Golden Quest Discovery Trail

Goldfields History

"Gold! Gold! Gold!" was the euphoric shout that echoed globally in the second half of the 19th century. This was the era of the great goldrushes that ignited passions, fuelled economies and created massive migrations to some of the world's most remote regions.

The first big rush was to California in 1849-50. A year later, "Australia!" was the cry as discoveries in New South Wales, then Victoria, caused near hysteria. From 1858, new North American finds in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and British Columbia simply added temperature to the raging global fever. And soon rich strikes in New Zealand were also attracting adventurers. The world's focus switched back to Australia in the early 1870s - this time to new discoveries in Queensland. In the 1880s, the enduring wonders of South Africa's Witwatersrand were first unearthed. Western Australia was still waiting and praying for gold.

In the final decade of the 19th century, economic storm clouds were congregating on every horizon. It had been a most remarkable century, but the money markets from London to New York to Melbourne were nervous. The boom times had been very good indeed. Unprecedented migration from Europe's "Old World" to the many "New Worlds" had created a global melting pot of nationalities. Fortunes on a scale previously unimaginable had been amassed from resource-rich frontiers, but it all came crashing down as decades of investments and speculations started to run dry. What the world needed was another good tonic in the form of yet another mighty rush for gold.

Where was the next El Dorado to be found in these gloomy times? Fortuitously, it was Western Australia.

In the decade that followed Bayley and Ford's discovery at Coolgardie in 1892, Western Australia was transformed by the wealth wrought from gold. Located almost 600 kilometres east of Perth, the colony's coastal capital, the wondrous new region was soon being officially referred to by Sir John Forrest's government as the Eastern Goldfields.

During the "Roaring Nineties", the Eastern Goldfields were a magnet for thousands of prospectors and other adventurers. Most descended upon the region believing it to be an uninhabited, almost waterless wilderness. But, like the rest of the Australian continent, it had been inhabited for thousands of years by Aboriginal peoples who had developed an all-encompassing physical, social and spiritual connection with their land. The sudden influx of some 50,000 foreigners displaced and dispersed these people, changing their lives and their land irreversibly.

The largest nugget discovered in the Eastern Goldfields wasn't unearthed until 1931. Called the "Golden Eagle", it tipped the scales at 1136 ounces. Its discovery by 16-year-old Jim Larcombe Jnr came at a time when the gold industry was once again experiencing a boom despite the Great Depression. Over 700 men rushed to "Larkinville" where the nugget was found.

Few regions in Australia can claim to have played a more dynamic role in shaping the history and fortunes of the nation. Without the unearthing of its rich gold deposits, Australia would have been hit much harder by the global recession of the 1890s. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the region's gold was one of the few bright points on Australia's balance sheet. The late 20th century resurgence of gold as a desirable commodity has once again made the region one of the single greatest contributors to the nation's export income. After more than a century of mining, the Eastern Goldfields has yielded over 49 million ounces of gold. It is now also Australia's leading nickel producer.

With 30,000 residents, the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder is the nation's largest 'outback' city. Its history, architecture and unique character make it, quite simply, one of Australia's 'must visit' destinations.

The Golden Quest Discovery Trail takes visitors on a 965-kilometre journey through the vast landscape of the Eastern Goldfields, revealing the region's vibrant history and its rich amalgam of natural, Aboriginal and European heritage.

One of the features in the Golden Quest Discovery Trail Guide Book is a series of Fast Facts! Here are some of the 'big picture' facts pertaining to the region's goldrush days.

Fast Facts

The quest of John Aspinall, a young New Zealander, came to an untimely end, one of many to "do a perish" in the harsh environment. The Hon. David Carnegie and his friend Lord Percy Douglas both survived the perils of early prospecting life, but Carnegie was later to succumb to a poisoned arrow in Africa. Far luckier was the ambitious young American, Herbert Hoover. After establishing his reputation (and a healthy bank account) at the Sons of Gwalia mine, he ultimately went on to become the 31st President of the United States.

The dashing William Snell rode his bicycle from Menzies to Melbourne and returned with his bride to become the first Mayor of Leonora. Another intrepid cyclist, medico and mining promoter, Charles Laver, had the town of Laverton named in his honour.

The Afghan cameleers Faiz and Tagh Mahomet established a thriving business, but Tagh was to be one of the first murder victims on the Goldfields. Mrs Sloss was one of the first European women to arrive at Coolgardie and the first to take up residence at Hannan's (Kalgoorlie), while Clara Saunders was the first Goldfields bride.

Some of these men and women left vivid records of what life was like during the momentous early days of the Eastern Goldfields. Extracts from their letters, journals, diaries and published works are used throughout the Guide Book and in many of the audio tracks on the CD. Some appear under the 'Eyewitness' banner. Here Clara Saunders remembers the momentous day on which Paddy Hannan rode into Coolgardie to register the claim that would create a new rush and ultimately give birth to Kalgoorlie and Boulder:

Eyewitness Account

A day of great excitement was June 17, 1893. Paddy Hannan had just arrived and reported a wonderfully rich find about thirty miles further out. Sharkey, the bell ringer, was in Bayley Street ringing the bell and shouting at the top of his voice where the find was. It was not long before Bayley Street was like a hive of bees, men running about in all directions, pack horses being loaded up with provisions. A team pulled up in front of the hotel, the teamster shouting out: "Right away to the new rush, 3 pound per head."

Men left the Bayley mine not even waiting to draw their pay. I will never forget that day. There were a lot of men working on Fly Flat; it was a very rich alluvial patch, nuggets of all sizes having been found there. Even this was practically deserted for a while. Men were soon returning to the Warden's office to take up leases, and it was not long before Hannans was a township.

Aboriginal Place names

The recording of Aboriginal place names in the Eastern Goldfields, particularly in the first 50 years of European settlement, was a haphazard affair. Sadly, the names of many areas and places have been lost. To further confuse matters, the sounds used in Aboriginal languages and dialects were (and are) very different to those used in English and other European languages. This created wide variations in spelling when people attempted to transcribe the words into English. Many place names that were derived from Aboriginal words are no longer recognisable in terms of the original language.

In recording the meanings of these names, things became even more complicated. Some places had several names, often with varying levels of meaning or slightly different meanings. The names are usually associated with songlines or Dreamtime stories that deal with the creation of particular features within the landscape, including flora and fauna.

Coolgardie is a prime example. The first known record of the name is "goolgardie", an interpreted spelling of the name given by the Aborigines living in the area and believed to mean a rock hole surrounded by mulga trees. It was probably recorded by Warden Finnerty, who shortly after officially changed the name to Coolgardie. It was also variously recorded as "coorgardie" (recorded as meaning a water hole named after a particular kind of large lizard, and probably relating to a dreaming story), "golgardie", "coolacaaby", and "koolgoor-biddie".

The task of accurately recording and maintaining local Aboriginal languages is one of the main roles of the Wangkanyi Ngurra Tjurta (Home of Many Languages) Aboriginal Corporation Language Centre. The Kalgoorlie-based Centre has recently published a Wangkatha Dictionary. Wangkatha is one of ten Aboriginal languages spoken within the greater Eastern Goldfields region, the others being Ngadju, Tjuparn, Ngaanyatjarra, Gubrun, Kuwarra, Ngalia, Mirning, Martu and Pitjatjatjarra. This dictionary helps to explain some of the sound variations between the local Aboriginal languages and the English language, where the 'k' sound in a word like "coolacaaby" is between a 'k' and a 'g' and the 'b' is pronounced between a 'b' and a 'p' in English. So "coolacaaby" would be pronounced something like "gulagapi".

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