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3. Chapter III The Golden West

Early settlers' struggles—The six families—Discovery of Coolgardie—The lure of gold—Upholding law—Kalgoorlie—Paddy Hannan's story—The Golden Mile—Fabulous wealth.


To the rest of Australia, Western Australia was long known as the Cinderella of the Australian colonies. For sixty years she had no apparent attractions to offer to immigrants. She was poor; she had been under the control of the Colonial Office years after the five other Australian colonies had enjoyed responsible government. Yet Western Australia as a colony was founded earlier than South Australia, Victoria or Queensland. The largest in area of the Australian states and comprising one-third of the continent, Western Australia was first colonised in the early part of the last century. It was in June, 1829, that Captain (afterwards Sir James) Stirling arrived in the transport Parmelia with the first party of settlers—sixty-nine all told, including men, women and children. Other vessels with settlers arrived soon after, and the Swan River Settlement was founded. Three towns, Perth, Fremantle and Guildford, were established. Thus, six years before the founding of Melbourne, the western capital and its principal port were laid out. By March, 1830, fifty ships with 2,000 immigrants, with property amounting to £1,000,000, had arrived before more than a few dwellings had been built or the land surveyed.

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Many of the first settlers, from their previous habits and work in life, proved unfit for the rough work of colonisation. Several were landed gentry who brought with them their servants and their carriages, their furniture, pianos, four-poster beds and family pictures. The little community had a hard struggle for existence. Some returned to the Old Country or left for other Australian colonies, and the place languished. Those that remained struggled on, finding a healthful climate and a soil favouring fruit and vegetables whilst their stock grazed in the more open and distant quarters, but still their difficulties were great.

In 1848, when the population was but some 5,000, settlers were compelled to seek help from the British Treasury and offered to accept convicts. These came in 1850, but transportation ceased in 1868 in consequence of loud protests from the other colonies. The population was then about 20,000.

For more than twenty years the colony was in a state of stagnation. The people were scattered; they held to antiquated methods. They had little communication with the outside world and lived a narrow unprogressive existence. With few exceptions they were content to exist at ease rather than prosper at the expense of effort. Pearling was carried on in the north; sandalwood and timber were exported, and a beginning was made with the pastoral industry. To most of the inhabitants, however, it was a case of “The world forgetting, by the world forgot.”

In 1890, when responsible government was at last granted to West Australia, the population was still only 46,000.

In the small isolated community that then existed

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there were marked class distinctions. The inhabitants had brought with them their old-world ideas. There were the officials headed by the Governor and some well-to-do settlers with aristocratic associations. These people formed a sort of oligarchy. They were exclusive, were slow to admit strangers within their charmed circle, and were known as “The Six Families.” The truth is that there were more than six families. There were the Burts—the first of them was Sir Archibald Burt, who was Chief Justice in the sixties. There were the Lefroys—O'Grady Lefroy, C.M.G., was Colonial Treasurer for thirty-six years in the Crown Colony days. There were the Cliftons—the first of them, Marshall Walter Clifton, F.R.S., came to the Colony with his sons to found the ill-fated Australind Colony in 1841. There were the Wittenooms—the Rev. J. B. Wittenoom was first chaplain. There were the Roes—John S. Roe arrived on the Parmilia, was first Surveyor-General and a noted explorer. Then there were the Leakes, Parkers, Sholls, Stones, Steeres, Hamersleys, Clarksons, Burgesses, Barlees, Drummonds and others. Many of the old settlers had their children educated at English Public Schools and the cultural standards of England were well maintained amongst them. They were worthy people who upheld the best traditions of the old British families from whom many of them had come, but they led a quiet, sleepy sort of existence.

Photograph facing page 46: Dry Blowing With Dishes. The most primitive form of gold-mining. It was in great use among alluvial diggers in early days on the West Australian goldfields, where the earth was very dry and water was not available to wash it. Above: the “Golden Eagle” nugget found by a boy a couple of feet under the surface at Larkinville in January, 1931. Sold for £6,000.

About two hundred and forty miles almost directly east of Perth there was a gold-mining centre, Southern Cross. Various gold finds, none of them of much importance,

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had been made in the locality, but the population was small. Development work was going on, in a half-hearted way, and a number of men were employed on Fraser's mine, which was considered the most promising and most valuable of the local properties. A difference arose between the employers and employees. There was a strike. No work was done. Men lay in their camps or collected in small groups and talked. Time hung heavily on their hands. Employers were not anxious to restart working. The wage-earners did not like to acknowledge defeat and go back to work. There was a general feeling of despondency and depression. That was the state of affairs in September, 1892.

One evening in 1892 a dusty, travel-stained horseman arrived from the east. The new arrival was known to be a prospector who had used Southern Cross as a base from which he and a mate of his made expeditions into the unknown interior. The two were reported to be hardy and experienced, accustomed to rough living and to the hardships and dangers of the bush. Some weeks previously they had come to Southern Cross, purchased a couple of months' provisions, and then one morning early turned their faces towards the rising sun as they followed their tracks back. Prospectors were common about Southern Cross. Now and again they reported gold finds, but these had proved nothing sensational, and mostly they resulted in disappointment. As Arthur Bayley rode by, one of the men who was lounging about expressed wonder that he was alone, and remarked, “Where is his mate, Bill Ford?”

The solitary horseman passed on to the warden's

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office, reported the discovery of a new rich goldfield one hundred and twenty miles east of Southern Cross, and in proof of his accuracy produced between 500 and 600 ounces of almost pure gold. He had left his mate to guard the find, as there was a reef of dazzling richness from which tons of gold remained to be extracted.

The news spread. It created wild excitement. Instead of listlessness there was feverish activity. Next morning Bayley left on the return journey. He was accompanied by the warden, Mr. J. M. Finnerty. Practically every man in Southern Cross also departed for the new find. Some of them had horses; others had only hand-carts carrying their belongings; the vast majority walked.

There was no road, only a bush track, rough, dry and dusty. A sand plain had to be crossed. Mostly the country was flat and monotonous; there was much scrub and in places timber. Scanty supplies of water were procurable at widely separated outcrops of rocks where there were catchments for the rain and “soaks” and gnamma holes. Happily, it was August—the weather was cool. When Coolgardie was ultimately reached most of the new arrivals were well rewarded. There was no lack of either alluvial gold or rich reefs. It was not only Southern Cross that awoke from its lethargy, but also Perth and Western Australia generally.


The depression that existed throughout Australia consequent on the bursting of the land boom and the failure of the banks, accentuated the sensation that was created by the Coolgardie gold discovery. In a few

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weeks over 300 men had arrived in Coolgardie, and many thousands of ounces of gold had been discovered. One report announced that from 11 tons of ore from Bayley's Reward 13,000 ounces had been secured without a battery.

The glitter of these rich discoveries proved an irresistible attraction. From every part of Australia men were soon hurrying to the new land of gold. The railway to Southern Cross was still a thing of the future, but over an unmade road to the eastward a motley procession was moving—coaches, teams, horses, camels, pedestrians (some of them conveying their whole outfit in a wheelbarrow) were straggling into the interior along the three hundred and seventy miles of track between Perth and Coolgardie. “Every boat that touched Western Australia,” writes an authority, “discharged hundreds of adventurous souls—men of youth, courage, strength and enterprise, the very pick of Australian manhood, together with a good sprinkling from all parts of the world. All that had been denied to Western Australia in the past—attention, population and capital—the world now stumbled over itself in its eagerness to give.” The find at Coolgardie proved but the forerunner of other more important finds. In no part of the world perhaps did nature show a more harsh and inhospitable aspect than in the trackless, waterless expanses of the arid interior. Fever decimated the ranks of the prospectors, and many died of exhaustion and thirst. Notwithstanding hardships and dangers, the country around Coolgardie was explored for hundreds of miles and it was found that it was not a mere “goldfield” that was discovered, but what could be characterised as “a golden Continent.”

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Motor-cars and aeroplanes had not then come into existence. A charge of £5 for the carriage to Coolgardie from Perth of each swag of 100 lbs. weight was made. The owner of the swag had to walk. Later there were coaches.

In December, 1892, the water supply was failing fast, and an official notice was issued asking the men at Coolgardie to leave in sections, so that the water at various places on the track could be used to the best advantage. Fortunately, the water supply was replenished by occasional thunderstorms. About the end of January water that had been carted fifty miles by camel was sold for two shillings per gallon. In March, 1893, three-quarters of an inch of rain fell. Numerous teams and prospecting parties had been waiting at Southern Cross for rain. They immediately started for Coolgardie. By May, 1893, there were over 1,000 men on the field. Valuable finds were reported in various outside localities. There were frequent rushes as reports of good finds were received.

When the news of the Coolgardie gold discovery was announced the exact latitude and longitude of the find was unknown. In Government circles concern was felt that it might be within the freehold property of the Hampton Plains Co., in which case most of the benefits would go to the shareholders. The gold would thus become the property, not of the finders but of the landowners. When surveyors were sent to define the boundaries of the Hampton Plains estate, relief was felt when it was reported that the find was made just outside the Company's boundaries. It was, however, a

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near thing, for Coolgardie is but a couple of miles from the edge of the boundary.

Mr. Bob Gleddon, a surveyor, was the first mining registrar at Coolgardie. He arrived there about November, 1892, and he had frequently to adjudicate as a justice of the peace in diggers' disputes. I remember his telling me how he disposed of a case of disputed ownership of an alluvial claim. The evidence was heard on the ground in the presence of a large concourse of diggers. There was no policeman within more than a hundred miles.

Gleddon gave his decision.

The man who had lost the case jumped into a hole on the claim and began working vigorously. Evidently he was determined to ignore the verdict.

“If you don't get out of that hole,” said Gleddon gravely, “you will be guilty of contempt of court, and I'll send you to Fremantle gaol.”

The man went on using his pick.

“You have three minutes to get out of that hole,” added Gleddon, “and if you don't then I'll sentence you to ten years' hard labour.”

Sullenly the man continued to ply his pick.

“Only one more minute,” said Gleddon sternly, holding his watch.

Then the man stopped working and sprang out of the hole. The assembled diggers cheered wildly.

“Of course,” said Gleddon to me afterwards, “I had not the legal power to give him ten years, but he did not know that, and no lighter sentence would have got him out of that hole.”

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Another early day goldfields experience was when two enterprising men came with a cart-load of grog, which they proceeded to dispose of for nuggets. They were viewed by the diggers as public benefactors, but that was not the view of the law. They had no licenses. They were prosecuted, and the liquor which was seized was put in Gleddon's tent for safe custody.

“At once,” said Gleddon, “my tent became the centre of deep public interest.”

Later a deputation of diggers asked him if the liquor was for sale.

“It must be kept,” said Gleddon, “pending instructions from Perth. I don't suppose it will be sent back down the track to Perth. The directions will probably be to destroy it.”

The diggers' faces fell.

Gleddon's camp more than ever became a subject of public attraction. He had to be often away from it, and men were always hanging round. Finally, their interest ceased in his camp and its vicinity was deserted. One hot and thirsty day, when he returned to his camp tired and worn out, he thought he would sample the liquor; he found that it was all gone. He realised then how interest waxed and waned in his camp.

“Sure, sir,” said an Irishman, speaking to him afterwards, “the boys felt that as it was to be destroyed, they would save you the trouble of destroying it, and by drinking it themselves they destroyed it.”


Exactly nine months after Bayley reported the find at Coolgardie, Paddy Hannan arrived at Coolgardie

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with news of a rich discovery at what is now Kalgoorlie, twenty-four miles east of Coolgardie, and applied for and was granted a reward claim. His find of alluvial was specially important, for it led to the discovery of the lodes of the Golden Mile, which is held to be the richest square mile in gold that has ever been worked.

Hannan was well known to me. He was under rather than over the average height, of medium build, with bright, beady eyes, a long beard and a ruddy complexion that betokened a healthy and vigorous outdoor life. Like many of the prospectors who opened up the goldfields, he was an Irishman; he was born in the parish of Quin, County Clare, about 1842, and came to Australia when he was twenty-one years of age. In disposition he was quite unlike the jovial, riotous type fairly common in mining communities. Though not a total abstainer, yet he was remarkably temperate. Nothing could induce him to go beyond the limits of what temperance prescribes. On that point he was adamant. It did not contribute to his popularity amongst the gay reckless spirits of the early goldfields days, but he did not mind. He was not garrulous or a good conversationalist, though in some respects pleasant and genial. He was kindly, quiet and reserved. His education was that of the ordinary Irish peasant boy educated under the national school system, but his handwriting was excellent, and his letters are singular for their clearness of diction.

Despite Hannan's nationality, he was without imagination or sense of humour. All that happened to him he thought was commonplace and prosaic. The romantic side of gold-seeking, the wandering open-air

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life he led, did not appeal to him as to others. He was not drawn to the bush by—

“The vision splendid of the sunlit plain extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.”

No such ideas filled his mind. The story he told me of his great discovery was simple and direct. It was:

“I arrived in the colony in March, 1889, and was at Parkers Range about forty miles from Southern Cross, when Bayley reported the discovery of a rich reef at Coolgardie. I joined in the rush.

“Early in June, 1893, news arrived at Coolgardie of a good discovery at a place called Mount Yuille, somewhere to the east or north-east. Parties left Coolgardie in search of the find. A few days after the report had been received, my mate, Thomas Flanagan, and I left Coolgardie. We left on June 7. We would have left earlier with the others, but we could not obtain horses, and so were delayed two or three days. We were lucky enough to pick up some animals in the bush ten or twelve miles from Coolgardie. The other parties going to Mount Yuille were mostly travelling with teams. Only one or two of the prospecting groups had horses of their own. We were a separate party, as we wished to be free to travel when we liked. We could also by this arrangement if we chose prospect any country during the journey.

“A very large number was in the main party going to Mount Yuille. Only Bayley's claim was working at Coolgardie, and the alluvial had become

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exhausted just about the time we left, hence the strong desire amongst the men to reach the new find.

“On June 10, three days after leaving Coolgardie, we reached what is now Kalgoorlie. The other parties had gone on in the direction of the reported discovery, but it was only to find later that the report had been false.

“Well, as I have said, when we came on June 10 to Mount Charlotte, my mate and I decided to stop and prospect the country round about. To us it looked country where there might be alluvial. We found colours of gold and then got good gold at the north end of Mount Charlotte to down south of Maritana Hill.

“There was another man by the way, Dan Shea was his name, to whom we gave an equal share in our venture.

“We soon realised that we were located on a valuable field. Alluvial gold was in abundance. We got scores of ounces. It was agreed that I should go to Coolgardie and apply for a reward claim. I left Flanagan and Shea to watch our interests, and on June 17 started for Coolgardie. I got there on a Saturday night.

“The news of our find soon got abroad. There was a good deal of excitement. Hundreds of men set out for the scene. The flats and gullies all about our reward claim became alive with diggers dryblowing and finding gold.

“The water difficulty, which had been unusually great, was solved. Rain began to fall as I was on my way to Coolgardie to report the find,

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and continued for some time. The fall was fairly heavy. It was exceedingly welcome to us all and relieved the shortage from which we suffered. The downpour left plenty of water in rock holes and lakes. The supply lasted until November.

“Where the ground was too wet for dryblowing, the men dried the earth by fires and so could work their claims.”

Above is the story of Hannan's discovery as told to me by Hannan. It was apparently altogether an after-thought that made him think it worth while mentioning that when he left to apply for the reward claim the three men had only two quarts of water left. “But for the rain,” he remarked, “I don't know what we would have done.” He added:

“Not long after the discovery at Kalgoorlie I left for a holiday. I had not seen the sea for five years, and prospecting is a hard life. It was only now and again we could get fresh meat. I was not in good health, and I felt a spell away from the fields to be necessary.”

Wherever gold discoveries have been made there are various versions of what happened. That applies to Hannan's find. By some it was said that it was not he who first discovered gold near Mount Charlotte. Hannan was then over fifty years of age, and these people say that, as both Flanagan and Shea were older men, he as the youngest of the three was asked by the other two to journey to Coolgardie and apply

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for a reward claim. As he made the first report the find became associated with him and was known as “Hannan's.” Shea always asserted that it was he, not Hannan or Flanagan, who picked up the first nugget. One old and highly respected resident of the goldfields who was intimately acquainted with all three men informed me that Flanagan was the first to find gold, and that he found it when looking for a horse. Flanagan, like Hannan, came from Clare, and soon after he died in Melbourne.

Other old residents say that the three men, when travelling with a large party to Mount Yuille, found gold near Mount Charlotte, but carefully concealed the fact of the discovery in order that they might be able to make the most of it, and stayed behind on the plea that they had lost a horse. The members of the main party continued their journey, but many days later they discovered that the search for Mount Yuille was a wild goose chase. When they returned and reached Mount Charlotte they were amazed to see the place a hive of busy dryblowers, most of whom were getting gold.

Irrespective of who actually was the first to pick up gold, Hannan was unquestionably the principal man of the three. The main Kalgoorlie thoroughfare is called Hannan Street, the oldest and chief club is Hannan's Club, and his memory is honoured by a statue in front of the town hall. The statue is not raised on a high pedestal above the people, but it is over a drinking fount close to the side path showing him in his rough prospecting clothes with a water bag in his hand. It truly represents him as he was, a man of the people and a good type of the daring prospectors who opened up the Coolgardie goldfields. As Hannan

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said to me, he did not consider that the success of the party of three, of whom he was one, was due to any merit of theirs. It was mere luck.

Photograph Facing Page 58: Memorial Fountain in Kalgoorlie to Paddy Hannan. The figure is a very good representation of what he was like in his prospecting days.

The Mount Charlotte discovery was rich alluvial, but its real importance lies in the fact that it was responsible for the discovery of the Golden Mile. How it happened may be shortly told.

Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Brookman with some fourteen others, including Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Doolette, had formed a small syndicate in Adelaide for the purpose of sending men to Western Australia to prospect for gold-mines. The total sum subscribed amounted to only £150. A few free shares were given to the prospectors, W. G. Brookman and Sam Pearce. When these two men reached Perth they purchased a spring dray and two horses. They were compelled to walk the whole distance, some three hundred and fifty miles, beside the dray. They arrived at Coolgardie three weeks and a day after they left Adelaide. They decided to go to Hannan's Find. Early in July they pegged out the mines of what is now known as the Golden Mile, mines that in a few years had a total capital value approaching £30,000,000 and produced many times that value in gold.

After these mines were pegged out there were many who condemned them as “wild cats.” It was said that it was a shame to attempt to foist them on the public as worth working. But Sam Pearce was a born prospector. He had a prospector's instinct and seemed almost to scent gold. Of the two men who pegged out the mines of the Golden Mile, Sir George Brookman

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afterwards wrote: “To their singular luck these men brought the reliable guides of sound judgment and mature knowledge.” These qualities helped towards their success.

During the closing years of the last century the eyes of the civilised world were turned towards the Coolgardie goldfields. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, declared that, given the substantial truthfulness of the gold discovery reports, Western Australia for many years would be the most prosperous part of the British Empire. Gold would attract people and capital, and in his opinion both people and capital would remain and build up not only mining but also agriculture and other industries. What he then predicted became an accomplished fact.

Photograph Facing Page 60: Above: A view of the “Golden Mile”, said to be the richest square mile in gold contents in the world. Below: The Kalgoorlie Miner offices.