Marvel Loch

The gold mining town of Marvel Loch is located twenty-two miles south of Southern Cross. 

Over the past one hundred years the population of Marvel Loch has risen and fallen several times, its fortunes tied to the price of gold and willingness of shareholders to invest in mines floated with rosy promises. Marvel Loch was once the district centre for the mines that surrounded it.

The history of Marvel Loch commenced with the finding of Marvel Loch mine by Jack Lenneberg in mid-1905.  Although gold mining in the region started some fifteen years earlier with the discovery of Parkers Range and Jacoletti and Toomey Hills, the Marvel Loch mine remained hidden beneath twelve feet of clay.  Its discovery led to the development of a township of the same name. 

Lenneberg and Markham promptly took up the lease with the backing of a consortium of Southern Cross businessmen, the name Marvel Loch chosen by the finder in honour of the horse which won the 1905 Caulfield Cup. 

In September 1908, a town site comprising sixteen blocks was laid out, taking its name from the Marvel Loch mine. However, the town site was inconveniently located away from the mining activity and eighteen months later another was surveyed a mile north, where the town stands today.  

Sam West and Andrew Roberts and others opened shops in the new town, which led to a situation of new town and old town a mile apart with shops on each.  

A Progress Association was formed and the chief streets in the new township were named Lenneberg, Williamson, and King, after pioneer prospectors.  The streets were gravelled.  

As Marvel Loch mine went from strength the strength, so did the town.  In December 1909, a school was erected on the corner of King and Overington Streets. Although it was only a tent it did the job for two years.  Girls were expected to wear a clean pinny each day.  In the same year the telephone line from Southern Cross was linked up.

In 1910, a liquor licence was provided to a new hotel built in Marvel Loch - it was known as the South Yilgarn Hotel and still stands today.  

The new town and old town between them had two hotels, a billiard saloon, three grocers, three boarding houses, a greengrocer, butcher, baker, Druids lodge, and a school. 

By this stage motor vehicles were becoming more prevalent.  Mailman Gordon Sprunt took passengers in his Ford car from Southern Cross to Marvel Loch three days per week. Harper the baker delivered bread around the area in his lorry.

Marvel Loch continued to grow. A branch of WA Bank opened, Gordon Sprunt started a newsagency, a visiting dentist came monthly, an athletics club was established, and oil lamps attended to by residents were erected in the main street. A proper school building was erected during October 1911, replacing the tent.  A new police station also went up, ending the practise of chaining prisoners to a tree.  Religion received a boost when the Methodists moved the old Anglican Church at Southern Cross to Marvel Loch.  It opened in January 1912.

By this stage, water shortage was affecting the gold output so the government agreed to connect Marvel Loch to the Goldfields Pipeline.  It was going to cost £11,000.  A 5-inch pipe was duly laid from Ghooli to Marvel Loch, the township reticulated, a standpipe erected at the corner of Aurum and Lenneberg streets, and an extension pipe laid to the mine.  The official opening was performed by Engineer Law in July 1912. 

In early 1914, the Marvel Loch Progress Association erected a casualty ward on the hospital reserve.  A government doctor took up residence, and the town now had medical facilities for the first time.

The First World War of 1914/18 had a huge impact on mining at Marvel Loch despite it being on the other side of the world.  Most of the workforce enlisted to fight overseas.  Although 1915 produced a record gold production, most mines eventually closed due lack of labour. 

With closure of their leading mine, the population of Marvel Loch plummeted.  Marvel Loch would never again attain the dizzy heights of being almost as big as Southern Cross. 

To some degree the Marvel Loch district was spared the ignominy of being completely deserted.  During 1927/28, the area was opened to farming.  Ninety-eight farms of around 1,000 acres each were surveyed west and north of Marvel Loch and allocated to dusted miners who were unfit to continue their former occupation.  The area became known as Miners Settlement.   

Several shops including the post office reopened as the population increased. Duncan McLaren set up his store in 1932, one tent for sleeping and one from which he sold groceries.  Later he built a small house with shop attached opposite the hotel, and brought out his wife and two children from Scotland.   

As demand increased, a camping reserve of nine acres was gazetted.  Such was the growth of Marvel Loch that the school reopened in 1933, after being closed for nine years.

A police presence was re-introduced at Marvel Loch.  Constable Farrell arrived in March 1936 to take over the police barracks that had been unoccupied since 1916. 

In 1937, the pub owners erected a new hall at the rear of the hotel.  The building still stands.  In further improvements the local telephone service was extended from 6pm to 8pm daily.  A wireless set was installed at the school.  

Although mining at Marvel Loch and Mount Palmer continued, farming was reeling because of the depression.  By late 1930’s nearby Miners Settlement was in a bad way.  A quarter of the original settlers had died from health problems brought on by previously working underground.  Others walked off their properties because of mounting debt, surrendering their farms to the Bank. Those left on the land struggled.

During the war only a handful of farmers remained on Miners Settlement.  It was the end for Gatherer School which had closed and the building sold off.  Today, a plaque situated in a small cleared area along the Marvel Loch Road is all that remains to indicate the last of Gatherer School and Miners Settlement.  The depression followed by war had sunk the government’s dream of opening up a vast wheat growing tract with Southern Cross at its centre.

During the 1950’s and 60’s Marvel Loch was only a shadow of its former self as it went into decline once more.  The township consisted of the main street with a shop, petrol bowser, post office, and a hotel.  A few houses were scattered amongst the gum trees. 

In August 1980, the Marvel Loch mine reopened after forty-two years. It was a heady time for Marvel Loch with mining in full swing.  However, by year 2005 it was clear that the boom was over, and the town went into decline once more when mining tapered off.  Rising costs and falling values closed one mine after another.  Houses were sold off and the school closed with the remaining children bussed to Southern Cross from the beginning of 2006.

Recently mining has recommenced in the area, and the buzz is around the rich mining and farming town of Marvel Loch once again.

(Excerpts taken from Marvel Loch history written by Lance Stevens—for more information, or the full story on Marvel Loch, please visit the Yilgarn History Museum)