) is now closed and not accessible due to a minesite in the area, but may still show on some maps. Please do not enter this area as the mine is active and blasting occurs regularly.

Some lovely breakaways are a highlight of the drive down the highway-in particular, the Ford Run Plateau is noteable to the west of the road, between 15 and 17km into the section. As with all breakaways, the colours are at their best in the early morning or late afternoon.

Perhaps the healthiest stand of mulga on the whole trail is to be found to the east of the highway around 8km north of Sullivan Creek. It is likely that by some quirk of history this area has been little grazed over the years, and has escaped being cut down for wood for mines or steam boilers.

Station Creek

Sullivan Creek to Station Creek (29.9km, 286km cumulative)

After passing through some 10km of mulga flats the trail enters a quite different landscape, with low stony ridges dominating the next 15km. They are not the only "bump" on the horizon - the vast Tarmoola Mine is worth stopping to view, just to get a clearer picture of the sheer scale of some of the mining operations. Though it is some distance to the north-west, it is still an impressive spectacle. The rivergums lining Station Creek are a welcome sight, rising up beyond the mulga at the end of the section.


Station Creek to Leonora (12.4km, 298.4km cumulative)

As you travel the final section of the Agnew Loop you can see other components of the Station Creek Water Supply Scheme - the access road to the main pump station, and then the water tanks, on the summit of Mt George, from where they gravity-feed into Leonora. Mines too are very evident, as is the increasing degradation of the natural landscape on the approach to town. At the end of your day's journey, spare a thought for those who travelled this country a hundred years ago... 

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