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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.

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