On the 9th December 1892 the first case of typhoid in Coolgardie was registered. The area around Bayley’s Reward Reef had just been declared a town and there were some 6000 men living in tents or camped under the stars. Food and water were still extremely scarce and there was no water to spare for maintaining good hygiene. To make matters worse, men from similar parts of the world tended to pitch their tents together in clusters. For example men from Western Australia could be found at the Sandgroper’s Camp, men from the USA at Montana. While this worked well in terms of company and security it was often disastrous for their health. If one man came down with typhoid or dysentery it quickly spread throughout the camp. And the nearest medical help of any sort was at least three days journey away. An early visitor to Coolgardie wrote to his friend in England:
‘One half of Coolgardie is busy burying the other half. Bad water, harsh conditions and lack of proper attention causes deaths to occur daily.’
Like today, though, life was not all doom and gloom. Australians are known for their wry humour and the hardy prospectors were no exception. Evenings were spent in the pub where the bush ballads of Dryblower Murphy were recited, often by the author himself, who lived in the town. Then one of the men would strike up a tune on their mouthorgan or squeezebox and everyone would join in the singing of well known folk songs – some sad, some funny and some adapted, on the spot, into outrageous parodies. Peels of laughter rang out and lasting friendships developed. Naturally, after the long backbreaking days of digging in 40 degree heat, a lot of alcohol was consumed. ‘I’m doin’ yous all a favour. Savin’ on the drinkin’ water!’ would be the loud protest if the publican had to step in and evict someone. With water only arriving about once a week and costing 2/6d a gallon it, really was cheaper to drink Champagne.
Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal, tells the story or 14yr old Clara Saunders who arrived in Coolgardie with the first gold rush and survived to tell the tale.
In bookshops now and available from Fremantle Press.
Thanks for dropping by Elaine!