Kalgoorlie (April-November 1946)
There was not much that I could do at this stage (April 1946 prior to wedding) so I decided to go up to Kalgoorlie to see my Mum and Dad, and set about making housing arrangements. My younger brother Roly (Murray) had returned to Kalgoorlie in January 1946 after his RAAF and RAF service over Europe and I was looking forward to having a long chat with him about our war experiences. He was waiting for his September 1945 bride, Joan (Sellars was her family name), to come out from the UK on the first available “bride” ship.
When I arrived in Kalgoorlie I found that my mother had a rental house reserved for us if it was suitable. She was a friend of May Wilson who was the wife of R B (Reg) Wilson, the auctioneer and real estate agent. In earlier days he was a leading boxer and now was known to many in the town as “Bruiser” Wilson. Mrs Wilson was also in real estate and she had arranged the house for us. Once I looked the house over I signed up to occupy it from 23 May at a rent of 25/- ($2.50) per week: that was 25% of my weekly wage.
The house was timber frame and corrugated iron roof with linings of pressed metal for the interior walls. It was located at 90 Dugan Street (north side) and was a few doors west of Wilson Street. I still have a photo of it, our first home. In 1986 when we were in Kalgoorlie we visited No 90 and the house was still there. It was owned by an Italian lady, Mrs Divitini, who was interested in our being earlier tenants. She stood with us while our photo was taken at the gate and invited us in. Two or three years ago she died and I believe the house site has now been redeveloped.
The house had two bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, and bathroom, with the WC down the backyard. The owner was a Mrs E Harrington who was moving down to the coast, but only the furniture was for sale. On the 6th May I listed it all out and what a list it was. It was all available for 190 pounds ($380) so I gave her twenty pounds ($40) deposit with the balance due on 23 May 1946.
A week only lasts seven days (Joan and Doug’s honeymoon) so it was goodbye to Bunbury and the Carrolls and back to Perth by train. We had to be in Kalgoorlie three days later, on 22 May, to finalise taking over our new residence at 90 Dugan Street. Now came the goodbyes to our friends and the family farewells at 21 Victoria Square and the station. Everybody wishing us well as we headed off to the goldfields, a new world for Joan, and a new future for us both with the war now over and done with. “Good trip”, “Bon Voyage”, “Best of luck”, were wished us with farewell smiles, kisses, and a tear or two.
The trip on the “Westland” was always a comfortable way to travel when I used to come down to Perth on post office leave and I was now happy to be on the train and going back to Kalgoorlie and the post office. I saw Joan and I staying in Kalgoorlie for years as we established a permanent home and I worked my way up in the service. During my leisure moments on Manus waiting for transport home I had thought about going into business but once home again l put that idea aside. “The best laid plans of mice and men” ??
When the express was 12 miles west of Merredin, just after going past Hines Hill, Joan was able to point out the lights of the McKenzie farm where the Moore family had lived till 1939. Early in 1938 Joan had come down to Perth to stay with her Auntie Jessie while she went to Perth College. Her mum and dad came down a year later after Arthur had been hurt in an accident. He was cranking the old farm truck when the engine backfired. He ended up with a broken neck. He had to leave farm work and look for something else. Mr and Mrs Moore then bought the boarding house at 21 Victoria Square as a going concern boarding seven young men. It was to be their income till Arthur started work as a PMG linesman where he stayed till he retired. The McKenzies stayed on at their farm till 1949/50. Without Arthur’s help to run the farm P C McKenzie, Joan’s grandfather, decided to sell. Wool prices were low then, but the new owner sold “the clip” at Korean War prices and got the farm purchase price back in his first year.
Our main stop after Northam was Merredin where the Hines Hill people did their main shopping, and Coolgardie where I used to meet the train in 1937/38 and pick up the mail bags for the post office. Morning tea and biscuits brought by the conductor, they were the days and soon after passing through Kurrawang the outskirts of Kalgoorlie and Boulder came in sight. All this very new for Joan. What did surprise her were the Somerville market gardens which ran parallel with the railway line and Hannan Street. Some of the best WA vegetables grew there, along with many fruits. Give the goldfields soil plenty of water and gardening success is assured. All this thanks to C Y O’Connor and the Goldfields Water Supply.
On stepping out onto the station platform at Kalgoorlie Joan was quick to notice how long it was. One of the longest platforms in Australia. First-time visitors always talk long about it. Plenty of action around the station as friends met the train passengers. Roly came down to meet us and helped us with our cases and gear. The PO boys were there to help the mail contractor load the mall on to his ute. I think Jack Ley? was still the man. I had a quick chat with them and then we were off up to our shop, “The Teacup”. It was at No. 245 Hannan Street, on the corner of Cassidy Street. My Mum and Dad were both there welcoming us, Joan in particular to Kalgoorlie, over another cup of tea and some “Teacup” samples.
Mum had got the key for 90 Dugan Street from Mrs Wilson and with that in our hands we were off to our new home. Roly ran us down in Dad’s Ford V8 coupe and then went back up to the shop. We went in with Mrs Harrington, who was watching out for us, and paid the 170 pounds ($340) due on the furniture. Joan checked the list Il had made out on 6 May and declared it OK. Mrs Harrington wished us well and then left. A bit of hugging and kissing, without the carry over the threshold, and we then inspected all the furniture and the house and garden again. It was a nice house and we really liked it. The inventory of the house, surrounds and contents gives a fairly general 1940’s life-style pattern for the average family in Kalgoorlie. The house had been kept neat and tidy so there was no cleaning to be done.
After we unpacked our cases and boxes and had a look at the budgies and the canaries we walked back up town. Our first call was at Alf Kapp’s general store and papershop on the corner of Dugan and Wilson Streets to arrange for magazines and papers to be kept for us. What a surprise when I first went in there. It was now run by Glad and Herb Russell who I knew before the war. She was formerly Gladys Gaby and married Herb in the early 40’s. Mrs Kapp was Mrs Russell, Herb’s mother, before she married Alf Kapp after Mr Russell died. Glad and Herb had worked for Kapps before the war. We had a chat about the old days, the first of many, and in 1989 I visited them at the retirement homes village in Alexander Drive, Mount Lawley. Kalgoorlie people like to chat about times gone by. Once a goldfielder always a goldfielder.
I set out to show Joan the town so we walked along Wilson Street till we came to the Town Hall and Paddy Hannan’s statue on the corner where we stayed a few minutes. I told Joan the story of my mum when she first came to Kalgoorlie in 1942. It was dusk when mum stood near the corner waiting for Dad to meet her at this well-known spot. She saw this man waiting also so she made a comment on the weather. No reply came and it was not till she moved a little closer that she realised it was a statue. She liked to retell this story of where she first met Paddy Hannan.
As we walked up Hannan Street, walking east you were going up and walking down you were going west. The width of Hannan Street always gets a comment from newcomers to Kalgoorlie. Deep gutters with light poles and a taxi rank in the centre. Occasionally in earlier days a pedestrian would spot the glint of gold and one or two nice pieces were prised out of the roadway from time to time. Hannan Street, a street of shops, hotels, and business premises, and the post office were the hub of the day-to-day life of the locals. Joan saw into the main hall of the PO and the sections where I had worked before. I checked on the day I was to resume duty (18/6/46) and that left us with four weeks to settle down at 90 Dugan Street before I was back at work. It was not unexpected that we were running into many of my pre-war friends. There was so much to talk about and home visits to make. Peace was great.
We spent the next few days unpacking and settling in mixed with shopping and dropping into the “Teacup”. Sunday is the sporting day for the week in Kal and after lunch I started to dress to go out much to Joan’s surprise. “Are we going out?”. “Yes, football today. I forgot to tell you”. A short silence. “But I don’t like football”. Another short silence. I said, “Well I’m going because I’ll meet everybody there”. “Alright I’ll go and see what it’s like”. Away we went and had a good day out. My allegiance to West Perth stood me in good stead as Joan’s city friend, Shirley L, was the wife of champion centreman for West Perth, Johnny Loughridge. Joan became a strong fan of West Perth after that football season and now barracks as hard as anyone for the West Coast Eagles.
Over the next three weeks we busied ourselves around the house and giving Mum a hand in the shop. We made a few trips down to 12 Whitlock Street where Mum and Dad had their house. Our trotting stables were at the back of the property which was not too far from the trotting track. Younger brother Roly was experienced with the horses and was qualified to drive in the races. Quite a change from “driving” Lancaster bombers over Europe. Mum and Dad, and Roly, had first visited Kalgoorlie in August 1941 when they entered a few horses for the annual trotting carnival. They had car trouble along the way, Mum had to get a lift to go on and get the horses taken off the train, and the horses failed to perform. Always optimistic, the family returned for the “round” in 1942 and settled in Kalgoorlie for the next ten years.
Down at the house Joan and I were nice and comfortable but I came close to making things pretty hot on one night during the winter weather. We had a brick fireplace in the lounge where we sat when tea was over and listened to the radio or put on a record.
I got very cold one night when I may have had a touch of something like malaria or dengue fever. Cold and aching. I stoked the fire and put another log on. It got more comfortable and as I idly watched the fire flame run through the hollow log with woosh ! woosh!, I said to Joan, “That’s a good fire”. It really looked and sounded great. I was startled into reality when a voice coming from next door called out, “Hey in there, your chimney’s on fire”. I rushed out the back and saw the tin wall chimney, only the fireplace was brick, glowing red-hot. I yelled to the neighbour, “ I’ll get the hose”. “No,” he cried, “Anything but that”. “Get all the salt you can and put it on the fire”. A frantic rush to the cupboards and we pour heaps of salt on to the flames. It worked, smothering the fire out. Not much mess in the lounge, no need to flood the fireplace, and the next morning a cooled down chimney now normal.
We were paying a weekly rent of 25/- ($2.50) from my pay of six pounds ($12) per week. On 15 July (my 27th birthday) I was due to get a rise of 3/- (30c ). A quarter of my pay went to the rent, but we managed fairly well with what was left after 10% tax and union dues and insurance. We had visitors from time to time and I remember Mrs Pratt, a friend of Joan’s mother from East Fremantle breaking a trans-train journey to call down and see us, with her daughter (Isobel?). They had not been to Kalgoorlie before so we showed them around till they went back to the station.
It was later in June that Roly’s wife arrived from England. They had been married in the UK when Roly was with the RAF and RAAF. His Joan was farewelled by the Sellars family when she boarded the “Stirling Castle”, a “bride ship” bringing over to Australia the wives of the many Australian servicemen who had married overseas. The ship left late in May. In a letter Roly had told to take care of her money as often the outlaws used to ride into the towns and rob the banks. The other girls aboard the ship soon put her right about that and everybody had a good laugh when Roly met her and her friends at the wharf. That meeting was a day later than expected as the day the ship was due the water was too rough to dock so all the relatives had to go home and come back the next day.
Roly and Joan stayed a couple of days with my sister, Alice, and her husband, Frank Andrews. He was still in the Navy and they had been married in 1942 (Correction: engaged in 1942, married in 1943). While he was away she had lived for a time with Mum at Kal till November 1945 but now he was back they had their own house at 37 Stuart Street in Maylands. Roly and Joan took the express train to Kalgoorlie where Roly had booked a room at the Commercial Hotel in Hannan Street, right opposite the “Teacup”. Roly had stayed in the room at the rear of the shop which I had used when on leave. He later was able to rent a flat and then a house. Joan was a lovely girl and the four of us saw a lot of each other in Kalgoorlie and over the years. In later times they moved to Queensland. I never did ask her what she thought about it when he took on the job of driving the explosives truck for one of the mines. Later he was with the Selfridges firm when they opened near the “Teacup” late in 1946. He was the manager as I remember. He had a good head for business.
On the last Saturday night in June the town gave its servicemen a full-scale welcome home at a gymkhana on the trotting ground. Many of us had been far away when the war ended so we missed the celebrations in the streets on VJ Day 15 August 1945 that we now see in film documentaries. It was great news where we were at the time but it must have been wonderful here at home after seven years of the war to end all wars. Why not dance in the streets? Admission was free and all the kids got a free bag of lollies at the gate. All the ex-service men and women were given coupons to use on the stalls and for refreshments. The band played all the old wartime favourites like “Pack up your troubles” and “Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant Major” and many other well known pieces, with the spectators joining in. The sports list included motorcycling, cycling, boxing, and trotting. We ran two or three running second with Speedy Logan. The highlight of the trotting races was the special challenge race with civic leaders holding the reins. The Mayor of Kalgoorlie, R G (Dick) Moore drove the winner, Violet Ranj, beating the Mayor of Boulder (Bob’s Fancy ). A good night.
One visit we made was up to the home of the Bennetts family who had been so kind to me before I joined up. Just before we came up to Kalgoorlie, George Bennetts (a town councillor for many years) had been elected to the Legislative Council as the Labor Member for South Province. In later years I was to talk with him often when I saw him at Parliament House and after he retired in 1965. I last saw him when he was in a South Perth hospital and heading for 90. He had to settle for nearly 90. At the same time there I met Dr Webster whose eyes had failed him. He could hardly see but we had quite a talk about Kalgoorlie and Boulder. Dr Webster had been the family doctor for Mum and Dad, as I remember. He was at 55 Egan Street in those days. We had our own doctor and he was Dr Philip Hogan at Boulder. In later years we were to become good friends of his son, John, when he was an optician in Zimpel’s Arcade in Perth.
Joan and I were happy in the house and managing married life without any problems. The days seemed to go by at an easy pace in those days for the world had been glad to settle down to getting on with living. July came and went and we were into August. Joan was three months pregnant and we were looking forward to the happy event expected early in February. She was seeing Dr Hogan from time to time for regular checks. What would we call the baby? Would it be a boy or a girl? We had no fixed ideas as long as it arrived safely. Roly and Joan were also expecting a small visitor but not till May. Our families were overjoyed.
Life at 90 Dugan Street was still going smoothly. Joan had had no more domestic surprises since we nearly burnt the chimney down or since she had found her weekend washing laying on the ground covered in dirt after a fierce dust storm had belted Kalgoorlie.
The early post-war years were happy times for most families. Now people could settle down and look forward to a bit of peace and quiet, while they got busy with life and raising children. There was not a lot of money about but our needs were more confined to necessities and luxury items were more thought than bought. There was not as much “keeping up with the Jones’s” as there is today. Luckily there were no credit cards which though having practical uses today are a blight on the community. The cards have led many people lemming-like over the cliff and down into bankruptcy, when a cash basis housekeeping budget would have saved most of them. With a cheque or cash you can shop around for a good buy dollars cheaper than the credit card price and no loaded 25% on the card. In the days I now write about we paid cash for household items. Some bought furniture or land and houses on time-payment plans.
If we did not have the money we did not buy it, and were no worse off. Clothes and some grocery items were still rationed, as was petrol though that did not worry most of us as the Holden had not yet arrived. People were still buying practical goods. An ice chest of polished oak, or cream enamel, could be bought for about eight pounds ($16). Most budgets were not up to the luxury of the Hallstrom-designed kerosene refrigerator. The oak ice chest was a popular item for most homes if you had the money to buy one. It had two wire shelves with an ice compartment which you opened up from the top. The iceman was just as important as the milkman and he would call regularly with your block of ice on his shoulder, the ice resting on a thick hessian bag and usually being held by an icehook firmly gripped by the iceman. We would pull up the lid and down into the ice chamber went the block. The ice chests were about 40” high x 24” wide x 16” deep. They worked very well.
Many people made do with a Coolgardie safe which was kept in use even when you had an ice chest. The safe was built on a strong galvanised frame with one shelf inside. It was a bit smaller than an ice chest. It was covered with good quality hessian and had a tray top which was kept filled with water. The hessian absorbed the water and it dripped and filtered down the hessian sides. The Coolgardie safe was placed or hung in a position where it caught the breeze and this made the air in the safe quite cool in most weather. Butter, cooked meats, and other foods, kept fresh. Many safes were hung on shady verandahs. At 34/- ($3.40) a good buy.
Our life in Kalgoorlie went along steadily through September into October 1946 with no earth-shaking events to upset the applecart. My post office job looking after the registered mail system was going along OK subject to a few minor problems on odd days. Many local people were able to take a few minutes over the counter to have a quick chat for nothing had changed in this regard during the war. Most people did not have telephones so the post office was still the popular meeting place and gossip centre. Servicemen were still coming back from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, for many had been helping with the discharge of personnel no longer required and with the winding down of defence establishments.
Out in the wider Australia the Chifley government had retained office at the September election, but losing six seats. One of those was Reid, won by the former Labor Premier of NSW, Jack Lang, the leader of Lang-Labor. It was the first Labor Government to gain office for a second term in a row since federation in 1901. Parliamentary proceedings were now being broadcast but probably only in the daytime. I cannot remember listening to them in 1946. I may have paid much closer attention to those debates if I had had any idea that 12 or so years later I would be contributing to them and having my say over the airwaves of the ABC.
Our “Teacup” tearooms now acquired a new neighbour as Kalgoorlie started to liven up with new business activities. Selfridges were opening a new store almost next to our shop. Key words from their advertising stressed that they were not connected with Selfridges of London. Roly was later made supervisor in charge of the store. Hannan Street was a line of shops and hotels from Porter Street at the eastern end down to Wilson Street, after crossing Maritana Street and Cassidy Street. A line-up of the Hannan Street central business area is given in my earlier Volume One of this story. We were now seeing more goods coming on the shelves at outfitters like McKernan’s, Freedman’s, John Saunders, Hicks’ and Brennans’.
I recall buying a new Akubra hat, probably at George McKernan’s, for 25/- ($2.50). A pair of work shoes for men cost 16/- ($1.60), coupon free. Ladies could buy a 3/4 coat for 60/- ($6) to 100/- and 9 coupons. Hicks’ had electric irons for 20/- ($2), 5 valve dual wave radios for 28 pounds ($56), and children’s tricycles for 70/- ($7). Our expected was now 6 months on the way so it was a bit early for us to buy anything like that, but booties and the things we needed first were being gathered. Both keeping well.
(NOTE: After being asked to go to the Post Office in Leonora and Doug turning down the offer, Doug resigned from the Post Office in November 1946 and the family moved to Perth and new adventures.)
Kalgoorlie (June 1951)
In June 1951 my dad (Wally), living in Kalgoorlie where my mother had the tearooms on the corner of Hannan and Cassidy Streets, was making plans for another prospecting trip. This time it was out to Ora Banda. My postal assistant years at Coolgardie, Norseman, and Kalgoorlie – all gold mining towns – encouraged me to smell the air of the goldfields once more and I made plans to go with him. One of our regular customers studying at the Perth Technical College asked to join us on the trip and he did. Cliff Barker was the son of the manager of Mills and Wares Biscuits at Fremantle. In later years Cliff moved on to Sydney and fully qualified as an Industrial Chemist he worked with the Arnott’s Biscuits Company.
On the 4 of June, with Joan and her father, Arthur, managing the shop, we boarded the Westland express and were off to Kalgoorlie. We arrived on the 5th and I soon had to send Joan a telegram for I had left the prospecting area plans behind. They came next day. Cliff met Mum and Dad at the shop, on the corner of Hannan and Cassidy streets. We were to sleep in a small room behind the shop. It was a long week-end and two girls were absent so Cliff and I did the washing-up and chopped the wood. I served at the counter. My mother was glad of a hand as she had severe neck arthritis at the time. She was now 62, the same age as Dad. That age seemed old to younger people then. Here I am now telling this story at 78 and looking to be still here at 88 for Christmas in 2007 A.D. On 7 or 8 June we went down to Coolgardie on the train and took out our Miner’s Rights and then back to Kalgoorlie on the express coming up from Perth. It was several hours late. It was better for us as we were up and down on the same day. My 1937/38 days working in Coolgardie at the Post Office came back again.
Back in Kal, Cliff and Il moved out along Boulder Road to Whitlock Street (No. 12) which my Mum and Dad owned. We took the spare room near the stables where we had our trotters. The tenants at No 12 were moving out and when they did Mum and Dad moved.
Letters were coming up from home. The business was going O.K. One letter told me that a black cat had sneaked into the shop and made her temporary residence behind a shop fixture. She was soon to have kittens was the diagnosis of our Terrace customers. They kept an eye on it as did the family. When they were born she carried them out, and went off down Zimpels’ lane and found a new hide-out for the little ones in the old factory buildings where there could have been a mouse or two.
Our prospecting days took us to Ora Banda, out from Kalgoorlie, and Londonderry, near Coolgardie. Our days to do all this were cut back by the weather. It rained and rained which made bush driving difficult. We did get some good days while we searched here and there with a small nugget or two and no more. It was an experience as it was when I worked in Coolgardie in 1937/38 and went out with Archie Francis who drove Jim Larcombe’s truck. The Larcombes discovered the “Golden Eagle” in January 1931. It weighed 78 lbs and was worth 5,500 pounds. Jim Larcombe was 17.
The time had come for our prospecting holiday to come to an end and towards the end of June Cliff and I were off back to Perth. Before we left we went to see Norma McCarthy, who was visiting her mother, Mrs Cruickshank, in Kalgoorlie. Norm McCarthy and I served together in the RAAF. He was Falks’ city traveller. We then went to see my brother Roly and wife Joan (Sellars). They were married in England 1945 while he was still with the RAF. They were to leave Kalgoorlie and move to Brisbane in July.