Gold, Ghosts and Graveyards: The Story of the Goldfields of Western Australia
by Ron Gallivan
Thursday 27 October 2016
Did you know that a camel has a very large turning circle? I’m sure members of the VEHS didn’t until the evening of 27th October when we enjoyed a talk from Ron Gallivan about the goldfields of western Australia. During the nineteenth century the boom towns of the goldrush, such as Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, were supplied across the desert by camel train. Camels are unable to turn sharp corners so the streets of these towns are particularly wide to accommodate turning the animals.
Gold was first discovered in the area in the 1880s, and over the succeeding decades towns such as these sprang up almost overnight; their populations grew to thousands, and then when the gold ran out they were abandoned. To give some idea of the prosperity gold brought, in 1896 the main street of Coolgardie was one of only a few in the Empire to be lit by electric light. Coolgardie and Kalgoorie still exist to this day but with populations of only a few hundred souls. Other towns have completely disappeared from existence as the settlers took everything, even the buildings (such as they were), with them for re-use.
The lust for profit overcame all fear of dangers such as drought and disease. Typhoid was the scourge of the settlements; clean water was unobtainable. It was brought in and sold for 5 shillings a gallon (that’s about £20 a gallon nowadays). In Kanowna in 1897, miners even dug up the cemetery when it was discovered that a vein of gold ran beneath it.
Gold mining still goes on in western Australia, and the nineteenth century spoil heaps of Kalgoorlie are being crushed to see whether modern methods of gold extraction will provide more of the precious metal.
This was a fascinating talk which provoked a lively discussion