21 November 2018

Mildred Walshaw: Lady Gold-miner


Mildred was the only permanent resident of the ghost town of Comet Vale and was most likely the only active woman prospector with her own gold mine in Australia in 1957.

She was born in 1896 in Yellowdine, just outside Southern Cross. Her mother was travelling on a camel to Hannans after a trip to Melbourne. She thought she would reach Hannans well before the birth of her child, but it did not turn out that way. After a few months at Coolgardie, they finally arrived at Hannans (Kalgoorlie).

Her father was Dan Baker, who discovered gold at Comet Vale in 1894. Two years prior to her birth, he was with Frank and Ned Moss when he climbed Mt Baker, 67 miles north of Kalgoorlie to find water for their horses. He saw a granite outcrop with a waterhole, now known as Little Rocks. On his way back to the others, he passed a quartz outcrop, knocked the cap off the reef which exposed rich gold. He made a claim called Lady Margaret. Mildred recalled looking down the shaft when it was only 10 feet deep and seeing gold shining from the bottom. Her father later sold the Lady Margaret for 32,000 pounds. Other diggers followed and in a few years, there was a thriving mining community. It was named Comet Vale after a comet that was visible in the sky at the time. There were fine homes, bush shanties, three churches, shops, a post office, school and pub.

When she was 17 her father bought a sheep property in the Midlands, but farm life did not suit her and she soon left for Perth and became a dressmaker. Here she met her husband who was an Electrical Engineer when she was 27. They went to Kalgoorlie where he worked on mines as an Electrician and she had a dressmaking shop. They soon decided to try prospecting, and her husband readily admitted that she was the better prospector as she had learned a lot from her father. They never struck it rich, but they never went hungry. In 1926 they returned to Comet Vale and took up a lease called Coonega.

Her husband died suddenly of a heart attack while running for a tram in January 1944. He was working as an electrician at the North Kalgurli mine while she lived at Comet Vale mining. From that time she worked her Coonega alone. She lugged gelignite into the rocks, then broke it down further with a crowbar, hammer and gad before hauling it to the surface with a windlass. She used to haul up an eight-gallon drum full of ore, but at age 61 she could only manage half a drum.

In the morning she attended to her daily chores and would spend half a day mining.

She never remarried, but in 1950 she did take action against a Charles Burrows for Breach of Promise to Marry.

The Coonega was named after her father. He had bright red hair which fascinated the Aboriginals. He was friendly with them and they called him Coongega, meaning "Red Fellow". He was also known for playing the accordion while riding his camel.

In 1957 her eyesight was failing and she was keen to sell her lease to move to Perth for treatment. There is a grave in the Leonora Cemetry of a Mildred Mary Walshaw, dated 29 March 1979.

References: People, November 1957, p37-39 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/95749994?searchTerm=walshaw%20comet%20vale%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/95084367?searchTerm=walshaw%20comet%20vale%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/95765482?searchTerm=walshaw%20comet%20vale%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/78397658?searchTerm=walshaw%20comet%20vale%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/87297076?searchTerm=mildred%20walshaw%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/47870972?searchTerm=mildred%20walshaw%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia

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