During the interactive part of my author talk to the Booragoon Rotary Club last week, I became conscious of just how many people in Western Australia have a personal connection to the goldfields, either through their ancestors or their own experience. In spite of its isolation and the discomforts of heat, dust and flies there seems to be some sort of magnetism about the area. Certainly in the late 1890s people from all over the world flocked to the diggings in and around Coolgardie, and Kalgoorlie. Some of them moved on quite quickly, finding the work and the conditions too daunting. Others stayed forever, initially lured by the thought of striking it rich, then finding the camaraderie and the relative freedom of the outback more to their liking than city living.
My own maternal grandparents spent the first year of their married life living in a tent in Kalgoorlie. In the family archives we have a photograph of the two of them standing proudly in front of their own canvas dwelling with its white picket fence and small patch of grass out the front. That patch of grass was the only one amongst the rows of tents. My grandmother’s small, scraggly patch of grass was hard won. Determined to grow something to relieve her grim surroundings, she saved every drop of pre-used water to keep it alive. At that time tents were the only affordable dwellings. Even bush huts were few and far between. The few natural trees had already been scavenged from the surrounding countryside. Transporting building materials was slow and expensive. Only the very rich, or the official Town buildings, could afford weatherboard or stone. My grandparents survived, living in Kalgoorlie until my grandmother fell pregnant. Then they moved to Perth and bought a block in Shenton Park. My grandfather proceeded to build them a house. They camped in one room at first while he virtually built the house around them. My aunt was born and, five years later, my mother. One of her earliest memories is standing beside her father and passing him the nails as he added another bedroom to accommodate his growing family. Although they never returned to Kalgoorlie, the goldfields left an indelible mark on their lives, as it has done to so many others.