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II

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.”

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