Elaine Forrestal

Connecting with Clara

The centrepiece of this brooch is a gold nugget given to Clara Saunders by Paddy Hannan in 1893

David Malouf is quoted in the Weekend Australian Magazine today as saying, ‘Any event engages you, or it doesn’t. If it engages you it puzzles you. That puts a demand on you to work out … what the connection is between this thing and you.’

My connection with Clara Saunders is gold. My grandparents became infected with gold fever and came to Western Australia, from Victoria, during the gold rush in the late 1890’s. They lived in a tent in Kalgoorlie for more than a year before my grandmother fell pregnant. I grew up in similarly isolated places. There was no running water and rain was scarce. One of my earliest memories is of my mother standing outside on the tank stand during a thunder storm to hold the broken guttering in place. She was making sure that every precious drop of water that fell from the sky would run into our rainwater tank and not be wasted on the thirsty ground below. There was no goldfield there, but the dry flat countryside that stretched to the horizon was very similar to the landscape of the Coolgardie area. And Clara is such a fascinating character that, as soon as I discovered her, I knew I had to write her story.

There is still a long way to go. It seems that the more I write, the more I need to write. But I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know Clara and finding out more about the amazing pioneer women who lived in impossibly harsh conditions, but were part of the enormous excitement generated by the discovery of gold – pure gold, in seemingly endless quantities.