With its population of 120 residents, you could be excused for thinking that the tiny goldfields town of Menzies won’t detain you for long. But scratch the surface and you’ll find rich goldrush history, Indigenous culture, a world-famous art installation and a living ghost town. Get ready to be surprised by Menzies on this two-day itinerary.

Day 1

Menzies is a 90-minute drive north of Kalgoorlie or a one-hour drive south of Leonora. Upon arrival, your first stop should be the beautifully restored Lady Shenton Building on Shenton Street.

Originally the Lady Shenton Hotel, today it houses the Visitor Centre. Pop in for information, pick up souvenirs and chat with staff about the town. The building also houses the post office, library, internet point, Shire history collection and booking office for the adjacent Menzies Caravan Park.

Across the road, grab lunch at the quirky outback pub, the Menzies Hotel, with a shady beer garden, or pop into the café behind for a quick bite or basic supplies.

Turn your car west onto the sealed Sandstone Road, and in 51 kms, you’ll come to spectacular Lake Ballard, and the art work Inside Australia. Make sure to stop to read the interpretive signage on your way into the carpark.

If you’re self-sufficient, set up camp on the banks of the salt pan in the free campsite, where you’ll find tables, fire pits (fires April-November only), long-drop toilets and a dump point. Be sure to bring your own food and drinking water.

Positioned across the enormous expanse of this dry, salt lake, 51 human-like sculptures stand motionless on the white shimmering surface. As the sun lowers in the sky, stroll out for an otherworldly experience.

The sculptures were produced by British artist Sir Antony Gormley and each is modelled from a body scan of 51 men, women and children from Menzies. The sculptures are full height, but their width is narrowed, making them a waif-like. Each one is several hundred metres from the next, and exploring from one to the other, your eyes will spot more on the horizon.

Before you leave the lake, scramble up the pointy hill near the car park, which becomes an island on the rare occasion the lake holds water. From the top, take in the scale of the lake.

Settle in at your campsite, roasting marshmallows beneath a glittering sky. For those heading back to town, check in to Menzies Caravan Park (pre-bookings essential).

Day 2

Explore the historical side of Menzies, starting with the local Aboriginal groups, the Menzies Wongi, who have inhabited these lands for millenia. Pick up a brochure from the Visitor Centre about the Gubbee Menzies Wongi “Our Way” trail, a series of 12 rusty steel cut-out images depicting stories as told by local Wongi, mostly relating to their struggles during colonisation. Each sculpture is accompanied by interpretive panels, recounting stories in the words of elders.

Similarly, cut out sculptures called “Our Place” discuss the European heritage of Menzies. Follow the trail around Shenton Street, to uncover the history of this once bustling town of 10,000 people. The sculptures depict characters from Menzies’ past, like the baker, who remains frozen in time, as he slides his dough into the real remains of an old baker’s oven.

The brochure for this walk details other historical buildings of Menzies, and don’t miss the machinery shed with its old railway equipment, the beautiful Town Hall with its clock tower, and pop into the Pioneer Store to purchase local Indigenous art.

Unlike Menzies, many towns did not survive the demise of the gold rush. Head out to Kookynie (66 kms from Menzies), which sits somewhere in the middle, a ‘living ghost town’.

In 1903 the town had a population of up to 3,000. Interpretive signage on 22 ruined sites explains the town’s heyday, including its two red-light districts, swimming pool, racecourse and seven hotels. These days, Kookynie has 13 residents and the Grand Hotel, circa 1900. Time your visit for opening hours (phone ahead) and grab a cold beer and outback pub meal. Keep an eye out for Willie the ex-racehorse, who often saunters into the bar.

On the way back to town, drop in to Niagara Dam. Built in 1897 to supply water for steam trains, but never actually used. Today, it’s a popular picnic and free camping spot with toilets and a dump point. Two walking trails guide visitors through desert vistas, birdlife and wildflowers.