(After being sent from Coolgardie to Norseman to cover for sick leave) The friends I missed out on would have found out by enquiry at the office or through the local paper in which Editor Frank had put a short par in the “Personalities” column. It briefly stated that I had left by train on Tuesday night (12 April) for Norseman and that I had been transferred for six weeks on relieving duties.
The train pulled away from the Coolgardie station just before 9am and headed for Norseman along what was just as much a lifeline as a railway line. Now an old engine and its carriages stand at the 1896 built station platform patiently waiting for the green flag that will never be waved. As part of the local railways museum the train only comes to life when the movie directors need props.
Scriptwriters created a trainload of passengers and a train crew for films of the old days such as A Fortunate Life. A later film Boundaries of the Heart gets closer to reality when it sees the railway as long abandoned with weeds growing between the tracks. The station and the town could be seen again in films to follow, and one possibility is the proposed End of the Line which is about the rescued entombed miner, Modesto Varischetti. The 1989 flooding tragedy at the Emu Mine at Leinster had a sadder ending.
The train trip to Norseman was to last all day. Sitting there in a carriage compartment on my lonesome I had to content myself with gazing at the old mine workings that were still evident on both sides of the line. There they were mute monuments of despair in most cases for these small “shows”, but symbols of success for some. One district success was the Paris Mine worked 1930-1964.
The train arrived at Widgiemooltha about lunchtime and stopped there for forty minutes or so. I had been there before for the start of the 1937 “Widgie” race up to Coolgardie so I knew my way about and soon I was fixed up with a lemon squash and some lunch. I have some photos of the train waiting at the Widgie “station” and the passengers gathered between the train area and the hotel. The Pub was run by the O’Callaghans then and over the years it changed hands more than once. Someone named Phillips took over the licence a few weeks after I arrived in Norseman.
After the train left Widgie I sat there on my own thinking about what might lie ahead of me in Norseman. I was quite happy to be on the train looking out one side and then the other as the train puffed on to its destination. Suddenly the scenery changed and we were crossing a causeway across a salt lake which I later found out was Lake Cowan, and I knew my journey to my new job was over. The train reached Norseman about 3.30 o’clock and I was met by the Postmaster, Horrie Barry. After I collected my bicycle from the guard’s van we walked a couple of blocks to the Post Office, which was on the corner of Prinsep and Ramsay Streets. Mr and Mrs Barry lived on the premises with their young son and daughter. Other members of staff were Mick Mullumby, Senior Postal Clerk, Charlie Smith, Postal Clerk, Wally Coulson, Postal Assistant 2, and Bob Kerr, the Telegraph Messenger. The telephonists were Madge Smith, Effie Badock, and Marie Seinor. It was 12 April 1938.
Accommodation had been arranged for me in the single men’s huts next to the local Hall which was also the theatre. I was sharing the hut with Wally Coulson. It was small with the two beds taking up most of the space but there was room for our gear and it had a fireplace. When the cold nights came the temperatures in Norseman dropped below freezing. We had to heap all our clothes on the bed even when we had a fire going. Mr and Mrs Toby Waters, who had a store or theatre shop on the corner diagonally opposite the Post Office, rented us the hut which was on the theatre’s north side. The Waters family included my friend Lee and his brother, Vince. Gold was discovered west of Lake Dundas near Norseman in 1892 and then there was another strike when the Norseman reef was pegged near to the present townsite two years later, and a third strike
That was good enough for the town of Norseman to be proclaimed (a municipality) in 1896. The rich Princess Royal reef was discovered in 1901 (NOTE: unverified, various records indicate between 1901 and 1904) and the town continued to boom and had a population of close on 1,600. The annual rainfall average was 10 inches and the town had to make do with what water could be saved. The supply of water relied on the local catchment areas and the distillation of the lake water. The price of water was 2/6 (25c) per 100 gallons (450 litres). Scheme water arrived in 1936. When it did, the mines were able to boost their development programs and mineral production. I can see now that most of the GWS men I knew in Coolgardie could have worked on the Norseman pipeline the year before I reached Coolgardie.
One of the first new friends that I met over the counter was Bill Coppin who was working for Alan Blizard, the newsagent and draper. Bill’s boss was Roy Bartlett who ran the menswear section. I met the Blizards and the Bartletts with Bill and knew them well. Bill could have lived with the Blizard family, which included two small children. We soon found that we had a common interest in cycling and our friendship was firm from the start.
I had been looking forward to meeting Beverly Dally again as it had been some months since the friendly Dally family had left Coolgardie. It turned out that Bev and Bill had become quite friendly, so much so that a few years later they were married. Bev and Bill became my very good friends and I was able to join with them in some local leisure groups. My photos of us at the old mines and other picnic spots bring back pleasant memories of Sunday bike hikes. One later photo is of Bev and Bill holidaying at Esperance with Mrs Blizard and the kids. Beverly and I were looking at that photo as recently as 1988.
The main street of Norseman was Roberts Street where most of the town’s business was done. The shopping area ran for three blocks on both sides starting from the Ramsay Street end, and crossing over Talbot and Allsop Streets. The Norseman Hotel was on the corner of Talbot Street which ran up to the station. Seabrook and Sharpe had their garage and petrol pumps across the road. Further south in Roberts Street was the hardware store of Dick Schurmann, and Arthur Lamplugh who held interests in the “Break-of-Day” GML (Gold Mining Lease).
Fuller and Sons was one of the main stores, dealing in furniture, radios, and sports goods, including Malvern Star cycles. It was run by Joe Fuller, helped by his sons, Tom and Bill, and daughter Fay. Close to Fuller’s was Bill Crudace’s bakery. Haymes was the other baker. Then came the bootmaker, and Jim Crabbe the butcher. A Mavros cafe or store and a draper’s shop could have come next.
Then we had the Norseman Hotel which was run by V H “Pop” Nevile, and later by his son, Dudley. On the corner opposite the hotel was Bob Smith’s fruit and vegetable supply. The two tailors were George Black and Fred Miller whose wife was a hairdresser. Fred had a big Great Dane who was often seen with him around the town. The barbers in the town were Les Purser and Don McRae. Don had his chairs in a separated area inside the local betting shop run by Stan Quinlivan with the help of his brother, Tom. One of the clerks was Ted Hawkes. Stan and Tom were likeable chaps and maybe more of them later. I remember clearly Don McRae helping me out one morning when I cut my top lip, just under the nose, when I was shaving. It would not stop bleeding and I dashed up to Don for some help. It took a while but his styptic pencil eventually sealed it. Explanations were accepted when I was late for work.
Our music man in the town was Bob Nelthorpe who had a music and radio shop where you could buy sheet music and records. I bought new records now and then for my portable HMV gramophone which had travelled with me after my return to Coolgardie from leave. It was easy to carry about with a few records, and it provided nice music and songs for parties and outings. My records were mainly by Bing Crosby, Deanna Durbin, and Dick Powell. I also had a few of the recordings by the popular dance bands. Bob Nelthorpe led the local dance band which provided the music for many social events in the town. I still have most of my records from those days and often added to them when I had any spare shillings. I would do a bit of decision making at Bob’s shop as I looked through the new releases before digging deep. I think we paid two shillings (20c) for a record but may have paid a little less for some labels.
We were not short of shops in Norseman for it had a much more active business section than Coolgardie. W G (Geoff) Lewis was the chemist and he became well-known to Perth people in post-war years when he had the pharmacy in Hay Street West close to the West Perth Post Office. One grocer was R B Johns whose shop was between Stan Quinlivan’s SP shop on the corner and Max Thompson’s butcher shop in Talbot Street. Frank Mayberry worked for Johns. I recall that L and R C Daw had grocer shops in both Norseman and Esperance. They could have been part of a grocery buying group as they called themselves a “Melray” store
In Coolgardie Mrs Lathrope and her staff had seen to my needs in tasty meals except for odd eat-outs with friends at local cafes. Now I was dining out all the time, a relatively new experience for one who had grown up in the trade through the early 1930s. The Gaiety Milk Bar and Dining Rooms run by George Mavros was close to the Ramsay Street corner, next to Pritchard’s Drapery. The E S & A Bank was on the corner. In mining towns the cafes were both eating and meeting places and soon I was coming straight up from work to chat with my new friends while we ate a hearty meal. One of my fellow diners stands out in my memory as the best eater I have ever seen. He was a winder driver on the “Butterfly” Mine named “Lofty” Willans. He later married Dot Mayberry. Our Lofty would have two big plates of good thick soup, then a choice of the main courses and a good helping of bread and butter. All that was really for starters, for he would go for a main course return and then tackle the apple pie or the rice custard, and sometimes both.
Likeable Lofty never failed to astound me for he was tall and thin and looked less like a big eater than anyone I ever knew. He may have surprised George Mavros too, for I think Lofty finished up having to pay a bit extra for his meals later on. Local boarding houses used to charge 27/6 ($2.75) for the week’s 21 meals, and 7/6 (75c) a week extra for a bed. At Mavros’s we could have paid more than that, probably 2/- (20c) a meal. I was getting less than three pounds ($6) a week then, so I saved by having a very light breakfast at the hut, a snack lunch, and then the big tea.
Later I changed over to the Prinsep Cafe, a couple of blocks down Prinsep Street from the PO (NOTE: the advertisement spells the store and street Princep which appears to be an alternative spelling). My friend Max Thompson, the butcher, may have told me all about the good meals there. His sister Hilda worked there and looked after us very well. I have fond memories of that cafe which was run by Mrs Maitland. Her son Ron rode with our cycling club.
After spending an hour over tea there were one or two things we could do. If anyone was going to the pictures that was sometimes the answer. If it was a Thursday night Stan Quinlivan would be writing up the fields for the Melbourne races, and also Sydney, if he had the acceptances. On Thursday afternoons Stan would tune in to Melbourne on his shortwave radio and take down the acceptors as they were read by the station announcer. It was not an easy job as reception was never that good, and the shop had to be free of noise as far as possible. Electrical equipment being used near at hand did not help either. When Stan had the horse names and their weights sorted out he had to write them up on the blackboards which had been ruled up ready for the names. There were some nights when I gave him a hand, and many a punter picked his winner, or loser, from horse names and weights that I had neatly chalked up in capital letters and precise figures. I used to get a feeling of satisfaction when I stepped down off the ladder and viewed my handiwork. I do not recall what else was in it for me.
The line of reef gold country that made the town was discovered in 1894 by Laurie Sinclair with the help of his horse, (Hardy) Norseman. It is reported as having pawed up a large nugget on the site. Now that horse’s name will live on longer than Phar Lap’s. The total amount of gold mined from the Norseman/Dundas field is said to be over three million ounces, making it the second richest goldfield in WA (5.5 million ounces as of 2006). There is no prize for naming the richest WA goldfield (Kalgoorlie).
When I was in Norseman the two big mines were the Norseman Gold-Mines and the Central Norseman. The CNGM still operates today (closed 2014) but the Norseman and the Lady Miller and many smaller mines have all ceased working. In my time all these mines were operating. One other that readily comes to mind is the Blue Bird. Several rich crushings from that mine were put through the Battery in my time. Three good parcels put through saw a total of 285 tons of ore treated for over 2,200 ounces of gold. Sometimes called the “little wonder” the Blue Bird was managed by Charlie Wesley, who took me down the mine a couple of times for a look through.
You could see the gold in the walls, and when the rich ore was carefully broken out it was put by hand into an iron bucket like a kibble to be taken to the surface and onto the battery. If the stone was not going to the battery for a day or two the rich ore was bagged and kept down the shaft. Security was tight and guards were on the site. A few weeks later several specimens were loaned for general public exhibition in Kalgoorlie during the Goldfields Celebration Week. The magnificent specimens of gold-bearing ore were displayed in a department store window where the public could see and wonder and dream. Experts agreed that there were no finer gold specimens on display anywhere in Australia.
Charlie Wesley told me that if I had any spare money the shares were worth buying, but they were too pricey for me at 40/- ($4). I decided to invest ten pounds ($20) in Blue Bird West and bought 100 shares through a Kalgoorlie broker, Leo Hunter. No order too small in those days. They were the only shares I ever owned. They cost me 2/- (20c) and I sold them at a small profit when I went to Kalgoorlie in 1939, and needed a bit of ready cash.
Now that I was settled into Norseman on what seemed to be a long-term basis, I took more time to follow one of my earlier family interests and that was horse-racing. I liked to read the Sporting Globe, the pink paper which is now white, and take in the success of the progeny of well-known sires standing at prominent studs like Widden and St. Albans. Horse naming and the ingenuity of the owners in picking names for registration was of special interest.
It was necessary to keep records so I bought a portable Remington and put my typing lessons from the Postal Institute to good use. The decision to learn to type stood me in good stead ever after. The typewriter cost me 25 pounds ($50) or 8 weeks wages but I was grateful to every key of it, for we had no ballpoint pens in 1938, just scratchy pen and ink. I might add that for the same amount I could have enjoyed my next holidays by taking a cruise on the Stateship M.V. Koolinda from Fremantle to Darwin and return. In 1987 8 weeks wages for 19-year-old clerks would be around $2,000. So I bought a typewriter then for the price of a computer today.
Some weeks earlier (the Norseman-Higginsville road race on 21 August 1938) I had moved out of the hut alongside the movie hall to go and board with the Seinor Family. I knew Marie Seinor well from work and her brother Cob from the cycling, so it was easy to fit in with the family. I had a room to myself and they looked after me well so what more could I ask. In my spare time I typed away on my Remington and worked on my turf racing records.
The loss of my two front teeth at the football brought me a trip to the local dentist, Reg Campbell, who during the War was able to have another look at his handiwork when he worked on me again at our RAAF base. Reg took one look at the damage and the earlier fillings in some of my teeth and decided to take out the top set. A tasty but unbalanced diet, and water without fluoride had left a legacy that needed attention. Today fluoridated water and the many specialised toothpastes can be the way to better teeth care. Gibbs Dentifrice was in universal use in the 1930s and it came in a round block shaped like the lid of a jam jar, neatly fitting into a tin. A wet brush was all you needed. It had a good taste.
My appointment for the top set extractions was made for a Friday so that I could be miserable by myself and in my own time. I was not one for sick leave on any excuse. Reg did the job that day but it was not a case of go home and lie down. It seemed that the mail must go through and it would be better if I was there at the office, to do the outgoing mail and sort up the afternoon train mail, without the need to work on the counter delivery rush. What a day! There I was in the mailroom sorting the mail as though nothing had happened. My mouth was still bleeding but slowed up a little by cotton wool waddings. I had to have a large tray of ashes at hand so I could lean over every few minutes and clear my mouth out. The surgery injections were losing effect and I had to take aspros to offset that. I can still see it as it happened.
That was not the end of the story. When I went to bed that night there was not much sleep for me. I was out of bed many times to lean out of the window and clear my mouth again and again. By the morning the drying process was working better but I did not go to work till Monday. Dental plates were not common at the time even though dental hygiene was not up to present-day standards. People battled on with the occasional filling (50c) or extraction (25c) rather than have a complete job done. The cost of a full upper and lower set of dentures would have been up to five pounds ($10).
The dental plate made by Reg Campbell was small and lightweight. It was made of materials that included some gold dust and I must say that the plate and its teeth made up a neat little job. I was not averse to taking the plate out and showing it to the friends for whom dentures were a novelty to be seen but not worn. The set was to last me twenty years before being replaced. Sometimes the city dentists would come to the goldfields looking for business and I do recall a dentist from the Continental Dental Company of Hay Street (opposite Foy and Gibsons) making a call at Norseman. His name was “Wolf” Blitz. Reg Campbell sounded better to me.
Norseman was like any other town. Some friendships were leading to engagements, other people were getting married, and some were passing on. A funeral was always well attended for everybody in town would know the deceased and the family. The occasional mine accident could prove fatal when a miner was caught up in the mine machinery, or there was a rockfall, or when foul air took its toll as it did sometimes in the smaller mines on other fields. The funeral needs were supplied by the local undertaker, Charlie Philpot, who was a cabinet-maker, a builder and timber merchant.
The community services like the railways, the police, and medical facilities all ran well. Frank Hill was the Stationmaster and he ran a pretty tight ship there in the interests of good service to the town. There would have been a constant flow of parcels on the train from Coolgardie, where goods from Perth and Kalgoorlie were put on to the Norseman train. I remember Viv Pyke working with Frank but I am not sure what his job was. Maybe goods clerk? Frank was the stepfather of Effie, Fred, and Ron Badock. He died in Perth, late in 1986, when a resident at Craigmont Nursing Home in Maylands. On reading the notices in the “West” I realised that we had been visiting Craigmont, almost daily for many months to see my wife’s mother, when Frank was there. It was bad luck that I did not know for I could have had a few quiet chats with him.
The police station was opposite the PO and I saw the OIC Sergeant Bill Archibald and his constables, Harry Iles and Alf Purkiss, almost every day. They were always in and out of the office for one reason or another. Later on, Constable Jack Hart joined them. He may have been relieving or posted to Norseman to build up the numbers as the town population increased. The local Justices, Joe Fuller and Geoff Lewis, were kept busy hearing the many charges for creating a disturbance, drunkenness, driving under the influence, stealing, and the occasional SP betting charge. The police were kept fully occupied with complaints, arrests and charges, prosecutions, and paperwork. Alf Purkiss died 22 January 1989.
A quick note about Jack Hart. In the years after the War he was the racecourse detective for the WATC till he went into the local armoured car security business where he did well. He had a good head on his shoulders and saw a business need that he set about meeting. His service undertook to deliver payrolls and such other monies from one firm or person to another under the watchful eyes of armed guards. The system was so successful that his company attracted the interest of a national firm which bought him out.
Jack may have come to Norseman just about the time that Sergeant Archibald was transferred. Mr and Mrs Archibald had been involved in many of the social activities in the town and they were given a well-attended farewell party. The volunteers who worked on the RSL Memorial Park, which was in Prinsep Street between the police station and the post office, had fond memories of Mrs Archibald for she had provided them with refreshments when labouring on the park project. Well, a Sergeant going meant a new Sergeant coming, and that was an event that was to change my social life somewhat.
On the health side the town was well-served by Geoff Lewis as the chemist, Reg Campbell as the dentist, and Doctor W Harris as the local medico supported by the ambulance service. Mine accidents were always liable to happen and the two big mines, Norseman Gold Mine and the Phoenix Mine, maintained adequate first aid services on-site to meet emergencies till the doctor arrived. There were a couple of bad accidents in my time and I mention them later on.
Dr and Mrs Harris were nice people and in passing I must say that Mrs Harris was very attractive. She may have come from South America for I remember her getting mail from that part of the world. The envelopes posted to Mrs Harris attracted my attention because they were the first that I had seen that had the red and blue lines or markings right around their edges. They are now commonplace for airmail letters but in those days I was intrigued with the coloured border envelopes for they were not used or sold locally. When I saw the stamps and postmarks of the faraway places the letters had been posted from I wondered about foreign countries and travelling around the world. It was not the first time I had such thoughts and it was not the last, for the time was to come when my dreams of travel would become realities.
It was now September so perhaps I should report on the progress of the Blue Bird mine which was going along just fine. On my second look down the mine it was still a sight for sore eyes. The gold was there to be seen. When 150 pounds (68kg) of specimen ore was smelted it yielded 530 ounces of gold. In less than two years the Blue Bird miners took out 1,000 tons of stone for just under 10,000 ounces of gold worth 80,000 pounds ($160,000). Multiply that figure by 40 for today’s value. My Blue Bird West shares could have done with that sort of digging. Security was tight at the mine because of the rich ore being taken out, but six months later somebody got under the guard of the security guard on night duty. 6oo pounds ($1,200) worth of gold was stolen from its cache down the sixty-foot shaft. The gold had been stored in bags waiting to be taken to the Norseman battery for treatment. Who? How?
In October the PMG technicians installed a new telephone trunkline service for the public. A multi-coin device was fitted to a public telephone box outside the office for use when the operator was off duty. Calls could then be made through the 24hr exchange at Coolgardie. The coin box would take shillings (10c), sixpences (5c) or pennies. Pennies (cents) were worth something then. You could post a letter for NZ or Australia for 1d or write to the UK via the all-sea route for the same price. A letter to the UK via France cost 2d as did a British Empire letter, US and foreign 3d.
While the PMG was introducing new equipment for its services the inventors out in the wider community of Australia were inventing or improving home appliances designed to make life easier. One of those men was Edward Hallstrom who built the ice-chests (the icyball) we were used to, and then the better cabinets for those who could afford them. He then put units into the cabinets giving us the kerosene-operated refrigerators which most families were still using after the War. Kerosene fans and heaters were also made. After the War we saw the new electric models that started off the whitegoods revolution. Radios were still a top priority for the many people who could still not afford one at 30 to 40 pounds ($80). For the same price you could join the Koolinda at Fremantle and take a three week’s sea voyage to Java, Singapore, and Penang.
I was friendly with many of the local businessmen and, like Chas Wesley, they would help me make my stay in Norseman interesting. One such man was Mike Dwyer, the manager of the Bank of NSW, who asked me to join a small group that was going out in the bush to shoot game. Off we went loaded up with shotguns and ammunition to see what we could find. The targets turned out to be bronzewing pigeons so Mike armed me with a double-barrelled shotgun to do my best or worst. A .22 rifle was the only gun that I had ever used so when I pulled the shotgun trigger I got a bit of a shock, and so did the pigeons, but luckily for them I missed. I had a couple more goes but did the birds no harm, for which I was glad. It was just another new experience. The others did not have much luck either. For them it was an outing away from it all for the day. I was not to know then that two years later I would be in the Army, firing .303 rifles, and machine guns, at range targets and aiming for bullseyes and inners, but getting some magpies and outers.
Rifle clubs were in most country towns and the Norseman club had a good number of shooters. Les Purser, the hairdresser, was one and so was Geoff Lewis, the chemist. Dick Schurmann, the hardware man, liked to shoot and so did Fred Nicolay. Fred joined the RAAF later as I recall. Another shooter was Gil Dean, also of RAAF later. There was a chap named Guest from Kumarl, south of Norseman, who was pretty good on the rifle range.
The business and professional people seemed to have a common interest in golf in Coolgardie and Norseman which brought about friendly competition between the two towns. Locally the game was very popular. Some of the players were Dr Harris, who would have found golf a change from the surgery, and Dick Schurmann and Alan Blizard who would get a break from the day-to-day problems of the shop. Frank Hill, the stationmaster, liked a game, as did Mr Grice, the headmaster at the school. The Club’s ladies section had many members who were all very keen on a round or two of golf.
“There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around that the…”. It was early in October that the town heard more of the new man who was replacing Police Sergeant Archibald as the Officer-in-Charge of the Norseman Police Station. He was Sergeant Jim Kevan who had been in charge of traffic pointsmen of the Police Traffic Branch in Perth. No traffic lights in those days so we had the generally friendly pointsmen to see us through the intersections, or to ensure that we walked across the road in safety, or to freeze us in our tracks if emergency vehicles were using their bells or sirens to seek a clear way through the city.
Sergeant Kevan arrived sometime in the first week of October but I have an idea that he may have come up first, maybe with the two boys, Doug and Jim, and before Mrs Kevan and the two daughters, Ditta and Dot (Bonnie). The Police Station residential quarters may have needed checking over before the whole family arrived. I recall the outgoing Sergeant Archibald being farewelled but I am not sure that the local system allowed for a function for the new man. I think usual goldfields policy was, “We’ll wait and see”.
However, it was not long before a “Meet the Kevans” party was held at the new home for the younger people of the town, including myself. The front verandah of the residence faced the Post Office so I was in a good position to wave to the girls in their first days in town, and quickly build up a relationship with them.
The party was a merry one where we played the parlour games that are looked on as old-fashioned these days. Our ages ranged from fifteen to early twenties and there were a few adults there also. We got along very well and had no trouble in taking care of the supper and the non-alcoholic refreshments. Bonnie and I were soon attracted to each other at this party and we became firm friends. Mr and Mrs Kevan made me welcome in their home and I visited them often, and soon Bonnie and I were going steady and enjoying our friendship. I was now nineteen and though I had taken girls to the pictures, and to picnics and bike hikes, that was it. Perhaps being away from home now and in a permanent job I was maturing.
The weeks leading up to December and Xmas seemed to fly. Most of my spare time after work was spent at the Kevan’s or out with Bonnie, and each day passed very quickly as happy times do. I was still giving some time to the cycle club where we were organising a sports gymkhana for Boxing Day. We used the pages of the local paper, the Norseman-Esperance News, to let the townspeople know that we were seeking donations of trophies and cash towards the prize money for the many events planned. Such monies were to be gratefully received by the Collector who happened to be me. I was handily situated in the Post Office to take the names of donors.
About a week before Xmas when I was talking to the girls at the Coolgardie telephone exchange they told me that Vi Lathrope and Stan Duplex had been married at the Church of England in Boulder. The ceremony was held by Bishop Elsey. I met him in Kalgoorlie in later days. The reception was at Coolgardie’s Fire Station Hall. Vi was the third daughter of Mr and Mrs George Lathrope of the White Hart Hostel. Stan was the only son of Mr and Mrs Duplex of North Dandalup. The Matron of Honour was Vi’s sister Mavis (Mrs Tony Baker) and the bridesmaid was Rosie Veale, also one of the Coolgardie telephonists. The Veale girls were from Bunbury where the family were well known. Rosie later married the young George Lathrope and they finished up in South Australia. On 17 December 1988 I was at Vi and Stan’s 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Once we closed the doors on the Saturday morning of Christmas Eve that year I was able to turn my attention to presents and parties and go visiting over at the Kevan’s to see how they were making out with their Christmas Day preparations. On the Sunday I must have been at two Xmas parties, one at Senior’s and another at Kevan’s.
Boxing Day was Gymkhana Day and I rose early to join club members and friends at the town oval (now known as the Old Oval site) and get the sports day underway. We had the loan of a public address system to keep the officials and spectators informed on the day’s events and that task was given to me. Colin Giles from the Bank of NSW, or maybe the ESA, was the “ringmaster” for the day and he did a great job. The events were contested by children, juniors, and adults in appropriate age groups. Athletics, cycling, novelty events and log chopping were on the program and close results in some races helped provide an excellent day’s entertainment for the big crowd. Club officials and result stewards kept me right up-to-date with the latest placings and times, which were given by me over the air in between running commentaries on the races. When the end of the day came the club members and everybody else who had helped make the day a success were tired out but happy.
As for the public, the local paper said it all. Extract from Norseman-Esperance News, 6 January 1939:
BOXING DAY GYMKHANA
HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL VENTURE
H. WARNE WINS BUTTERFLY SCRATCH RACE
EXCELLENT PROGRAMME OF SPORTING EVENTS
The Grand Gala Gymkhana conducted under the auspices of the Dundas Cycle Club on Boxing Day was an outstanding success. It was held under perfect weather conditions and a large crowd was in attendance.
The Committee and members of the club must be congratulated on their efforts towards this venture, which proved so successful, and which considerably improved the prestige of the club.
The varied programme, which included cycling, foot-running, school childrens’ championships, Fire Brigade events, wheelbarrow derby, exhibition wood chop and novelty bicyles was thoroughly enjoyed and the events were conducted with fairly good dispatch.
The use of a wireless amplifier, kindly loaned for the afternoon by the Parents’ and Citizens’ Association, for a running commentary of events, and other announcements, was a novel feature of the afternoon, it being the first occasion on which such a method of keeping the public in touch with the events has been used. The commentator (Mr. Doug Cash) left nothing to be desired in this direction.
Some of the “other announcements” mentioned in the News article were adverts for two or three donors who were in business. I had the job of writing up the copy and then putting the ads over the PA system at the Gymkhana. The one for L and R C Daw’s Melray store gets a mention here:
“Spend your pay the Melray way”
“For the best deal on grocery prices
Shop at L and R C Daw’s in Roberts Street.”
“Spend your pay the Melray way”
Nothing startling but short and sharp. Definitely not enough competition to worry anyone on Madison Avenue. Daw’s were happy.
The success of this initial commentating and announcing try-out had the effect of stimulating my interest in sports broadcasting. When I saw an advert in the West Australian early in 1939 calling for applications for a position as an announcer with radio station 6PM, I rang the studio in Perth. They were patient with me and let me give two of my recent PA adverts over the telephone. This over the telephone from Norseman. So far so good, but the position had been filled. There would be another chance in March and they would give me an audition if I came to the City.
One Christmas gift that the townspeople were able to try out over the holiday period was Norseman’s new swimming pool. It had been constructed with the kind help of the two major mining companies. The men who made it all possible were the mine superintendents, R T DeCaen of the Phoenix Mine and Len Cant from the Butterfly (Norseman Gold Mines). They were men who strongly supported local community activities. Just right for New Year and the hot spell.
What hot spell? The first week in January 1939 we had four inches of rain over the six days. That was nearly half of the year’s normal fall. The unseasonable rains upset our enjoyment of the outdoor film programmes usually screened in the hot weather. On other nights of the year, inside the hall was the only place to be for the “Esperance doctor” at night could be really cold.
One of the chaps I knew in Norseman was Eric Shenstone who worked on the Butterfly mine. He was about 18 and of average height and solid build. Boxing was his sport and he had been showing a lot of promise in local fights. He was due to fight in a local boxing tournament when he had an accident at the Norseman Gold Mine where he worked. He was employed as a machinery attendant at the conveyor which carried the crushed ore from the jaw crusher up a hundred feet or so, and spilled it into the fine ore bin. He was greasing the head gear of the conveyor pulley when his right arm was dragged in by the belting, pressed against the protective guard and severed above the elbow. The noise of the machinery made it difficult for anyone to hear his cry to stop the conveyor. He then showed great courage by walking back to do it. He shut it down as help arrived. He was two months in hospital but his strong physical condition stood him in good stead and he recovered very well. I met him again in later years in Perth, and he was doing fine, in business as I remember.
Goldfields people made for the water when holidays came along and Esperance was often the place. You could catch the train or drive down about 128 miles (206km) on average roads and hope that there were no thunderstorms about. On the way you would pass by little places like Bromus siding, Kumarl (where the Guests were), Salmon Gums (which had a bank, a store and a pub at the half-way mark), Scaddan, and Grass Patch, before reaching Esperance. There you could stay at Heenan’s Pier Hotel with electric light throughout and septic tanks. No “little house on the prairie” there.
Bev Dally and Bill Coppin went there with the Blizards. Early in 1939 the Dally family moved to the Edna May mine at Westonia. The general store there was run by Marg and Bert Moore. The Dally’s were among their new customers. In later years I came to know the Moores very well and often stayed at their farm. Bev and Bill kept writing to each other for quite some time. Late in 1941 they were married. Three months later Bill, then a Wireless-Air gunner in the RAAF, was killed when his Hudson crashed up in New Guinea. I met Bev again in 1988, as Mrs Tom Watson of Kalamunda, and since then we have visited the Watsons at their nice home and talked over old times in Coolgardie, Norseman, and Kalgoorlie.
News like this (transfer to Kalgoorlie Post Office) was the last thing that Bonnie and I wanted to hear. We had been seeing a lot of each other and had formed a strong friendship that seemed like lasting forever.
The news that I would be leaving Norseman was disappointing for us. We now would have to rely on the mail and telephone services to keep in touch. Over the last couple of days I had to say goodbye to all my friends and leave them with the hope that they might have the chance to come to Kalgoorlie sometime. Bonnie certainly came up and the cycle club riders and officials came up to race against the Kalgoorlie riders. The day the train left for Coolgardie we said our goodbyes at the station, the whistle blew, and the train was on its way. I waved back to Bonnie and the others there till they were out of sight, and then had my mind focussed on the future as Perc McConville yarned with me about Kalgoorlie and the Post Office there. I was now heading for a new town, new people, and new experiences. That’s life.
The Editor of the Norseman-Esperance News gave me a farewell in the “Personalities” column of 10 February issue in these words:
The personal (sic) of the Norsemen Post Office staff underwent a change last week when Mr. Doug Cash, a junior officer, was replaced by Mr. T. Rose of the Kalgoorlie office. This change was necessary due to the increased work at the Norseman Post Office, entailing the services of another senior officer. Mr. Cash returned to Kalgoorlie office last week, accompanied by Mr McConville, who had been relieving during a temporary indisposition of Mr. M. Mullumby.
The members of the Dundas Cycle Club are among the many friends who will miss the transfer of Mr. Cash, as invaluable assistance was rendered to the club for various fixtures by the pleasant and well-liked “postee”.
I stayed overnight in Coolgardie and caught the express up to Kalgoorlie the next morning. The stopover gave me the chance to call in at the Post Office and the Lathrope’s to see old friends. Coolgardie holds many memories for me as it was a starting place in my life. A new way of life was opened up for me and my stay in Norseman took me further along that path. I never regret any part of my life on the goldfields and treasure many of my days there.