Playing tourist in our home town, we visited the Perth Mint in central Perth the other week. It was the first visit for me but Monsieur has been there on a few occasions for various reasons and highly recommended it.
First stop was lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel on the opposite side of the street on the corner of Hill and Hay Streets. A beautifully restored heritage building, it serves good quality upmarket pub food in addition to a wide beverage selection.
We had booked to go on one of the hourly guided heritage walks that take place at Perth Mint (check on the link here for further details). The assembly point is at the front of the beautiful old limestone building dating back to the colonial era. The grounds are pretty and well maintained, a quiet oasis in a busy modern city.
Perth Mint originally opened on 20th June 1899 as one of only six branches of the Royal Mint London. Our guide was entertaining and knowledgeable and gave us a fascinating insight into the early days of the discovery of gold in the Western Australian outback from the 1880s onwards. The most significant finds were out near Coolgardie (about 550 kms east of Perth) in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 triggering a gold rush (see here). To this day this region is known as the Goldfields. Gold is still mined at various locations in the state.
We were able to see replicas of the gold nuggets found in the early days – life changing for the lucky gold prospectors! We also heard how lonely and unhappy the wife of the first governor of the Perth Mint was. Displaced from her social network in London she arrived in what was then still a relatively small settlement on the banks of the Swan River – it must have seemed like being transplanted to the back of beyond!
Perth Mint is the oldest operating mint in Australia but it no longer produces currency in everyday use (those coins are minted in Canberra). However it does produce a large amount of commemorative and collectible coins as well as a wide range of jewellery.
Moving inside we were taken to one of the tour highlights to see the enormous “One Tonne Gold Coin” officially the biggest coin in the world (Guinness Book Of Record 2012)!
We were led into a darkened room where this beautiful piece of work is proudly displayed on a plinth in the middle of the room. At night it disappears at a press of a button into a vault underneath. I’m quite sure it was heavily wired for security but it would be difficult to organise a heist even if you were so inclined as it weighs, as its name indicates, one tonne (99.99% pure gold)!
Next stop was the “Gold Pour” where, in the original gold smelting workshop (operations have long since moved to a more modern facility further out of town), you are treated to a demonstration of the casting of a gold bar. The melting point of gold is 1064 degrees centigrade! Our excellent demonstrator, Greg, talked us through the process whilst explaining the history of the work. Back in the day the poor gold “pourers” even wore asbestos aprons to “protect” themselves from burning.
Greg deftly poured the molten gold from the furnace into the ingot mould and cooled it down as soon as possible – it quickly became as hard as a rock. Not a job for the faint-hearted – the heat is incredible! We could sense how hot it was even from the back of the room (seating is auditorium style so you get a good view). Naturally no one can go near the stage for obvious reasons. I also don’t think it would be a suitable demonstration for very young children – certainly no one can move whilst the demonstration is taking place. Photos however were welcomed.
Afterwards you’re free to wander through the Mint’s exhibits. We learnt more about the Gold Rush history and saw some examples of the Perth Mint special coin ranges, which are available to buy in the Mint shop or else can be ordered online. We also tried out the weighing machine where you find out how much your weight in gold is worth. Suffice to say Monsieur is worth considerably more than I am!
You can either book the guided tour alone or pay extra to include Devonshire Tea at the Perth Mint cafe. Fortunately for me Monsieur had decided to do the latter. A very pleasant tea in the lovely cafe courtyard concluded a very enjoyable outing.
As a postscript don’t forget to have a browse in the well-stocked shop – you may need a substantial wallet though for some of the items!
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