Life on the 'Fields in the early days - Jim Kelly's Life (born 1894)


Miners Underground in the Great Boulder Mine, 1896. Photo courtesy of Eastern Goldfields Historical Society. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-30/underground-in-kalgoorlie/10184822

Norma King wrote the following article based on an interview she had with Jim Kelly in the 1970s.

I was eleven and a half pounds when I was born and it was a very hot day, 117 degrees Fahrenheit. My father lived until he was 86 and his mother lived until she was 107. I am now 85. My father came from Sydney in 1893 and is a cousin to Anthony Hordon, who had the big department store there.

He came to Western Australia after gold was found in Coolgardie. He had eight camels he had got from the Afghans, and he went from Southern Cross up to Yerrilla with them. They were pack camels and could carry up to fifteen hundredweight. I should have kept the books about the prices at Yerilla. A tin of dog (tinned meat) was twice the price to what it is now. My uncle was in it with him and he had a store at Yerilla.

Later my father had horses and he carted wood for the condensers around Kalgoorlie. Johns had one condenser and O'Day had the one on Broad Arrow road. He also carted for Mt Charlotte. The horses wouldn't walk on the same track as the camels. He had five men cutting the wood for him in the bush. He told me later that there were no police here then and if they found a crook, the men would show him a rope and give him one hour to get out of town. The old dry blowers here lived in tents and they put their gold in pickle bottles under their bed and no one took them.

My mother never had a key to our house and never shut a door. We had a homestead lease on the Eureka gold mine, down on the flat. It was the usual hessian and iron building and we used hurricane lamps. My father was in Broken Hill when my younger sister was born. My mother didn't have a doctor, instead, she had a midwife. One morning my father got up and started cooking breakfast. The midwife went into my mother and said, 'Mrs Kelly, Mr Kelly is cooking breakfast for the lot of us. He has nine eggs in the pan.' And she said 'No, they're all for him.' He was a good doer. He was with us in Broken Hill when I was born in 1894. I have been back to Broken Hill and Bendigo a few times.

There was no school in North Kalgoorlie then and when I started school I went to the convent. My mother drove me there in a sulky. Then they got a pony. I used to ride the pony into school and when I got there I would give him a hit in the rump and send him home. There wasn't the traffic there then as there is now. Then after school Mother would come in the sulky and pick me up.

I started my first job before, or just about when I was leaving school. I used to have to get the feed ready for thirteen horses. I had to stand on a 44-gallon drum to put the collar on the horses.

When I was fourteen years old I used to help my father cart ore to the battery. I had to stand on an oil drum to put a collar on a horse. We were owed three or four hundred pounds from that job but we never got paid. It seems that the ore was no good and the man we were carting for didn't get enough money to pay us. The mines we carted for afterwards were the Golden Zone, the Star and the Apollo.

Then I was a whip boy on the Golden Dream gold mine on Broad Arrow road. I used to work twelve hours a day. I worked six hours with one horse and six with the other horse. I had to walk a horse up and down, up and down. In this way I could pull a loaded bucket of ore to the surface. There would be a rope going over a head frame and that was attached to a bucket. Someone down in the shaft would fill the bucket with ore and I would pull it up. I did this job for a couple of months and got twenty-two shillings and sixpence a day for horse and driver. I then did a few more of the same sort of jobs around the place.

I couldn't get a job underground until I was eighteen and when I turned eighteen I used to go around the mines on my bike looking for work. I finally got a job on the Kalgurli Mine. I reckoned I was set. I was bogging away underground. I used to bog out seventeen tons a day. I loaded up a wheelbarrow with the ore after the machine miners had fired it out and then wheeled it to the shaft head where it would be hauled to the surface by a piston engine. We did three shifts; day, afternoon and night shifts. Then I went from that on to a machine.

I was there for about twelve months and then Jim Smith wanted me to go dam sinking with him. My Dad was already working there and he said it was no good me working underground. It was dry machine drilling then and he was worried I would get silicosis. When I went to get my pay I had to give the reason why I was leaving. My boss said, 'In a way, I am glad you are going'. He knew of the danger for machine miners.

When I was 33 or 34 I used to cart ore from the Mt Charlotte to the plant. There were eight of us doing that and we used to cart 300 tons a shift. I did that for a few years. Then I got a job dam sinking with Jim Smith. The dam was over near Kyle's Hill. He had horses and drays. That's where I later took the sand from to form Victoria Park. It needed sand to mix with the clay to grow things in. There were no parks in Kalgoorlie then. Jim Smith had the contract for carting the sand and I was working for him.

I then carted metal from the North End. I had two drays then. The metal had to be only two or three inches and I was doing four trips a day. The metal was being used for making culverts and that for the Trans Australian Railway Line. That was before 1917 when the line opened. I then went back and worked on the mines. I have worked on the Kalgurli, carted ore to the Percy (Perseverance) the Chaffers, Lake View and I worked underground on the Boulder.

Taken all round I worked forty years underground on the mines and it did affect my lungs. Then I was in a tribute on the Great Boulder. I had a partner and we did all right there. My young brother, Henry, got killed on a motorbike near the Carbam. He was coming in at night from Boulder to Kalgoorlie and there was this car it drove right into him and knocked him over. Well that finished my mother; she died seven years after that.

Another brother had been going with this girl for seven years. I told him to go and get married and I would look after my mother. I paid a woman to help her in the house and did everything I could to make her comfortable in her last few years.

There were no motor cars and we all had ponies and sulkies and a horse trough near our house where the ponies could drink. I used to tie my pony up near the Federal Hotel. There was a hose trough there.

On Christmas Eve you couldn't move in Hannan Street, in the road and everywhere. There were eighty-five people working on the tramways alone. They kept all the horses out of the street. There were thousands of people living in small towns around Kalgoorlie and hundreds of them would come in by train from Broad Arrow and Kanowna on Christmas Eve. They would all come in on the Loop-line train and get off at the Hannan Street station. The train stations were crowded and the pubs and cool drink shops would be full.

I got married the first time when I was twenty-two. I have been married three times. My first wife got hit on the head with a cricket ball or something and it affected her brain and she was sent down to the Heathcote Asylum. She died not long after. My second wife was the woman I got to look after my mother. We went to England and Ireland and Wales for a holiday. We were away for seven months. I was married to her for thirty years before she got sick and died. I don't have any children, but my wife, who had been married before did have children. I am now happily married to my third wife.

Before the Second World War broke out I had to do compulsory training from the age of eighteen until I was twenty-six. They reckoned it took eight years to make a soldier. We would go up to Kanowna and do a fortnight's training continuous there. We did that was once a year. Otherwise, we trained here every night. We did our jobs as usual during the day.

I became a sergeant and then I got my marksman's certificate. They wouldn't let you enlist, they wanted us to stay here and I suppose you would call us home guards. We took turns at guarding part of the coast around Fremantle with the mounted machine guns.

This time we were camping in tents in Kanowna when we saw a snake about six feet long. There was this lieutenant there and he coiled this snake up on a piece of wire and killed it. Unbeknown to me he took it home and put it under my bed. The next morning I went to put my shoes on and saw this snake inside one. I got such a fright.

After I stopped working on the mines I started cutting and carting firewood. I was carting wood for thirty years and never lost a customer.

When I turned sixty-eight a friend said that now I was now old enough to go on a pension I should apply for one. I finished up applying and am now receiving an age pension. I keep myself busy. I go out in the bush and get our own firewood and do odd jobs and repairs to our house. In the summer from late September until March we pack up and go to Esperance.

Life has been good to me.

Contact Lorraine Kelly

© 2018 by Lorraine Kelly.