I’m a huge fan of Google Earth and I think it’s one of the coolest things the information age has ever come up with. I’ve spent countless hours exploring our world through this fascinating tool, and it’s amazing the weird and sometimes spooky places you can find on our planet.
One such place is–or more accurately was–the Corringie Settlement, also evidently known as Wilson’s Patch. It was a small settlement located in the high desert of Western Australia, and it has an interesting–and mysterious–history. I first found mention of the Corringie Settlement on a terrific website called Artificial Owl, which is a blog that showcases various abandoned man-made places and creations around the world. Artifical Owl hasn’t been updated since 2009 but the site is still up and I highly recommend browsing it, as there’s some very cool stuff there. AO’s page on the Corringie Settlement is here. It described the place:
“The abandoned Corringie Settlement is at Wilson’s Patch, 65km north of the remote mining town of Leonora. Half way between Leonora & Leinster in the Gold Fields Region of outback Western Australia, Australia. In the mid-1980s Victor and Joan Isaacs moved to Isaacs’ birthplace at Wilson’s Patch, a bleak and stony terrain 80km north of the remote mining town of Leonora. The couple wanted to set up an alcohol-free settlement in which their nine children, their families and others could live isolated from the destructive influences of city life.”
If you browse some of the photos, you’ll see that the Isaacses tried to build a thriving community, complete with a community art center in the shape of a geodesic dome as well as houses, workshops and such. The photos on AO (I’d love to put them up here, but I don’t own them and I’m not sure it’s fair use) are very eerie and haunting–the very picture of a dusty utopia that somehow went wrong.
The later history of Corringie Settlement is extremely sketchy. Artificial Owl claims it was abandoned sometime about the year 2000. I’ve done extensive searching on the web for information about the demise of this community but have found nothing.
That is strange because, even more eerie than the haunting photos of the abandoned settlement, some of the web pages associated with the Isaacs family and the residents of the Corringie Settlement are still up. Here is the main portal, still bearing the copyright date 1999, and you can see from the very primitive web design that it very much dates from that era. It appears the last update on the site was in late 2003, reporting the death of someone connected with the community.
This website is more fascinating, I believe, even than the pictures of the old settlement. Here you gain an amazing and also sad insight into why Corringie was founded, who did it and what they were trying to accomplish. I can only assume Victor Isaacs is the website’s “voice.” Through his words on this site, you learn about the pressures of being an Aborigine in modern Australia, and how this group of people still struggles to find a place in Australian society.
Victor “Butch” Isaacs, born May 24, 1934, was a military veteran, having served in Korea. Here is a record of his Australian military service. He was also a boxer, and supported himself for many years through doing odd jobs in Western Australia. In the 1980s Isaacs and his wife Joan, now living at Wilson’s Patch, decided to bring their nine children and other families to a new community in the desert near their birthplace. These families literally carved a new home out of an inhospitable desert, using building materials salvaged from abandoned mine sites, with which this part of Australia is evidently rife. The key feature of the community at Corringie was that it was to be alcohol-free.
At some point, the Isaacs met up with an architect from Perth named Phillip Gibbs, who had become concerned with Australia’s crisis in housing for Aboriginal peoples. It was evidently Gibbs’s influence that sparked the idea of the dome-shaped community center and some other features of the site. The community was laid out in the shape of a water snake, which is apparently significant in Aboriginal culture. The dome was decorated with traditional art and paintings depicting Aboriginal themes. The artwork won an award from the Australian Heritage Commission in 1994.
The website also explains the Aboriginal peoples’ struggles in Australian society. Aborigines have been subject to discrimination and cruel treatment from the day white settlers first arrived in Australia in 1788. In Kalgoorlie, a mining town near the site of Corringie, Aboriginals were exploited for work in the gold mines of the region, and alcohol abuse devastated their communities. Racism against them persists. The website contains a photo of a racial slur found painted on the wall of a bank in Kalgoorlie in 1999.
Aboriginal communities do not seem to have a lot of support from the Australian government. On one of the Corringie Settlement’s pages which takes a decidedly angry tone, Isaacs claims, “This is legalized genocide.”
But the Corringie Settlement seems to have been a thriving community for at least some time during the 1990s. The town included environmentally-friendly innovations such as solar power and compost toilets, an irrigation system that recycled groundwater, and electricity generated from wind turbines.
Part of Isaacs’s vision was to have his Aboriginal family members and neighbors build the settlement themselves. In several places on the site he decries exploitation by white contractors, who traditionally built Aboriginal settlements and then left the scene, leaving the inhabitants with no provision to maintain or fix the infrastructure built for them. By creating Corringie from the ground up, Isaacs wanted his residents to have a stake in their own futures.
What happened to Corringie? I can’t find any answers. Clearly the community collapsed somehow, and people moved away for one reason or another. I can’t find anything that substantiates that the abandonment happened in 2000, but the pictures on Artificial Owl, taken sometime before 2009, clearly show the place in an advanced state of decay. It looks like it had been abandoned for nearly ten years.
I looked up the coordinates of Corringie on Google Earth. When I first became interested in the history of this unique community, the ruins of its buildings were still visible from satellite photos–that’s the screenshot at the top of this blog. Based on Google Earth’s information–which now includes, helpfully, the dates that various images were taken–the view you see of Corringie at the top of this page was taken in March 2005. Although there was obviously no one living there at the time, the dome is still clearly visible as well as some of the outbuildings. There’s a road called Goldfields Highway that goes by about 500 yards from the site.
However, when I went back recently to look at Corringie again, I found this: the site is now totally empty.
(Click for larger resolution)
This image was taken in August 2010. Aside from the dusty unused pathways leading through the site, everything has been removed–no buildings, nothing remaining. The Corringie Settlement now exists only in memory.
So here is a ghost town that isn’t even a ghost town anymore. And what about the people who lived there, 15 or 20 years ago? Surely some of them must be still alive; perhaps even “Butch” Isaacs himself. I searched for an obituary for him but couldn’t find anything, so I presume he’s still alive.
I am very curious to find out what happened to the Corringie Settlement, why it was abandoned, and where its former residents are now. What are their stories? Is there a lesson here for future settlements of this type? It seems to me that Corringie was a very bold experiment. I think others need to know about it.
If anyone who knows anything about the later history of the Corringie Settlement happens to find this blog, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at this email address.
Thanks for reading.