Monday, January 03, 2005

Friday December 17 1971. 

Like far too many places in this story, mining town Kalgoorlie is in the middle of the desert. Its goldrush occurred during the 1890s depression, so everyone was twice as desperate to get at the gold. There was no water. Water at one stage was more expensive than gold.

Kalgoorlie, queen of the mid-west, once vaunted almost a hundred hotels along her main streets like jewels in a gaudy crown; and secreted more than a hundred brothels in her back streets like something unmentionable lurking in your underskirts.

When there is the sniff of gold, anything is for sale. Kalgoorlie was a mean town. Where crime and greed were just as at home as the flies and dust. Probably more so.

The aborigines lived there for a million years, gold undisturbed beneath their nomadic feet. A hundred years or so of Kalgoorlie history is nothing. That’s almost living memory. Many aborigines can recall their grandparents and great-grandparents remembering and talking about time before European settlement, when the distant echo of a million years of unchanging times - the Dreaming - came crashing to a halt.

Gold – what does that bring you? Trouble and death.


We stopped in the main street, got out and stretched our legs. The gold may still have been dug out of the ground (as it is to this day) but the hotels and brothels were fewer in number.

Some aborigines, dressed in brightly coloured and ill-fitting hand-me-down western clothes like so many dress-up dolls, were sitting around on the streets in the shade of massive Victorian verandahs, too full of stunned lassitude to even wave the flies away from their diseased faces. Too broken to beg. Too lost to know what to do at all.

We walked past them. But I remembered them.

Country towns like Kalgoorlie, despite their shameful past, their mean present and their doubtful future, still manage to hold a weird kind of charm, an attraction that is not easy to explain. The streets are wide beyond belief. Why? You had to be able to turn a camel train in them. The streetscape is all faded Victoriana and slamming screen doors. Red dust creeps right up to the very doorsteps, reminding you that you are still in a desert. It’s like a movie set town, except you open the doors and there’s a real room – dark and cosy in that fifty-years-out-of-date manner - instead of tumbleweed and snakes. Some folks put lace in the windows to enhance the Victorian look, but as always, that just makes it look fake.

We had set out early this morning after an anxious moment in which the car wouldn't start at first - dust in the fuel line, Uncle decided.

At Kalgoorlie, we pressed on after a short break and stopped again in Coolgardie, a town with more reminders of a rough colonial past – life-size statues of bushrangers in full metal outfits, old carts and drays, mining equipment and pumps, all the usual romanticised stuff that spoke eloquently of a past you would not want to have lived through.

The kind of history they, with an eye on tourism, call ‘colourful’ ...


On my uncle's car radio:

riders on the storm
riders on the storm
into this house we’re born
into this world we’re thrown

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

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