We Love KB Blog

2nd June 2020

KB in Black & White: Life 100 years ago

The name ‘Kalgoorlie’ is derived from the Wangkathaa Aboriginal word “karlkurla” meaning ‘silky pear’, a plant common to the area. The name ‘Boulder’ was taken from the Great Boulder Mine. Some may know our city as the mining capital of Australia, or for harbouring stars like Kevin Bloody Wilson and Eddie Betts. But Kalgoorlie-Boulder isn’t like the rest. Our unique history, vibrant culture and community is always sure to leave a lasting impression on everyone who comes to visit. 

Today we’re taking a blast to the past back to the start of the 1900’s! The Kalgoorlie and Boulder townships (not yet amalgamated at this stage) had a combined settler population just shy of 12,500, and of that, 44% were women.
Take a look back on these treasured photographs, during the first mining boom where the production of gold was at its peak. Times were very different back then; it’s amazing to see how much has changed and just how much has stayed the same in the past 100 years..

Kalgoorlie Boulder 1900 History Past

Main Street, Kalgoorlie circa 1900
Credit: Eastern Goldfields Historical Society

Growing up

Raising children on the Goldfields often proved difficult and dangerous for many parents. Children during this era often died from diseases like diphtheria. Fires were commonplace and many accidents, some fatal, occurred in mine shafts around town.
However, life wasn’t all bad, with many historical accounts of local children majorly enjoying their childhood growing up surrounded by the bush land and native animals in the Goldfields.

Growing up History Kalgoorlie Boulder Kids Living Farming

Children collecting firewood, circa  early 1900s 
Credit: WA Museum

Everyday Life

Life may have been prosperous for some during this era, but for a lot of residents, the day-to-day life was a struggle. As gold finds grew, so did the population. Clusters of tents and shanty dwelling sheds cascaded the landscape.
As years carried on, men who prospected the area were finding work difficult as the surface deposits began to dwindle around the outskirts of town. This bust caused tensions to flare and many men faced depression and anxiety as symptoms of the end of the ‘gold fever’, so to speak.  

Boulder was referred to as the ‘miner’s village’, Kalgoorlie being thought of as more prosperous and where rich people would reside. Shopping in Kalgoorlie was often considered a big day out for many Boulder women. Elite socialites shopped, managed servants, and were always well dressed.
Poorer women of the time didn’t find the lifestyle very pleasant, as they were subjected to poor living conditions and limited leisure activities. Departure from the town, depression and even suicide would affect many women of the Goldfields.

Rural Living Past Kalgoorlie Boulder History

Woman and family outside her house made of corrugated iron, circa early 1900s.
Credit: Outback Family History.

Mining 

The gold rush began following the initial discovery of gold by Irish prospector Paddy Hannan, near Coolgardie, in the late 1890’s. Soon after, news of his findings quickly spread and prospectors from around the country were flocking to Kalgoorlie to try their luck. Over the years, Kalgoorlie’s mining industry has followed booms and busts regarding the fluctuating price of gold. Today, the KCGM Super Pit stands as one the biggest open-cut goldmines in Australia, having produced over 21 million ounces since opening.

Golden Horseshoe Mine Kalgoorlie Boulder Mining Gold

Golden Horseshoe Mine, circa 1900.
Credit: WA Museum

Hobbies

Residents of Kalgoorlie-Boulder often took to cycling, swimming and horse races as commonly practiced hobbies at this time. The bicycle was a common mode of transport, and so cycle races remained a popular pastime. International and national cyclists even visited for the events all throughout the twentieth century!
The opening of the Municipal Baths in December of 1900 gave the newly-formed Kalgoorlie Swimming Club a place of sanctity to host individual and team events, which soon became popular monthly carnivals for the residents.
Fun fact: Originally, swimming trunks for men were banned and bathing costumes became compulsory, as well as men and women having to swim separately! Oh how times have changed..

Cycling Tournament 1900 Kalgoorlie Boulder City Bike Racing

Cyclists prepare for tour from outside the Criterion Hotel, c.1909
Credit: WA Museum

Kalgoorlie Baths Swimming Racing Diving Kalgoorlie Boulder 1900

Kalgoorlie Baths, 1917
Credit: WA Museum

Women of the Goldfields

In the early days of settlement, family picnics, dances and the theater sustained life for many women. At the turn of the twentieth century, female sex workers flooded the Goldfields, and by 1902, Hay Street was known as the ‘red light district’ of Kalgoorlie.
Women, both married and single, worked in local shops, offering hairdressing, dressmaking and tearoom services, as well as some working in offices. Many ladies supported the efforts of the church, worked for charities, raised money for community projects and played for sporting clubs such as cricket, tennis, croquet and more.

Women of the Goldfields Kalgoorlie Boulder 1900 Feminism

Women and children having morning tea, Kalgoorlie circa early 1900s
Credit: WA Museum

These photos capture an essence of the simpler times; earning a living was a major priority for every family, and people were ambitious about what lay ahead for the city we live in today. I hope those who made it through the first gold rush would be proud of what we’ve achieved, not only in terms of gold mining advances, but as a unique and united community.

Men Cars Shopping Kalgoorlie Boulder Living 1900

Men posing on a car outside H.A. Skepper, just down from Palace Hotel, Hannan Street, 1900
Credit: outbackfamilyhistory.com

We hope you’ve enjoyed looking back through the eccentric history of Kalgoorlie-Boulder as much as we have. If you have any of your own photos from past decades, share them with us! Use #WeLoveKB hashtag on Facebook or Instagram to be featured.

 

Sinead Porter
Creative Writer
We Love KB