West Australian Gold Rush

Gold, gold, gold — who else is a Terry Pratchett fan and recognises the famous Discworld Dwarf song? Gold, gold, gold. As Terry says, dwarves don’t love gold, they just say they do to get it into bed.

Hmm. Sometimes I’m easily distracted. This is meant to be a history — not a fantasy novel — discussion.

Sooo, the West Australian goldfields. Remote. Arid. Life-changing.

From being a poor and remote British colony, the discovery of gold in 1893 at what became Kalgoorlie, or thereabouts, turned Swan River and its city, Perth, into a boomtown. Well, you all know what that meant…people made money out of supplying the miners.

I’m not a big fan of gold. Yes, it’s shiny. Yes, by convention it can be used to buy stuff. But I’ve never felt its allure. The goldfever that brought men (and women) pouring into Swan River, just as earlier generations had chased their dreams in eastern Australia and California, seems to me not only about the hope of a lucky strike, but desperation. The 1890s were a time of economic depression in Australia’s eastern colonies.

If you can get hold of an old copy of Geoffrey Blainey’s “The Golden Mile”, it’s a very readable, illustrated history of the West Australian goldfields.

You know how water is in short supply (and yes, I’m aware this is a disjointed and rambling post) and many cities have set up desalination plants (I know we have here in Perth), well back in the 1890s in the West Australian goldfields, water was a huge issue. Later they built a pipeline and were ridiculously pleased with it. Ha, my grandparents arrived here after all the bombing of WWII Europe and went, “Vwat is dis?” (excuse my poor Polish accent) “Is bombed and kaboom!”. Anyway, back on track. Water was an issue, but the primary issue was extracting the gold. So they powered the ore crusher with a steam engine and the byproduct of pouring the salty water into the engine was desalinated water–once the steam cooled off. I couldn’t find a link for the West Australian goldfields (and I read about this in The Golden Mile), but here’s an ore crusher from eastern Australian, Mogo, to be precise, which has one of the world’s cutest little zoos.

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