The Search for Clara’s ‘Memories’.
Black Jack Anderson leapt out from the shadows in the Maritime Museum when I was researching something else entirely. Rose de Freycinet tapped me on the shoulder at a wine dinner. But I had to work much harder to find Clara Saunders.
All three of these larger-than-life people from early WA history had changed their names. Black Jack Anderson for the obvious reason of avoiding being locked up. Rose when she married Louis de Freycinet. Clara Saunders three times as she outlived successive husbands. She was a pioneer in her own right, but by the time I came looking for her in the Battye Library she was all but lost among the precious documents and artefacts in their gargantuan collection. The Battye Library staff are wonderful; always knowledgeable and helpful. A computer search of their catalogue brought up details of Clara’s wedding to Arthur Williams in 1894 – the first European wedding ever to be held in the frontier town of Coolgardie. There were also a couple of letters and a lease application for a property at the Ninety Mile. But I was looking for something much more substantial. In my previous research I had found two different references to a journal of some sort, written by Clara, describing her life as one of only two women who went out into the desert with the first rush of two thousand men, when there was nothing there but sand. What an adventure for a fourteen year old girl. But where was this journal of hers? What had become of it? Did it still exist?
Looking back now I can see that the search for, and eventual discovery, of Clara’s ‘Memories’ has become a story of its own – almost as exciting and absolutely crucial to the one I can now tell in my new historical fiction, Life Blood.