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4. Chapter IV Prospecting Days

I journey to the goldfields—Coaching and dust—Remarkable shanty keeper—Kalgoorlie in 1895—Prospectors' stories—Sensational finds—Gold rushes—The Sacred Nugget mystery.

I

IT was a couple of years after the pegging of the mines of the Golden Mile that I sailed from Adelaide for Western Australia. During that time numbers of sensational finds had been made, and the rush to the west was increasing daily, and, indeed, continued to increase for many years later. In 1895 over £50,000,000 was subscribed, chiefly in London, on behalf of Western Australian Mining flotations, and for several years thereafter the colony became the happy hunting ground of prospectors, fossickers, investors and gamblers from all parts of the globe.

The steamer on which I made the voyage from Adelaide was crowded with men on their way to seek fortune. There were also on board men who had been to the Coolgardie goldfields and who had made money, and were returning after a holiday in the eastern colonies. These men spent their money freely, talked about the great wealth of Coolgardie, usually exaggerated their own successes, and gave the impression that £100 was no more to them than £1 to the ordinary man.

One of these shared my cabin. He had been the prospector


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of a new find. Like most successful West Australian mining men in those days, he drank champagne morning, noon and night, and pressed everyone in sight to share it. I was virtually a teetotaller, and he could not understand a courteous but firm refusal to partake of his hospitality. He was a rough diamond and excessively generous. Many years later I met him again. In his old age, like so many of his type, he was in very straitened circumstances.

I had a long and tiresome train journey from Albany to Woolgangie, which is east of Southern Cross and was the then head of the railway that was in course of construction to Coolgardie. There I got into a lumbering old coach drawn by four horses.

There had been no rain for a considerable time. The bush track was inches, and in some places feet, deep in fine dust. The seats outside the coach were at a premium, and I had to content myself with one inside. The horses and coach raised clouds of dust that travelled with us. The only other occupant of the interior was a young man, who told me he was a bank clerk. As we proceeded the dust filled our nostrils, our mouths, our hair, and penetrated through our clothes. My travelling companion's face and hands and clothes assumed the chocolate colour of the roads through the layers of dust on them. I was viewing his alteration in appearance. We drove along, each watching the other. I remarked on how he was getting a uniform sepia tint and that the effect was peculiar.

He replied, “I was just interested in watching a similar change taking place in you.”




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And we laughed!

The night was spent at Bulla Bulling, where there was a wood and iron wayside hotel or shanty. We arrived just before dusk. Numbers of teams were camped near, and the hotel was crowded with men on their way to the goldfields. Most of them were “swampers,” or men who were walking with teams that carried their swags. It was a drunken orgy, and the air resounded with talk, jokes, laughter and bad language. Water was scarce; there was no chance of getting a wash, to say nothing of a bath. The young clerk and myself sat on a log near the hotel. A meal would soon be ready, but we could not find the landlord or get any information as to whether we could get a place to sleep. Had we known as much about bush life as we learned later, we would have lighted a fire and slept in our coats and rugs under the stars.

A grey-headed, grey-moustached man without his coat and with his sleeves rolled up to the elbows joined us. He was a rough-looking customer, but his conversation was charming. I happened to mention the western district of Victoria. He spoke of the pastoral families there in a familiar way, was intimate with most of them, told us of race-horses he had owned, talked of racing and of mutual friends in Melbourne.

I told him we wanted beds, and asked him if there was a chance of finding the landlord of this dreadful place, and if so was there a chance of his being sober.

He smiled as he quietly replied, “I am the landlord.”

When I started to apologise, he answered, “Please don't; I understand; you are quite right, it is a dreadful


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place; I'll see to your having beds. What will you have to drink?”

We accepted. When later we attempted to reciprocate he replied, “I never accept drinks from anyone in this house, but whilst I am with you, you have what drinks you like at my expense as my guests. What can I get you?”

A strange sort of shanty keeper indeed! The fact was he had been a well-to-do resident of Victoria, a personal friend of the Governor, Lord Hopetoun, had been ruined in the bank smashes and had come to the goldfields in the hope of retrieving his fortunes.

The clerk and myself were given two stretchers to sleep on in a hessian room adjoining the bar, which was filled with men drinking, also arguing and cursing at the top of their voices. The noise was terrific, but so utterly worn out were my travelling companion and myself that despite the uproar we soon fell into a sound sleep.

Our awakening was unexpected and sudden.

A fierce fight had started in the bar.

One man received a blow that knocked him against the door of our room with such force that it was burst open and he fell into our apartment. He was pursued by others, and the fight was continued in our bedroom. When I opened my eyes I saw several men fighting and swearing. I thought I would remain lying down as the safest place, but my companion jumped out of bed, and in the semi-darkness and confusion the combatants trod on his toes, badly bruising them.

Finally, the landlord came in with a light, and the intruders were turned out to finish their fight outside the hotel.




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It did not mean peace to us; my companion's toes were painful, and the noise in the bar continued as great as ever. It was a wild beginning to the wild times I was to experience.

The following day we reached Coolgardie. There, after a few days, I got another coach, in which I covered the twenty-four miles to Kalgoorlie.

Photograph Facing Page 64: The Lonely Bush: Typical Western Australian goldfields country.



II

I found Kalgoorlie but a collection of canvas tents and hessian humpies. There were also a few small wood and iron structures. Large trees were standing in Hannan Street, and nowhere had any attempt been made to form roads. Fine dust several inches deep lay on the ground and there were innumerable bush tracks in all directions. The slightest breeze raised dense clouds of dust, with which the air was filled for days and nights. Flies swarmed in millions. The surroundings were uninteresting, consisting merely of the interminable bush. The population was considerable. Life was attended by many discomforts. There were few women. It was not easy to secure accommodation. I was fortunate in getting a room at one of the hotels.

Before reaching Kalgoorlie I had been warned of the difficulty by a story of a new arrival who was looking round in the evening for a place where he could sleep. He met a man who said, “You can have my camp for the night for ten shillings and I'll stay with a friend.” The traveller readily agreed, and was brought to a camp, of which there were hundreds about, told to make himself at home, and the ten shillings was collected.




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An hour or two later the traveller was rudely awakened and asked, “What are you doing in my camp?”

The man in the bunk explained that he had paid ten shillings for the right to spend the night there.

It appeared that the individual to whom the ten shillings was paid was not the owner nor was he known to the owner. It was a mere trick to secure half a sovereign. However, in those days hospitality was universal, and the real owner of the camp invited the traveller to remain, an invitation that was cordially accepted. The incident was the beginning of a long and close friendship between the two.

Everyone thought and talked of nothing but mining, “new rushes,” selling shows and the fluctuations of the share market. Each man was a prospective millionaire, and no one expected to be in the place more than a year or two. The feeling was that a few weeks or months would be sufficient to secure all the money that was wanted to live in affluence for the rest of one's life. Alas! how few of these bright hopes were realised.

From London and from other parts of the world came a great demand for mining properties. Coolgardie and West Australian goldfields were booming. Sharebrokers and others merely wanted mining leases somewhere that they could pass on to purchasers at enhanced prices. The country was pegged far and wide, and thousands and thousands of leases were applied for. A worthless area that was pegged one week would have eager purchasers at tens of thousands


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and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds. Throughout it all there was the wild excitement of the gambling atmosphere. Poker was played for large stakes. Hotels were numerous and were continually crowded. Drinking was indulged in freely. All drinks were a shilling each—then a comparatively high price—but, as if that was not sufficiently expensive, champagne was commonly consumed.

It was in this human maelstrom that I found myself, but I was not in the habit of either drinking or gambling. I had comparatively little money and, with the high cost of living and other obligations, I could not afford to take up leases or buy shares, and so I was less a participant than a keenly interested spectator. It was perhaps just as well that I was not a participant. I had work to do that kept me busy all day. Soon after arrival I became part proprietor of the Kalgoorlie Miner, a small-sized daily newspaper that had just then started. We also had a weekly paper, the Western Argus. I was editor of both journals. I rarely left the wooden shack we called the office.

Nearly everyone was optimistic about the future of Kalgoorlie and looked to its becoming in time a great city. We felt, for instance, that the Kalgoorlie Miner would grow (as it did) into a daily that could compare favourably with most of the metropolitan dailies of Australia. There were other dreams of greatness for Kalgoorlie and the goldfields that many of us had.

My memories of those days are cheery and exciting. There was a spirit of good humour everywhere. The community included splendid and most interesting characters—young, adventurous and enterprising men attracted by the lure of gold. They embraced all grades


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of society from peers of the realm to horny-handed manual workers. There was good fellowship and a jovial camaraderie. Continually there were reports of sensational new finds and of fortunes made.

There are the memories of buying and selling leases, the rise and fall of the share market, and the open calls where shares changed hands with feverish haste. The mental pictures that these recollections call up are crowded with many things—canvas water bags, dry-blowers, dolly pots, tin dishes, condensers, camels, bicycles and typhoid fever; also with mining engineers, company promoters, geologists, noisy public house bars and tinned foods always called “tinned dog.” When I think back the smell of fine powdered dust seems to fill my nostrils.

The small whirlwinds or willy-willies were new to me. They raised spiral columns of dust that whilst circling upwards moved along the ground in a zigzag, erratic course, carrying leaves, scraps of paper and even weightier things with them. I remember watching one of these festive willy-willies that as it travelled playfully blew the galvanised iron roof off a weakly built stable. The four sides fell outwards. Inside there was a horse that cocked up its head in startled surprise, kicked up its heels and galloped off snorting.

A friend of mine told me a willy-willy blew down his camp whilst he was quite naked having a sponge bath. It carried away not only the tent but spread his clothes far and wide. His only pair of pants were carried away and ultimately stuck on top of a high tree.

Whether fortune smiled on them or otherwise the


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men of the goldfields were ever generous, warm-hearted and thoughtful. They had in a liberal degree what the poet refers to as “kindness in another's trouble and courage in their own.” I was not long in the West without realising that what applies to Canada applies to Australia:

Out where the world is in the making,
Where fewer hearts in despair are aching,
That's where the West begins;
Where there's more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there's more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying—
That's where the West begins.

III

There were numerous prospectors in the community. They always interested me, and I had many friends amongst them. Most of them wandered extensively through the bush. Often they were short of water and food. Occasionally they had fights with the blacks. Now and again they made sensationally rich discoveries. Usually secretive as to their movements and as to the results of their efforts, when they made a good find they concealed the fact until they were ready to make it public. If their shows were worthless they were sometimes equally uncommunicative.

A few years after Paddy Hannan had found gold at Kalgoorlie, he was financed by a few of us to prospect. An agreement was made with him by which we would share what he would find. We were always in hopes of his finding another Kalgoorlie and enriching us beyond the dreams of avarice. He would disappear for


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weeks and then report. We heard of his prospecting in the Menzies country. It was rumoured that he had made another valuable find. No news reached us from him, but the rumour was circulated by men who had come from the locality where he was working.

Late one night Hannan came to my office, travel-stained and looking mysterious. I was alone. He shut both doors and asked in a whisper if anyone could hear us. I assured him that we could not be heard. He again looked all round to make certain that we were alone.

I was on the tip-toe of expectation.

I felt convinced that he was going to startle me by announcing some wonderful find he had made.

“What have you found?” I inquired eagerly in a whisper.

He crept close to me, and in a scarcely audible voice solemnly said, “I've got nothing at all, at all.”

What original characters most of the prospectors were! How curious were their place-names. True, many localities retained the aboriginal names such as Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Boorabin and Goongarrie. Other places were called after the prospectors who discovered them. There are, for example, Cue, Menzies, Laverton and Cashman's. Much more picturesque is the nomenclature of the majority of towns and prospectors' finds.

What strange names are “Broad Arrow” and “Black Flag”! Even more interesting are “Hit or Miss,” “I.O.U.,” “White Feather” and “Hard to Find.” Amongst others are “Golden Pole,” “Last


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Chance,” “The Hidden Secret” and “Queen of the Earth.”

The origin of these names is unknown, except in a few instances. It was obvious in the case of “Golden Valley,” the scene of an early gold rush. When I visited it in early spring, years after it had been found, the prevailing colour was gold from the wealth of blossoms on thousands of trees and shrubs. The masses of yellow flowers, lighted as they were by a brilliant sun, made it truly “a Golden Valley” apart from the riches that were hidden under the surface.

The prospector of “Roaring Gimlet” told me it was so named because he set alight a gimlet tree and the flames made a roaring sound.

Southern Cross was discovered by a prospector who one night in camp was shown by an aborigine a yellow stone, a nugget. When asked where he found it, the native pointed to the sky and let him know that it was in the direction of where the great southern constellation was to be seen. With the Southern Cross as a guide, the native brought him to where the nugget was found. To-day all the streets of Southern Cross are named after features of the heavens. Antares Street is the main thoroughfare. There is a Sirius Street; also a Procyon Street. Other streets are Polaris Street, Achenar Street, Altair Street and Orion Street. The list of streets is lengthy, but the names of heavenly bodies is almost inexhaustible.

A mine called “The Flying Pig,” which produced a good many thousands of pounds' worth of gold, had a haphazard beginning. Two prospectors were travelling in the bush when they came to an outcrop. It was not what is called “likely looking country.” The prospects


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appeared worthless. One of them said, “I'll have a try at this outcrop.”

“Why waste time, Tom?” remarked his mate. “Let's get on.”

“I'm not going on until I see what this is. It may have gold in it.”

“And pigs may fly,” was the response.

Undeterred by the remark, Tom struck the rock with his pick. The broken pieces showed gold freely, and they saw they had made a valuable discovery.

“We'll call the show ‘The Flying Pig,’ ” remarked one of them.

And they did!

He was tall, nearly six feet, thin and without an ounce of spare flesh on his bones. His eyes were bright and sharp, his skin brown, his face full-bearded and his dress rough, just trousers, singlet, boots and a much-faded old soft hat. He was dusty and tired, and I first met him between Hannan's and White Feather in 1895. He and his mate were returning from a prospecting trip in the Kurnalpi country.

It was a broiling hot day and they were camped under the shade of a gum tree.

With a companion I was driving to White Feather—to “The Feather,” as it was called, though afterwards it was generally known as Kanowna. We pulled up for a talk. A bottle of cool beer that we produced established friendship and helped conversation. The man I have described was a vigorous talker. His mate, who was less communicative, called him Bill.

“Had any luck?” we queried.




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“Not a stroke,” said Bill. “People say prospectin' is a fine life. It's not. I 'ave bin at it for twenty years an' more an' I'm dead broke. I've had a few rises. I got 50 ounces at Hall's Creek, I picked up some good nuggets at Nullagine and I did well at Golden Valley, but I lost all I made looking for more.”

“Bayley and Ford and others made fortunes,” I remarked.

“About one in every couple of hundred is successful,” Bill answered. “Think of all the men who fail.”

“It is a healthy open-air life,” I replied. “There are wonderful chances in it. Any day a man may make a find that will make him wealthy. Besides, a prospector is his own master. He is free and can go where he likes.”

“I'll grant you all that,” answered Bill. “But think of the drudgery. Blokes who know nothing about prospecting say it's fun. They wouldn't say it if they lived for months on ‘tinned dog’ and got Barcoo rot for want of fresh vegetables.”

“They wouldn't say it if they had to do a perish,” remarked Bill's mate.

Then the talk drifted to what prospectors most dread—failure to find water. Thirsty men suffer agonies in the bush. Most of those who die from want of water endure torture before the end. They become delirious, leave well-beaten tracks and wander into the bush, travel for miles in a circle. The last stage is for them to shed their clothing, and when found dead their bodies are commonly quite naked.

Bill told us of a “perish” he had endured about a year previously. He was doing a twenty-five mile walk from where he was camped. It was summer and the


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weather intensely hot. He covered ten miles to a camp where he expected to get water, but found the place had been abandoned and no water available. As he had relied on getting water there, he had taken no water with him. His mouth was parched, but he decided to complete the fifteen miles. The sun grew hotter and hotter as the day advanced. His need for water became greater.

“I found,” continued Bill, “my tongue had swollen till it touched the roof of my mouth. I could scarcely breathe. With a knife I was able to somewhat loosen my tongue. In doing so I took off some of the skin. I staggered on. Somehow I got off the track. I gave myself up for lost. In a demented state I was fortunate to come across the camp of a couple of prospectors. They knew what to do. They would only give me spoonfuls of water. I tried to fight them for more, but they overpowered me. I remained with them several days. They nursed me till I recovered, but until my dying day I'll remember the agony I suffered. It was months before I was my proper self again.”

More than once it happened that men found themselves short of water whilst natives were in their vicinity. The natives had to have water and so there must be water somewhere near. Goldfields aborigines were secretive about the location of water supplies. They feared that Europeans would use all the water, especially as they ordinarily had horses or camels.

Native supplies of water were mostly in deep, narrow holes in rocks. Gnamma holes, as they are called, are difficult to find. The opening is narrow, but below the surface the hole often widens out. Sometimes it is quite deep and holds a large quantity of fresh water that,


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even on the hottest day, is quite cool. These holes are filled either by underground springs or by rain-water flowing into them down a channel fed from a natural catchment.

“The last time we were out in the Never-Never,” said Bill's mate, “we had no water. We were feeling anxious. We happened to see a few blacks. They ran away and we went after them. A big black fellow Joe was chasing turned and threw a spear at him. Joe saw it coming and dodged it. He was a good runner and was abreast of the black in a few seconds, seized him by the long hair he wore and threw himself on the nigger, who fell under him. We tied him up and made him know that we wanted him to take us to water. He was sullen and would do nothing. We gave him salt beef. We had a bag of salt and we made the beef extra salt and he ate it greedily. Then we gave him more salt beef, and it was as salty as we could make it.

“We sat down and watched the result.

“Presently, we saw his mouth was getting parched. He tried to moisten it, but failed. He began to suffer.

“I felt sorry for him, but our lives were in danger.

“He got worse and made it clear that he would take us to water.

“Joe, who held on to the rope that bound his hands, found it hard to keep pace with him. He brought us a couple of miles to where there were rocks. Coming to a small gnamma hole he threw himself down and plunged his hands, tied up as they were, into the water, which he drank greedily.

“We let him go. He disappeared. We never saw him again.”

It was about these things we talked as the four of us


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rested for a couple of hours in the shade. Many prospectors perished in the bush in those days. Years before Bayley's discovery at Coolgardie men had died there for want of water. A couple of miles from where he made his find there were posts in which was nailed a tin notice that was dated 1888. Close by were the bleached skeletons of two Europeans whose names were never known.

Bill's summing up was: “Prospectin' is a rotten life. Yo're ever following a gleam of light that eludes you just as you seem to have reached it. Still, I am restless and no good for anything else. I couldn't stay in the same place for long, and so I expect I'll be all my life chasin' the weight.”

IV

A poor and ill-equipped party of six prospectors in 1894 were prospecting in the vicinity of Widgemooltha and were unsuccessful. Feeling disappointed and tired they were returning. Some twelve miles south of Coolgardie one of them, John Mills, a young Irishman from Londonderry, when sitting down, rubbed his heel against an outcrop. He noticed the glint of gold. When the cap of the reef was broken, the rock was found to be richly impregnated with gold. As the men dug deeper the prospects improved. In a few weeks some £25,000 worth of gold was dollied out. The property was sold to Lord Fingall whilst it was still a mere surface show for £180,000 and a sixth interest. The Londonderry (as the mine was called) became famous and was floated into a company for £700,000. When sold, “the golden hole” from which the rich specimens came was covered with a strong plate and sealed.


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The mine was “jumped” on the plea that the regulations were not complied with, but the “jumpers' ” claim was not upheld. Months later it was unsealed, and it was found when opened up that the ore that remained was worthless!

No less remarkable than the Londonderry was the Wealth of Nations found some months later by a well-known prospector, J. G. Dunn, who had with him two Afghans and camels and was acting for a West Australian syndicate. The find was situated twenty-eight miles north-east of Coolgardie. Some 5,000 ounces were secured from it when it was sold for about £150,000. When opened up that mine, too, proved a duffer!

Numbers of other rich finds were reported. The news of a good find was always followed by diggers rushing to the locality. Wild pegging of claims occurred. Sometimes the reports received were false. There were also what were called “bogus rushes.” One of the best remembered and most sensational was caused by statements reputed to be made by a man named McCann of a great gold discovery by him “somewhere down south.” It was said that a kerosene tin filled with gold was brought from there. These statements caused great excitement.

Parties left Coolgardie on camels, in buggies, riding bicycles and on foot, but the find could not be located.

McCann also was missing, but he was ultimately discovered. He looked as if he were just recovering from a drinking bout.

He was brought before a large crowd of angry diggers and made a rambling statement asserting that he never said what was attributed to him.




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Finally he volunteered to lead a party to where alluvial gold was found. Four experienced bushmen were sent with him. They were armed and pledged to bring McCann back alive or dead.

A couple of weeks later the party returned. They had travelled four hundred miles. There was no find made and no place to show.

McCann, on his way back, in his fear of the diggers frequently asked for the loan of a revolver to shoot himself.

Fierce rage was expressed when the diggers heard they had been fooled. A meeting was held and threats were made of lynching. For safety McCann had been placed in the police lock-up.

Nothing more serious occurred than that an effigy of McCann was hanged and burned.

Another bogus rush that was said to be a storekeepers' rush was to Mount Ragged, a mountain a considerable distance east of Norseman. Parties left Norseman, Coolgardie and other centres, some with horses and camels, others on foot. They travelled hundreds of miles through arid country and endured terrible hardships. They suffered the pangs of hunger and thirst. They struggled on, and ultimately reached the scene of the supposed find. They saw at once it was a non-auriferous area. Men were waiting to sell them stores.

One of the diggers who participated in the rush told me afterwards that the diggers who had been fooled behaved splendidly. “They were,” he said, “so orderly about it. In fact, when the news that they had been duped was fully realised they only cut off one man's ears.”




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Not bogus, but tragic was a disastrous rush to Siberia. Two prospectors brought to Coolgardie 40 ounces. They said there was plenty more gold in the locality. The weather was hot and dry, but scores of men went off badly prepared for a journey through a waterless, foodless area. Dozens were lost in the bush. Ten are known to have perished. Others died whose bodies were never found. Hundreds of men suffered terribly from thirst. None of them would perhaps have got back alive but for promptness in sending out relief parties on camels and horses.

V

Of all the rushes, genuine and bogus, the most talked of was that occasioned by Father Long's reported “Golden Sickle” nugget, or, as it was sometimes called, the “Sacred Nugget.” He was a young Irish priest, twenty-six years of age, stationed in Kanowna. I knew him well, and for that reason followed with interest all the developments of the mysterious affair.

Kanowna had been an alluvial field, and the surface alluvial was worked out. It had developed into the stage of working several promising reefs on various leases when it was discovered that there was a rich deposit of deep alluvial from which claim holders obtained considerable quantities of gold. Thousands of men flocked to Kanowna, which soon became a busy and prosperous centre where men dug the ground with feverish energy and lavishly spent their easily acquired wealth in hotel bars.

At this time Father Long visited Coolgardie, and


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when speaking of the Kanowna field said that he had seen a nugget which had been found there and which was over 1,000 ounces in weight. The statement got into the papers and aroused intense excitement.

When further questioned Father Long adhered to the statement that he had seen the nugget, but added that he was pledged to secrecy not to divulge the names of the men who showed it to him nor would he say the exact spot where it was found.

After that, the interest in the Sacred Nugget grew.

The rush to Kanowna became greater than ever.

Father Long's life was a misery to him through men questioning him in the hope of getting some clue. They followed him about, watched everyone who went to or came from his house. Many of them said the secret he held was of such public importance that it was his duty to tell everything. Finally he announced that he would declare the exact locality where he was told that the nugget was discovered, and that he would reveal the secret publicly from the balcony of a two-story Kanowna hotel at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of a certain day.

At the appointed time a crowd of many thousands was gathered in front with all kinds of conveyances in order to rush to the spot. Some were on horseback, others in buggies, several were riding camels, and many had bicycles, but the vast majority were on foot. It was evidently going to be a wild, mad race.

When Father Long appeared on the balcony he asked those present to promise that after he told them where the Sacred Nugget was found they would not ask him anything further about it. He desired them to show that they made the promise by holding up


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their right hands. Immediately thousands of hands went up.

Every person in the immense concourse was silent. All eyes were fixed on the young, pale-faced, handsome priest. On each of the sea of faces there was an eager, strained look. There was a tense feeling in the still air.

The priest raised his hand.

Two dogs began a fierce, noisy fight. There were loud cries of canine pain as they were kicked apart and ran away howling.

In complete silence, in a clear distinct voice, he said:

“The weight of the nugget was between 95 lbs. and 100 lbs. It was found at a depth of five or six feet a quarter of a mile on this side of the nearest lake on the Kurnalpi road, not far from the road.”

Before he had quite finished speaking there was a rush. Bicycles, horses, camels and buggies were mixed up making for the spot indicated. There were several accidents, none of them of a serious nature. A bicycle rider was the first to reach the place. Pegging at once began. Hundreds of claims were pegged in the vicinity.

After working the claims for some days no gold was found. Before a couple of weeks they were all abandoned as worthless. That was the only information that Father Long ever gave about the nugget.

For years old diggers talked of the affair. Various opinions were held. One was that there never was a nugget and that Father Long was hoaxed by a faked nugget painted with leaf gold by those who wanted a rush to Kanowna in the interests of the hotels.

Another theory was that Father Long had talked extravagantly in Coolgardie and had made an exaggerated


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statement without realising the effect it was likely to have. When it aroused a furore he lacked the courage to admit that he had been guilty of what he thought was only a harmless taradiddle.

There were hundreds who contended that a mass of gold had been melted and thrown when hot into water and thus had the semblance of a nugget. It was really (unknown to the priest) stolen gold, and that was why he had been pledged to secrecy.

Others were convinced that the nugget was found and shown to the priest, but that the finders wished to conceal their identity. Perhaps they were in debt to storekeepers and others and so wished to escape the payment of their just debts, but of that the priest would know nothing.

Father Long was of the cheery type of cleric, a man experienced in all sorts of country sports in Ireland, an excellent conversationalist and a bright companion.

One day, when the public excitement was at its height, I met him and could see that he was terribly worried. It was before he had made the announcement from the hotel balcony. I asked him to dine with me. He accepted. There were but the two of us at the dinner. We talked of Ireland, of its trout and salmon fishing, its game shooting, its old legends, wonderful horses and fine hunting. I did not refer to the nugget. When he was leaving he was excessively cordial in his expressions of gratitude for the hospitality extended to him.

Some months after he had announced the spot where he was told the nugget was found he again dined with me. The conversation between us was chiefly about Irish history and Irish politics. The nugget was never


  ― 83 ―
mentioned. As he was saying good-bye he turned to me and said: “Thanks very much, but especially for never questioning me about the nugget. It was kind and thoughtful. I hope some day I will be able to tell you more about it than I have told anyone else. I cannot do it now.”

That was the last time I saw him. The puzzle of the Sacred Nugget was never solved. He carried to the grave what further he knew about it. A year or so after the furore he had aroused had subsided he died in Perth from typhoid fever.

Photograph Facing Page 80: The Meeting of Diggers at Kanowna. A section of the huge crowd which assembled to hear Father Long tell them where the “Sacred Nugget” was found. The photograph shows them raising their right hands to promise that when he tells them they will ask nothing further about it.



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