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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.




  ― 65 ―

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.



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