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I

IN the early days at Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie the mining community felt they had grievances. Coming as they did into the colony's interior, many hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement, they naturally wanted many public services, and wanted them quickly. They were young and impatient. It took time to provide water supplies, cut roads, establish hospitals, institute postal and telegraph facilities, open warden's courts and so on. The Ministry made mistakes. That was inevitable, but in the circumstances they did remarkably well.

Inexperienced as many of the goldfields critics were, most of them did not make allowances for the difficulties. Young as I then was, I urged patience and asked that the Government should be given a fair chance, but as time went on our grievances increased, and eventually I, too, became anti-Government.

One of our grievances was that we were inadequately represented in the State Parliament in proportion to our population. There was no man in the Ministry who had experience or knowledge of the


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goldmining industry that was then raising the State from poverty, obscurity and stagnation to a condition of wealth, prominence and progress. It was asserted, accurately or otherwise, that one member of Parliament, when appointed Minister for Mines, was asked if he had mining experience, and replied, “Though I have never been down a mine yet, I've been several times down a well.”

For years the whole of the eastern goldfields, with a population of 40,000 persons, was represented by a single member in the Legislative Assembly and none in the Legislative Council, whilst in the pastoral districts there were electorates, the total number of electors on the rolls for which did not number fifty. A Redistribution of Seats Bill was carried later, but the pocket borough evil continued. Even after the general election in 1897, in a House of fifty members, the member for Coolgardie actually represented more voters than the whole of the voters in half a dozen other electorates.

The customs duties, in the opinion of many, fell with undue severity on the goldfields, where the people were all consumers. They produced nothing but gold, and gold could not be protected. To make matters worse, the whole of our supplies came long distances by train, and the railway rates which were differential constituted a second customs house. It is not surprising that for that time the cost of living was enormous. The grievances were regarded as all the greater because the chief expense of the Government railway to Kalgoorlie came out of the pockets of the goldfields people. One of the conditions of the construction contract was that the line was not to be handed over by the


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contractors until in some cases from six to nine months after completion. The result was that prior to the Government taking control the contractors squeezed all they could in freight and passenger charges out of the goldfields people. Later when the Government, by also charging exorbitant rates, were abusing the transport monopoly they possessed, it was aggravating to feel that the goldfields railways, built as they were mostly with goldfields money, should be employed merely as a further taxation medium, whilst many reforms and public works which the mining community earnestly desired were denied them. There was indeed a complete lack of sympathy between the goldfields proper and those responsible for the government.

On the one hand, those who were born in Western Australia and had lived in it all their lives regarded the country as theirs. They wanted to know who had a better right to it? Why should they hand over its government or even a share of its government to the new arrivals? They spoke of the new arrivals as “t'other-siders” and nomads “without a stake in the country,” men who were said to be “here to-day and gone to-morrow.”

On the other hand, the energetic and enterprising mining community described the Western Australians as “Gropers” who had not the courage to find gold and had left to people who came from outside the task of opening up the interior.

A particularly sore question was the refusal of the Government to build a railway to Esperance Bay, the goldfields' natural port. Instead of doing so, the trade of the goldfields had to pass through the capital, and thus the journey between the goldfields and the eastern


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part of the continent was lengthened by more than one hundred and sixty-seven miles by train and over six hundred and ninety-one miles by sea.

Another grievance was that whilst settlers in the agricultural districts received the freehold of one hundred and sixty acres, residents of the goldfields had to pay for quarter-acre sand patches on which to build their homes.

What made these grievances appear the greater was that they were suffered by those who regarded themselves as the fairy godmother who had raised the Cinderella of the Australian colonies out of the ashes and showered on her golden gifts.

It was at this time the Government made a blunder that nearly precipitated serious trouble. Early in 1898 there were thousands of men working alluvial claims that they pegged and held by virtue of their miners' rights. Most of the surface alluvial had been worked out, but a deep alluvial lead had been found at Kanowna. It was extremely rich, and hundreds of alluvial claims yielded big returns. Deep leads that promised well were opened up at Bulong and elsewhere. The freely spent money of the diggers created a condition of roaring prosperity. Prospecting for other leads was in progress. To encourage this spirit of enterprise the Government even offered a reward of £500 to any person discovering gold in alluvial at a depth of thirty feet below the surface, the money to be paid after 1,000 ounces had been taken from the find.

Trouble arose between the holders of a lease and the


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diggers. The Ivanhoe Venture Gold Mining Co. held a lease near Boulder City. The terms under which all mining leases were then held provided that alluvial claims could be pegged out and worked on any lease as long as such claims were not less than fifty feet from a reef or lode. Under the Act the leaseholder was required, when asked, to define the line of his reef. This system of dual titles was unquestionably wrong, but it was the law and up to then it had worked without friction. No objection had been raised to it by anyone. In those days, strange as it sounds now, one hundred feet along the line of reef was considered sufficient for surface workings, and many managers rather appreciated the presence of diggers on their leases, as they assisted them materially in prospecting. For instance, whenever a digger in sinking came to a reef, the manager could insist on his leaving his claim, and the leaseholder would get the advantage of the labour of the prospector.

Certain diggers believed there was a deep alluvial lead on the Ivanhoe Venture lease, and as a matter of fact the lead was later proved to exist. When the manager was asked by men who proposed to peg out an alluvial claim on it to define his reef, he pointed to the four corners of his lease, and said, “All within that is lode matter.” Such a thing as a lode that was a parallelogram was never heard of. The indignant diggers went and pegged out a claim on the lease, and others followed their example. Numbers of shafts were then sunk.

Subsequently, when a law case was decided favourable to the diggers, the Government suddenly and without warning issued a regulation directing that in


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future alluvial workings on leases should not be carried on at a greater depth than ten feet. The regulation, which, incidentally, was ultra vires, aroused considerable indignation. Goldfields public opinion condemned it unanimously. It was contrary to the admitted rights of prospectors. If a man had a mining claim, whether it be alluvial or leasehold, the depth to which he was allowed to sink should not be limited. According to the regulation, if a man unearthed a pocket of nuggets a few inches below ten feet he was not entitled to them.

Diggers talked wildly of resisting the law, but wiser counsels prevailed. An Alluvial Rights Association was formed to test the legality of the Government's action. The name of one of the Ministry was on the Ivanhoe Venture Company's directorate, and the chairman was a supporter of the Government in the Legislative Assembly. I am certain that these facts in no way influenced the Government's action, but it can well be imagined how the circumstance inflamed the public mind.

The Premier, Sir John Forrest, was absent from the State, but the Acting Premier, Mr. Wittenoom, who was also Minister for Mines, refused to annul the regulation. The Cabinet displayed rather foolish obstinacy. They failed to realise the gravity of the crisis.

On the Premier's return to Perth he announced his intention of visiting Kalgoorlie.

The goldfields people determined to form a deputation of 10,000 of their number to wait on him and ask him to annul the regulation. There was a feeling of conviction that he would see that justice was done.


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As an explorer they held him in high respect. He had twice crossed the continent, and he was known to be a brave man, a good bushman and well acquainted with the back country and back country ways. They felt that their case would be in safe hands. They wished to impress on him how serious was their trouble, and the men concerned meant to wait on him in person and hear what he had to say. Preparations were in progress to ensure that at least that number would be present. Public feeling was running high.

The real purpose of the Premier in visiting the goldfields was to declare open a railway from Kalgoorlie to Menzies, some ninety miles northwards. At much inconvenience I decided to go to Menzies and put before him the exact position. I wanted him to know the truth. I believed him to have been misled. And in fact he had. It was my desire to help him in the public interests. I felt friendly to him personally. A year or so previously he had invited me to become a justice of the peace, a position I had accepted and regarded as a compliment, as I had only been a very short time in the State.

At Menzies I saw him, told him the extent of the trouble, and urged him to reconsider the determination of his Cabinet colleagues not to annul the regulation. In those days public men had not the same regard for democracy as they have to-day. He was an autocrat. I was then young, between twenty-five and thirty, and he was over fifty. He spoke to me in a kind and fatherly way, thanked me for giving him my viewpoint, and explained that everyone else who had spoken to him had given him the opposite opinion to that I had expressed.




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I was on the railway station at Kalgoorlie when he arrived from Menzies next day. There were a few leading residents on the platform. He turned to me.

“Is this the deputation of 10,000 that I heard talked about?” he said with a smile.

He did not know that there was a huge crowd outside and that they numbered not 10,000 but probably 15,000, but they had been kept out of the station to prevent accidents through overcrowding.

His surprise was great when he came to the door leading from the railway station and saw in front of him a sea of heads. There was a lane in the crowd to the Railway Hotel opposite the station, and he and his party walked through the lane to the hotel, and there received a deputation and discussed with them the ten-foot regulation. The deputation lasted a couple of hours, and he told them he would consider what they laid before him.

He had been asked to say a few words to the crowd, which had been waiting for hours for him to address them. He declined. Some of them had walked thirty miles to attend. It was a question that vitally affected their livelihood. Their bread and butter depended on it. They had practically all come from the eastern colonies, where they were unaccustomed to such treatment. Public men there did not hold themselves aloof. They could not understand a Premier acting in that way.

All that was necessary was for him to go on the hotel balcony, say that he had only just returned to the colony, that he had heard their representatives, that when he went back he would go into the matter fully and that he would then give his decision.




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The crowd would have cheered him and would have been quite satisfied. As it was they felt hurt and mystified by his silence.

He walked out of the hotel into the crowd to proceed to the railway station. The mob began pressing round him, each one asking him why he did not speak to them. It was a considerable time before he reached his train.

There was no hostile demonstration. No blow was struck nor was any attempt made to strike anyone. He was simply surrounded by the crowd, and he had some little difficulty in making his way through it.

Afterwards Sir John Forrest complained that he had been dug in the ribs with an umbrella. The fact was that his own secretary had an umbrella under his arm—he was the only one of the crowd who carried such a thing—and in the pushing it must accidentally have struck Sir John in the ribs. Certainly none of the diggers would be likely to carry an umbrella or sunshade.

Ultimately he got to the railway station in a somewhat distressed state.

The newspapers wildly exaggerated the events of the day. No person was hurt and no property was damaged, but, to read the published reports, one would think that there had been a dreadful riot and that Sir John had narrowly escaped being torn to pieces. He was the subject of many telegrams of sympathy and congratulation in accordance with the views of the sender. A published telegram that created great amusement stated, “My God! I am proud of you.” One versifier hit the truth off well as follows:




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“There have been riots, I know, in the land of the spud,
Which are not unattended with the spilling of blood,
As the blackthorn encounters the Constable's crown
And the stalwart policemen like ninepins go down.
When the amiable Hindoo is ripe for the fray
There are nice little shindies in sultry Bombay,
Things get lively at times in Hyde Park and the Strand
When the suffering Communist gets ‘out of hand.’
But except in Westralia—'tis safe to assert
There was never a riot where no one was hurt.

What a blood-curdling story they pitched us last week
Of a tumult colossal, Homeric unique!
Of a crowd of wild diggers, some ten thousand strong,
Who bustled and chevied a Premier along;
Of ears that were deafened by salvoes of groans,
Of lives that were threatened by bludgeons and stones!
You'd have thought from the published reports of the fray
Red Hell had broke loose in Kalgoorlie that day,
And that scores had been trampled to death in the dirt
In that terrible riot—where no one was hurt.”

At the invitation of the editor of the Australasian edition of the Review of Reviews I wrote an article setting forth all the facts of the ten-foot regulation. This made the position plain to the outside public from the viewpoint of the goldfields. The same issue contained an article by the Minister who issued the regulation in justification of his action, but within a few days of Sir John Forrest's return to Perth the ten-foot regulation was annulled. By that action the Government admitted that it never should have been issued.

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