At home Mum and Dad were philosophical about my transfer (to Coolgardie, 19 April 1937) but knew they had no worries about my being able to take care of myself.
Cecil was working down South but the rest of the family came to the Perth railway station to see me head off to the goldfields on the Sunday night express to Kalgoorlie that left about 6pm. It was all pretty exciting as I had a travel warrant which included tickets for a sleeper and meals as well. The train arrived at the Coolgardie station just before 9am on Monday 14 June 1937.
Mr Mardon (the Postmaster) had arranged for me to stay at the White Hart Hostel, formerly the famous White Hart Hotel of the early gold rush days. It was built in 1901 (Correction: opened in 1900) in Hunt Street, a block or two north of the Post Office buildings on the corner of Bayley Street. It was one of a group of hotels owned by the Lion Brewery in the early days. The boarding house was run by Mr and Mrs George Lathrope and soon I was meeting the people who worked there. Three of the girls were Ethel Deal, Anita Pickles, and Mary Veale who was Rosie’s sister.
The White Hart was single story with a lounge fronting the street and then there were a number of bedrooms providing for two or three people. The lodgers were mostly miners who worked at the Bayley’s Mine or Tindal’s, or on small shows close to town, but some, like myself, worked around the town. Mrs Lathrope and her staff provided good meals and accommodation and I was quite happy and comfortable there. The higher-paid miners paid 30/- ($3.00) for board and lodging. For lower-paid workers Mrs Lathrope made the charge less, based on a scale related to our pay and means. I paid 20/- ($2.00) a week. My pay was 45/- ($4.50) per week. Today it would be hard to find such consideration and generosity.
The town of Coolgardie was a whole new world to me. I had never seen a mining town let alone one with its heydays long gone. It was a new experience to see a street like Bayley Street with most of its active shops at one end, and an isolated store, Moran’s, still surviving on its 1894 tent-store site at the other. Apart from the shops in the main business area, near to or opposite the two hotels and the government buildings, there were only about five shops still operating among the tumbledown ruins and deserted townsite blocks in the places where thriving stores, offices, and hotels once stood.
Forty years earlier there were no empty blocks on either side of Bayley Street for its entire length. Most of the town’s 23 hotels were in this main street and they and the three breweries catered for 15,000 people. The six banks and the two stock exchanges made up the financial centre with the aid of twenty accountants and as many lawyers. Twenty doctors and dentists, backed up by more than a dozen chemists and a hospital, tried to take care of the health needs of the new town. Typhoid fever was the major killer disease and it took a heavy toll till checked by the extension of the Government water supply system to Coolgardie in 1903. Hats off to C Y O’Connor. Seven years earlier the miners probably took their hats off to Edison when the electric lights came on in 1896.
There were 60 stores in the town. Tailors and tobacconists, bakers and butchers, barbers and bootmakers, all plied their trades. In a bustling town 10 blacksmiths hammered away on anvils under the shade of something other than a spreading chestnut tree. The town had carriers with horse-drawn wagons, harness makers and produce merchants, and three sets of livery stables. The people providing essential services of many kinds made up a business community that filled every block on Bayley Street and spread down the back streets on both sides. The seven newspapers kept the gold miners informed on the best buys of the week and what goods were due to arrive soon. The miners were kept up-to-date with the latest news both Australian and overseas. What amazing times they must have been for the miners who came from all over the world.
Now here I was in a town of about 1,400 people and only four shops between the Post Office on the corner of Hunt Street, and Moran’s Store with its two-storey building down at the eastern end of the town. The nearest of these to our office was T J Cullen’s butcher shop which was still there in 1987, and still run by a Cullen who had added the newsagency to his business. The other butcher shop nearby was run by the Lillis brothers, Martin and Barney. The family were nice people strongly involved in the daily life of the community. Opposite the Cullens’ shop was the yard and office of Bob Miskelly the builder and that was still there in 1987 with a fading Miskelly sign out front.
Opposite Moran’s were the two double-storey buildings which were originally the Cremorne Hotel (delicensed in the 1920s) and the ornate Marvel Bar Hotel (delicensed 1930). It houses the RSL. They had now been converted for residential use. Built of stone they were comfortable and met the housing needs of the locals. At one of these, the Marvel Bar, lived friends of mine in Mr and Mrs Jack Dally and their daughter Beverly. They had come from another mining town and were people with whom I was quite friendly. I missed them when they moved to Norseman but I was later to see them again in Norseman.
Ben Prior ran the garage, or service station as we now call them, which was opposite the police station. I can never remember him other than being in a pair of oil-stained overalls. He worked hard and always seemed to have plenty to do, but he still spared time for a chat about the bike races and other local sports. Ben arrived in the town in 1934 and is still there at the time of writing so one could be excused if you now regard him as a local. However, in 1987 when I had a yarn with an old prospector in Moran’s Store he had the firm view that if you were not born in Coolgardie you could not be a local. They feel that way about locals in the NT.
When I saw Ben Prior in 1987 he told me he was touching on 85 and he appeared to be still going well but not as spry as he used to be. His memory was good and as we talked he recalled many people and events from the previous fifty years. The garage business is not what it was for his fuel pumps have gone as modern service stations have taken over in other parts of the town. He sits in his garage showroom surrounded by spare parts and odds and ends and quietly goes about his paperwork as he looks out onto Bayley Street. He owns a bit of property in the town and has an interest in a small mine where he goes on Sundays to get away from it all.
Ben is keeping his eye out for minerals that may have some benefit in the treatment of cancer. A chance word or two dropped would indicate that mineral oil discoveries may be in the offing. Ben Prior’s Open Air Museum is next to the old garage workshop and it has a collection of historical relics that have attracted many thousands of tourists every year. There is open access off the street, there is no charge, and everybody is welcome. In 1988 I had a report that things had changed and Ben had moved out to the mine for good after selling out the business premises.
In 1937 the shops between Ben’s garage and the Denver City Hotel on the south side of Bayley Street, and the government buildings and the Road Board office on the north side, were providing the day to day goods and services needed by people in a mining town. Eating places were popular and there were at least four that I recall, as well as the hotel dining rooms. There was a cafe next to the Railway Hotel where steak and eggs always topped the menu, the Kia-Ora Dining Rooms were down past the Denver City, while on the other side of the street were Mrs Disbrey’s Pioneer Dining Rooms near Val and Harry Hammer’s tearooms. Harry Hammer may have had a Malvern Star cycle agency there as well at one time, but it was passed to Ben Prior at some stage. It was a good agency. Sandovers had Rainbow Cycle dealership in town, possibly at the radio and electrical goods shop run by a chap named Warnock. A couple of shops from Hammers on the north side of Bayley Street was Bob Davison’s Cash Stores. Bob was well-known to everybody and later moved on to Perth where he died at a good age in 1988. One of the girls who worked there was Beryl Hogg. She looked after the accounts and the office side of things, as I remember. She would come down to the post office a couple of times a day. She left Bob’s office to go to Perth and begin a nursing career.
Flo Holden’s newsagency was my supply source for papers and books and I may have even borrowed books from her lending library. The shop had pads, envelopes and novelties and was a good place to drop in at when I had a few spare minutes. I was always a reader. When I had to get my hair cut I would go to Wally Spalding’s barbershop and have a chat while he put his scissors to work. Late in 1986 I met Wally at the Mirrabooka Shopping Centre and we had a long yarn about Coolgardie and the people we met there. He moved down to Esperance in later years and retired from there.
Ray Else was the local tailor but I had to make do with the suits that I had and make them last. Dry-cleaning was usually sent to Kalgoorlie and then came back to us by COD parcel post. More than once a dry-cleaned pair of my trousers, or my best suit, had to stay in its box on the parcel post shelf till payday arrived. Shoes only lasted a certain time for the gravelly nature of the ground you walked on around the town could tear them about a bit. A hole in a sole of a shoe meant running repairs with a piece of stiff cardboard till you could afford to drop the shoes into the local bootmaker, name of Louie?, for a resole job.
Groceries could be bought at two or three places. Kate Hewitt’s, Davison’s, and Mrs McRosties (she had a daughter named Merle). I usually bought a few sweets from them but not much else as I was looked after pretty well at Lathropes for eats. Mrs Magill, a kindly lady, who was the mother of John Cockburn, our telegraph messenger, and his brother Peter, had a drapery store just west of Prior’s garage. Tom Cullen was the milkman and he had his dairy out at the “Brickholes”.
There were two commission agents in town and they were close to each other on Bayley Street, south side, not far from the hotels. One was Pat Maloney’s, the same Pat Maloney who also had a shop on the corner of Murray and Pier Streets, the Horseshoe Coffee Palace corner, and it was managed by Tom Johansen. The other commission agent was a local contractor, and his manager was the friendly Joe O’Connor. The contractor went on to big things in mining and horse racing and city business activities. The two shops were, of course, what we know as SP shops and they provided the town with a good betting service. I only had a bet on the Cup but I liked to pop in and hear the race broadcasts with Jim Carroll or Eric Welch in full flight. I happened to be taking the mail up to the station one day when I heard a race being run. Without thinking I parked my mail trolley outside the SP shop and popped in to hear the race. The race over and done, I came out and finished my trip to the station, and handed over the mail. When I got back to the office I found myself in trouble. The owner of the SP shop had as usual been on the premises on a race day, and he spotted that I had left the mail trolley unattended. He rang down to the PM’s office to tell the Postmaster what could have happened to the mail, some of it registered and valuable. He was right, of course, and I was careless. I got a ticking off but it did me no harm and I learnt something.
The people who were cartage/haulage contractors did a lot of work for mining people, particularly those who worked the smaller mines. Supplies and heavy equipment had to be taken out and ore brought back into the State Battery, which was managed by Ned Wann. For the prospectors there was nothing like getting your ore crushed and seeing the fruits of your labour in gold bars, however small, but the larger the better. Among the several contractors was Bruce Bell, who I met down in Perth a few times after the war. Bruce Bell died in recent times, sometime in 1988. Another contractor, Ernie Scahill, was in everything, including some grubstaking of prospectors for a share of the gold found.
Mick Moran had been doing it for years. Ben Prior told me in 1987 that on one occasion Mick Moran ordered a gross (144) of canvas tents through his Perth supplier to keep his “grub-staking” plans going. One of my friends from the hostel, Archie Francis, drove a truck for the contractor, Jim Larcombe, either the father or the son. I remember meeting the younger Jim when he was driving. When Arch had to do a weekend job for Jim he would take me with him to places like Carbine and Kunanalling to the north or south-west to Grosmont where Ted Jollings had a show. Archie later went into carting with his own truck.
In January 1931 the name Jim Larcombe was established forever in the history books when he and his 16-year-old son, also Jim, went prospecting at Larkinville after being grub-staked by Mick Moran. Their luck ran poorly till young Jim broke some ground and made the strike of the century. He had unearthed a large nugget with the pick and shovel and he had to call on Dad to help get it out of the ground. The find was two feet long and one foot across and was three inches thick (650x300x75mm). After the other miners at the camp, which was about 45 miles south of Coolgardie and two miles east of the Coolgardie-Norseman railway line, had a good look at the nugget it was taken to Coolgardie and put on display outside the Denver City Hotel. The next day it was taken up to Kalgoorlie under police guard and exhibited in Hannan Street and the Town Hall.
The nugget then went on tour around Australia and in our State. I cast my eyes on it later that year when it was being taken on an exhibition tour around the schools which included Perth Boys School where we could put our hands on it out in the main hall. It was the biggest nugget found in Australia since Federation and tipped the scales at around 78 lbs (35kg). It was 1,135 ounces by troy weight and at nearly five pounds ($10) per ounce it was worth over 5,500 pounds ($11,000). At current prices the “Golden Eagle” would have been worth close to $700,000 (in early 2022 it would be around $2.8million) and if it had not been melted down, much more as a collector’s piece. It was the richest nugget ever found in Western Australia. What a strike!
The find set the Larcombes on their feet and Jim, at 44, went into the hotel business in Kalgoorlie and then later in Boulder where he had the Golden Eagle Hotel. The young Larcombes from my junior football days were some of Jim’s relatives living in Leederville. Harry and Tom I would see at bowls through the years and Tom more so because we were members of the same club. It was just a few months before Tom died in 1987 that he had a yarn with me about the Golden Eagle find and the hotel business in Boulder. Tom finished with a story that dealt with more recent times and is worth repeating. The way Tom told the story it would have been after Young Jim died in 1975 (Dad had died in 1954) and his widow and the next Young Jim kept on with the later hotel, the Foundry.
A young man with a metal detector walked into the pub and asked for Mrs Larcombe or Young Jim who I will now just call Jim. When Jim was pointed out to him the young man went over and introduced himself as the grandson of someone related to the Larcombes. His grandma had told him to call in and see the Boulder family because they would know where gold could be looked for. Well, who knows where it is, for gold is right where you find it yourself and that applies to all the good things in life.
Jim took the bit in the teeth and told the young man to do his detecting 15 to 20 kilometres along the Kambalda Road. Now that was about 11.30 and it was around 4.30 that the rookie prospector was back and asked For Jim again. Out Jim came and the young fellow said, “What do you think about this?” and showed Jim a lump of stone about the size of a rockmelon. Jim looked at it and said, “Where are you staying?” “I’m camping out”. “Well, there are no banks open now. If I was you I’d put that in my safe for the night”. It was not a stone but the real thing, which goes to show that people and champions make their own luck.
Bad news hit Coolgardie in August when a large number of men were laid off at Tindals (Consolidated Gold Mines of Kalgoorlie) mine which was a few miles south-east of the town. The Post Office was kept busy with people getting in touch with their relatives and friends who worked or lived in mining towns across Australia to see if any jobs were available in their local mines. One town I remember hostel friends making enquiries to was Captain’s Flat in NSW. It was on the western side of the great Dividing Range about 65km from Canberra, as the crow flies, and on the Molonglo River.
Many years after the War I was to become quite familiar with that river at the Canberra end. The worried miners would send off their telegrams to places like that and call back at the office counter three or four times a day looking for a reply. A positive answer would see another message or two sent off, and an early departure of the miner to some distant goldmine. A “no jobs here” message would bring a worried frown and more telegrams. I felt for them somehow and it crossed my mind then that I was lucky to be in the Post Office where we did not have the same job problem. In very recent times, however, we have seen both Federal and State Labor Governments taking a “your job is not sure and guaranteed permanent” line with public servants. This could mean that your political beliefs might decide your job future. Rough?
The effect of the many men being stood down was the earlier end of the Coolgardie football season. The three clubs were hard hit once more miners started to move out, and the clubs were unable to field teams for a competition. Enough players were available to play the home and away inter-town games that were programmed. The shop people were affected by the mines cutting back, but some of them could have been through it all in some other town.
The Tindals’ retrenchments so concerned the Willcock Government and Mines Minister Munsie that State finance of 30,000 pounds was made available to help solve the problems at the mine. Munsie was the Member for Hannans (and Coolgardie) at the time. A little bit of luck for the company’s geologists and the mine would not have had a problem. We know that in 1984 the prospector, Bill Powell, using the methods of the old prospectors made a big strike right alongside Tindals, and he is still getting gold. Sam Cash’s “Barbara”, and Baker’s “Surprise”, were good finds in that area.
There was plenty of sport played in the town. Cricket followed the football and regular matches were held. Golf and tennis both had good support from the men and the ladies. Some tennis players were Beryl Hogg, Merv Niven, Stan Hammer, Harry Hammer and Rene Lambert. Rifle shooting marksmen included John Cockburn, George Landwehr, Bill Henderson, Jack Baker, and Harry Price. Two of the lady golfers were the Wann girls Billie and Margaret. I came to know some of these people well and swapped greetings with others. Prospectors were doing their bit to help improve the town economy by working hard to find that elusive gold. I remember Ned Dryden and Arthur Runge making a strike at Dryden’s Find when they put twenty tons of ores through the battery for a return of 168 fine ounces. They always seemed to me to be an odd twosome. Ned was the taller one and Arthur just did not make the ideal match, but they found the gold. Later back in the town they celebrated well.
Other prospectors were Ted Jollings who I met when Archie Francis took me out in the Jim Larcombe truck to Ted’s show at Grosmont. Some prospectors that I met were Jack Reid and Herb Franks. On my 1987 visit to the town I met Herb Frank’s daughter who had left Coolgardie as a small girl. In 1984 she came back from Tasmania and I talked with her at the Coolgardie Market where she sold a variety of second-hand books and other goods. She had located her market in the Post Office building and had taken the floor space that I had known as the 1937 Post Office. She was very interested when I showed her where our telephone switchboard and telegraph room had been. Her premises used the same doors as we did but the public counters had been removed to give open access. Today’s PO is in the Bailey/Hunt Streets corner section of the building and has only been moved a few metres east of the old office.
My big surprise came when a tallish man came in and asked for the mail for Cash. It was Sam Cash, no relation. I was really stunned for I had never met a person with our family name, and we had no relations in Australia. We had no memories of grandparents from either side or of uncles and aunties, or cousins. We were alone.
Sam and I had a chat from time to time but as I remember he spent most of his time out in the bush where he had a camp and came in to town just for mail and supplies. He used to come in on an old utility or small truck with a couple of dogs in the back. He must have been 65 or more when I met him. He came to Western Australia in the 1890s as did so many other men, and worked at most of the fields. He struck gold at Boogardie in the Hill 50 country near Mount Magnet and later went to Coolgardie. There he continued to prospect with success by using his proven loaming methods which are detailed in his book, “Loaming For Gold”, which was reprinted in 1980. Basically, Sam believed that all through time rocks have been eroded by the wind and rain and other oxidising agencies and the fine particles became the soil or loam on the ground. When you washed the loam samples in your dish and got a “colour” show, you followed-up the samples trail till you found the original point of the shedding of the gold from the host stone. Once you had followed Sam’s methods and reached what you believed was the right spot you then got to digging and then more digging.
Sam Cash kept loaming on through the years and made his best find in the early 1940s when he was about 70. He was working 4 km out south of Coolgardie, and just east of the Norseman Road and the pipeline when he loamed upto what was to be the best strike of his life. His backers at the time were Ernie and Alan Scahill who formed a syndicate with Sam to develop what was now called the “Barbara” mine. After some years working the mine the three men sold out to Western Mining Corporation for over 40,000 pounds, ($80,000). Using basic wage comparisons that is $3 million today. The mine was then developed deeper and over the next few years WMC mined over 1.5 million pounds ($3M) worth of gold, $100M today.
Article – The Australian Journal – He Found 100 Gold Mines …. – Sam Cash (unrelated) – with handwritten note by Doug Cash. Source: Doug Cash Collection
Sam retired from prospecting about this time and he lived on till the good age of 92 after making a bigger impact on gold mining in this State than he has been given credit for. The oral history programs of libraries came too late for Sam Cash who died in 1964. What stories he could have told us about “chasing the colour”. In much later years I was to meet, and come to know well, one of his grandsons, George. We had a mutual interest in politics. We have been friends over years that have seen him aspire to politics and eventually see him enter the State Legislative Assembly as the Member for Mount Lawley. When that seat was abolished before the 1989 elections, for reasons that are beyond me with all my experience of boundaries, he was elected to the Legislative Council for the North-Metropolitan Province.
The Baker brothers made a good strike about 2km east of the spot where Sam found the “Barbara”, and it may have been around the same time in the early 1940s. In my time the Bakers could have worked on the mines or with the Water Supply. Their strike was not far from the Coolgardie-Norseman pipeline. I remember the Bakers around the town and I think they were members of the Rifle Club. There were small shows at places like Carbine where the pastoralist Jim Crawford had his homestead, his mine, and a battery where the ore was crushed and treated for gold. He had an attractive daughter, “Bonna”, who was in her early twenties. She worked for the Road Board at its office on the corner of Bayley and Lefroy Streets. She went out to the homestead on weekends. The Chairman of the Board was old Bill Faahan, one of the early pioneers of the district, and the Secretary was Pat Moran.
The miners staying at Lathrope’s were a pretty good bunch and did not mind you joining in their fun times. On Sunday mornings after payday they would run a small two-up game and it was not long before I was initiated. I would like to say that I was lucky and cleaned the school out but nothing like that happened. I backed the head and won some and lost some, and then was given the kip and tossed tails. The game is fair enough but luck is important.
One of the miners was a chap named Joe Coffey who had a blue car, a Terraplane as I recall, which was a coupe with a dickey-seat (rumble seat) at the back. When he went off to work the front seat and the dickey-seat would be crammed with his workmates. They were a happy-go-lucky lot and all lived at the “White Hart”. It never seemed too much trouble for Joe to pile them in and off. Joe, who was probably 40, had the occasional chat with me and I remember him saying that he was at Bonnie Vale, near Coolgardie, when the entombed miner, Varischetti, was rescued after being trapped underground in a stope (the excavation above a level or drive created as the ore is removed) on the No. 10 level, when the Westralia mine was flooded by torrential rains on 19 March 1907.
The floodwaters were fifty feet above the No. 10 level and it was a case of all hands to the pumps to try and pump out a million gallons of water. Progress was slow and divers were sent for on the third day. Two divers, Hearne and Curtis, arrived in the town early the next day and went on to Bonnie Vale, 6 miles to the north, where they were joined by Frank Hughes from Kalgoorlie. He was a miner and an ex-diver. The story has been retold in several books and articles, and will be portrayed in a movie, End of the Line, proposed to be filmed in and around Coolgardie, so no need for details here (NOTE: it does not appear that that film was made, however a 2019 documentary, My Name is Charlie, was made). Sufficient to say that Modesto Varischetti was brought out of the depths by Frank Hughes nearly ten days after the mine flooded, and special tributes were rightly paid to the divers, Hughes, Fox, Hearne, and Curtis, for the success of the rescue of the entombed miner from his air pocket refuge on the No. 10 level. Mining accidents stay in your mind, more so if they happen to friends. I remember some happening in my days on the goldfields which I may mention later.
Coolgardie in 1937 reaped some benefits from the traffic passing through to Kalgoorlie and Esperance, or to Merredin and Perth, for Bayley Street was also the main highway. However with progress had come the “road hogs” who came under severe condemnation by the local paper, the Coolgardie Miner, when they ignored the speed limit through the town which was 20mph (32kmh). Under the heading, “Speeding Cars a Public Menace”, the editor was moved to comment, “If a person wishes to live to a mature age in Coolgardie, he must keep an ever-watchful eye for speeding motorists”.
Coolgardie residents could go up to Kalgoorlie on the rail coach on Saturday mornings for the weekend and catch the Sunday night Perth express back. It was a handy service which I used a couple of times and we had used for a Cobbers Club trip. For some reason the rail coach trip was changed to Fridays which meant problems for the locals. The new service was to begin just before Xmas and certainly would have helped people do their Xmas shopping but it was no good for most people. The Stationmaster, Mr Shaw, and the Railway department came under fire, and after Xmas the service went back to the Saturday. It used to leave the Coolgardie station just after lunch and it took about one hour to get to Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie people could come down at 12.30 and stay over till Monday, and then catch the Perth express back to Kalgoorlie. It was pretty handy really for people who had found that they were isolated in Coolgardie and the train gave them a break.
The cycling season had finished just after the “Widgie” and with the football season cut short, interest was centred on the result of the “Popular Girl Competition” in which sporting clubs and other groups promoted candidates. The Cycle Club and the post office staff were able to celebrate when our Rosie Veale won by 900 votes. Sister Smith from the hospital was second and Beryl Hogg, the Tindals Football Club candidate, was third. Beryl did well as she lost most of her ladies committee when Tindals put off that big number of miners just after the competition started. Somewhere about this time Mr and Mrs Hogg moved to Southern Cross where he took charge of a battery three, and Beryl left Coolgardie to start a nursing career in Perth. There were many farewells towards the end 1937.
Sometime in November the White Hart Hostel was the venue for a happy party when we celebrated the 21st birthday of Vi Lathrope. Games and musical items and dancing and kept the many guests entertained. Items were given by Mrs Mavis Baker (Vi’s sister), Vi’s dad, Jim Crew, Vern Cavelle, and, believe it or not, Doug Cash. I remember the people sitting around the lounge when I was called on to contribute. With Mavis Baker at the piano I sang “Danny Boy” but I am not sure about the encore. I think it was “By The Light of the Silvery Moon”, one of my favourites from the community concert nights in Perth.
The boarding houses of the goldfields towns were a reflection of the life of the local community. Thirty people enthusiastically joined in the fun of an evening which was often repeated around the town for a birthday, engagement, or other happy occasion. For the record, and because they were a part of my life in Coolgardie I include here the names of the people at Vi’s party. There were Vi’s parents, Mr and Mrs George Lathrope, and her brother George. The ladies included Mrs A (Mavis) Baker, Mrs W Hughes, Mrs J Hogg, and Mrs G Anderson, and Mrs J Mullins. Some of the younger ladies were Rosie and Mary Veale, Bonnie Crawford, Ethel Deal, Beryl Hogg, and the guest of honour, Vi Lathrope herself.
The men included most of the boarders and family friends. Stan Duplex heads the list (he and Vi were married just over a year later on 17 December 1938). Others were Morrie Cavazzi, Gordon Anderson, Joe Gallagher, Perc McConville (Acting Postmaster), Jim Crew, Arch Francis, Jack (“Hostile”) Savage, Tony Baker, Cliff Main, Tom Fahey, Jack Cavazzi, and myself.
During the evening the many gifts for Vi were put on the table and her father presented her with a novel key which had the stem hollowed out. Inside there was a parchment with the names of all present inscribed on it as a memento of the happy 21st birthday. A nice supper was enjoyed by all and the night went merrily on till about 11.30 when we joined hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne”.
We were at Norseman and Kalgoorlie. My job was going along fine and there was always something to break the routine. News of nuggets found or strikes made came to us over the counter when people came in from the bush. The famous “Fly Flat” was a good spot for speckers and the elderly retired men who camped there were in the right spot. They would keep their eyes open, especially after the rains, as they walked towards the sun trying to catch the glint of surface gold. The remarkable thing about “Fly Flat” is that despite the area being picked over by hundreds of fossickers since Bayley and Ford found the first nuggets there in 1892 many more nuggets remained hidden for years. The new metal detector prospectors went through the area in the late 1970s and found hundreds of small nuggets and quite a few much bigger in size.
Oppy was lucky on the Saturday that he rode through Coolgardie (in November 1937) as early as he did because an hour or so later a mini-cyclone hit the town. It lasted only three minutes but the damage done was there for us to see next day. The gale-force winds had blown down sheds and outbuildings, and some houses lost their roofs. Shallow set fences were ripped out and trees and light poles were blown down. We also had some problems with the telephone services. The Railway Hotel, run by George Gear, was right in the storm’s path. It was a mini-cyclone (or tornado-like “willy-willy”), and heavy damage was done to the new upstairs additions. One of the members of the Gear family, the young girl Dawn, had a lucky escape from injury. The Fire Station lost its roof and Bill Domney, an active brigade man who lived next door with his family, lost his house when it fell to pieces as they ran outside. I spent some time the next day taking photos of damaged buildings and still have them. Bill had a brother, Ross, who I knew from Lathrope’s boarding house. I saw in the West that he died late in 1988 and George Banham, a volunteer fireman and football captain, died in January 1989.
The Coolgardie townspeople were very community-minded and they involved themselves in the activities of the many sporting clubs and other groups in the town. Such people included Reg Stahl, the Clerk of Courts and Mining Registrar, and Pat Moran, the Roads Board Secretary. Mr Allen, the manager of the Tindals goldmine, Ernie Scahill, and Jim Crawford from Carbine were all active in the race club and they had strong support from the town businessmen.
Martin Lillis the butcher, Frank Coates the barber, Bob Davison the storekeeper, Bob Miskelly the builder, and Fred Grow the town engineer, helped out in many local group activities. These people were not the only ones, for the list is long as most people were part of one community group or another. Small towns have the advantage of giving a person every chance to be part of the local scene in a variety of groups ranging from football clubs on the one hand to the glee club on the other. You get to know most of what is going on in the town and you meet with a greater variety of people to mix with.
The hotel licensees, George Gear of the Railway Hotel, and Arthur Dunstan of the Denver City Hotel were in close touch with most groups, and served on many club committees. Publicans always keep their ear close to the ground and many of their customers were always ready in their loquacious moments to pass on the latest town news, or discuss the goings-on around the town. The “bungs” always knew what was what, and who was who.
The eldest Dunstan son, Arthur, was studying at Scotch College in Perth, and came back home, with his youngest brother, Bob, at the year’s end for the school holidays. With the school year coming to a close, local teachers were thinking ahead to their holidays and one of them would have been Miss Feinberg from the primary school who was looking forward to going down to Perth. The other school was at St Anthony’s Convent where the nuns taught local children and girls who came from other goldfields towns. I would say that many of the girls were student boarders as they used to be in and out of the Post Office quite regularly buying stamps and posting their letters home. Often they collected letters and parcels for themselves when they picked up the mail addressed to the Convent. I soon came to know some of them fairly well by name and by sight. Two or three of them I met in later years and one was Norma Cruickshank who had come down from Menzies or one of the smaller mining areas in the Menzies district. I met her mother and her older sisters in Kalgoorlie sometime during 1940.
December was a bad month for the Gear family at the Railway Hotel as George died of an illness during the month. His widow, Elsie, became the licensee and ran the hotel with the help of George’s brother, Bert. The impact of George’s passing was felt in the town but life has to go on just the same. Soon people were leaving on their holidays and others were busy organising their Xmas festivities and their Xmas dinners. I remember having a jolly good time at the Xmas dinner at Lathrope’s White Hart Hostel.
I do not recall memories of many others. I do remember Xmas in Sydney when we lived at Enmore in 1925. We lived in a two-storey brick house on a street corner. You walked up onto a red cement verandah and the front door had those coloured leadlight panels. On Xmas Eve Mum and Dad set about filling the “pillowcases” with our presents. We overheard the action and were not asleep as we were supposed to be. We crept down the carpeted stairs to the first landing and peered through the bannister railings while remaining as quiet as mice. We saw what was going on as Mum and Dad laughed at one present or another that they had bought for one of us. I remember Mum saying to Dad, “And this is for Doug”. Dad tried it out for it was one of those toys, maybe called a “sparker”, where you push the “lever” in and it rotates a wheel that shoots out sparks. They still turn up at Xmas now. As for other Xmases, I recall some here and there but none like that.
In Coolgardie the summer months brought open-air pictures and there was usually a good attendance on all nights whatever the program. One was not too fussy in those days. Lance Dower ran the picture show and I think Fred Grow took over later on when Lance left the town. Fred used to run the dances and I went along now and then, and when the cycle club was having a special night.
Afternoon teas were popular with the ladies and I remember the Postmaster’s wife, Mrs Mardon, having a tea every now and then in the married quarters next to the office. Her visitors were ladies like Mrs Dunstan and Mrs Gear from the two hotels, Mrs Stahl the wife of the Clerk of Courts, and Mrs Alderman the wife of the new school teacher. Mr Mardon used to slip away and join them for a cuppa if we were not busy.
On 11 January 1938 I took my holidays and went to Perth on the overnight express. Leave conditions were generous and I had three weeks off, possibly with a return ticket provided. I was looking forward to seeing Perth and old friends and having a beach swim.
The ocean was something I missed on the goldfields for apart from the odd lake or two, Esperance was our nearest beach. The family were glad to see me looking fit and soon I was giving a hand with the horses, and enjoying a few kitchen treats as only Mum could make them. American-style pancakes and corn cobs fresh from the garden were my favourites. Mum was happy that I seemed to be surviving the “tough” life of the mining towns. She used to listen to my tales of the goldmines and the prospectors. Both she and Dad took a special interest in my meeting Sam Cash. They were agreed that he was not in any way related to us.
Family-wise everything was going reasonably well. Cec was working at the Cranbrook Hotel and Roly was helping Dad with the horses.
In no time at all the holidays were over and I was on my way back to Coolgardie. I was still caught up in the excitement of travelling up and down on the train and making friends with people on board. A couple of days after I got back to work the Coolgardie Miner gave me a mention in the “Personalities” pars.
Mr Doug Cash of the Post Office returned from three weeks holiday at the coast – more sunspotted than ever
The Editor, Frank Stonehouse, was having a bit of fun there for I had plenty of freckles in those days. Nicknames like “Freckles”, “Bluey”, “Coppertop”, and “Ginger Meggs” did not worry me at all. The girls settled for Doug or Dougie so no worries there either. My copy of that gossip item told me that one of the people I met on the train was Leo Gibbons who was the new manager for Tindals mine. The former manager, Claude Allen, left in January.
About the same time that I got back, the new schoolmaster arrived. He was Mr L R Alderman who had been teaching at primary schools in the Great Southern district and came to Coolgardie from the school at Gnowangerup. I remember that Mrs Alderman used to come into the Post Office, as most people did, and that she used to be friendly with Mrs Mardon and attended some of the afternoon teas. New arrivals were soon approached to find out their interests and with the Aldermans it was tennis and cricket in regard to sports. I never met any of the younger members of the family as I recall, but during World War II I served in the same Squadron as young Bill, who was a bomber pilot, and a top footballer and cricketer.
There are always people coming and going in mining towns. This was the case at the White Hart Hostel, and I would say that had always been the pattern since the very early days when it was the well-known White Hart Hotel. In those days it had Gray and Co. next door on its southern side, and an engineering firm on the northern side. From 1902-1914 the hotel was managed by Stephen Timewell who also ran the Westral Hotel. In my day the building was in good shape and quite comfortable. The last time I saw it the facade and the side and back walls were still standing. The White Hart had a National Trust listing and a recommendation to the local council that it be restored to its original character. When one wall collapsed in March 1988 the Council moved in with a front-end loader and demolished the rest of the building. As well, the heaps of original Coolgardie pressed bricks were taken to the tip. The locals were not happy but the deed was done. Vi Duplex who was one of the Lathrope family was very disappointed at the news that their White Hart Hostel was no more. I talked it over with Vi and Stan at their 50th Wedding Anniversary party in 1988.
I recall a letter coming to the Post Office with a simple address on the envelope. It read, “Any boy of 18-20 years, Coolgardie, Western Australia”. It was handed on to me by the Postmaster, Mr Mardon, to answer it if I wished, or to pass it on to someone else. The writer was a young lassie from Scotland named Chatty Sutherland, and her address was given as Clifton Hostel, Hilton Place, Aberdeen, Scotland. It was a long and interesting letter which gave me to understand that she was a trainee-teacher. I finished up taking it to Frank Stonehouse at the Coolgardie Miner and he gave it a good run in his paper. With some success he asked for volunteers to reply to it and several did.
The reminders of the storm damage of early November were still visible about the town when late in February we got hit again. It was a Sunday afternoon when several severe willy-willies blew into the town. The Post Office building was hit hard when the part used for stables in the old days was unroofed. Other buildings suffered the same fate and I have photos of some of the damage.
Ernie Scahill was Coolgardie’s “live wire” and had a variety of interests, particularly contracting and mining. He directed the W A Felspar Company which was busy mining about 12 miles south of the town. The trucks went out Hunt Street past the hospital. The work was supervised by Stan Duplex. The company produced minerals such as high-grade felspar, magnesite and mica. Felspar occurs in the granite pegmatite veins, or in masses of white material. The main uses of feldspar are in glass-making, ceramics and pottery. The company mined tantalite, for it also occurs in the pegmatite veins. The metal tantalum has great tensile strength and resistance to corrosion at high temperatures. Ernie Scahill was a man for all seasons whose activities made an impact on Coolgardie. Later years saw him buy the Denver City Hotel from Arthur Dunstan.
That (March 1938 cycle race) was the only race for a couple of weeks because the annual Fire Brigade Demonstrations were to be held in the main street on 10 April, and some of the bike riders were active Fire Brigade volunteers.
Sunday 3 April was a practice day for the local volunteers and then on 10 April a big crowd assembled along Bayley Street to see the events. The Denver City and Railway Hotels were close by in any emergency for goldfields towns always made sure that there were no cases of dehydration in the town. Bayley Street is a very wide street and lent itself well to the needs of the many events. I remember Les Cody from the Clerk of Courts office winning the Brigade Championship. Randall Smith, a fellow cyclist, took the lead in the points tally and went on to end up with the highest points total, winning the aggregate section of the competitions.
Most of the competitors were fairly well-known to the crowd and spectator participation in barracking and cheering on their relatives and favourites made that Sunday a lively day. Some of the competitors were Ray Cullen, Jack Hunt, Ernie Colling, Jim Crew, Wal McFarlane, and Fred O’Sullivan. I have always respected the VFB members for the work they do in local emergencies, their hard training programs, and the effort they put into the competitions which are held annually at the local, state and national levels. The brigades have always been an important part of community life and big crowds go to the State Championships which are held at different venues from year to year. It was not unknown in the old days for a fire to break out when the local firemen were far far away competing in active competition against their fellows.
As I write I am reminded of a story that is set in WA one Easter when the State Demonstrations were held in a big town and a fire occurred in a town a few hundred miles away. The fire broke out in a single-storey building standing alone in this particular town, at a time when the firemen were away and any locals left were probably taking it easy. The fire burnt on till noticed by a lady living nearby who, being very civic-minded, turned her garden hose on to the flames. She had been doing this for a few minutes, when a person came striding over and told her to mind her own business with a few well-chosen words, which went like this, “You take that… hose away. Go and light your own fire”.