Elaine Forrestal

Why did they do it?

Today Fly Flat looks very much as it did in 1892 when the ridge of pure gold was dis­cov­ered there. It is hard to believe that one of the rich­est gold mines in the world has come and gone from it.

In this age of hot and cold run­ning water, air con­di­tion­ing and instant com­mu­ni­ca­tions it’s hard to imag­ine why any­one would choose to live 360 miles from civil­i­sa­tion on a flat spinifex plain with no water and only a tent for shel­ter. But that is exactly what prospec­tors, and oth­ers, chose to do in West­ern Aus­tralia in 1892. As if it was not hard enough to sur­vive in the fron­tier town of South­ern Cross, 200 miles from Perth at the end of the line. But when Arthur Bay­ley rode in to town with 554ozs of pure gold in his sad­dle bags every able bod­ied man packed up and headed out to try his luck. South­ern Cross became a ‘women’s town’.

Of those first two thou­sand men to arrive on the new ‘field’, about 1% would find enough gold to keep body and soul together. Water cost 2/6 per gal­lon. Even if you owned a rifle, game was hard to find. Food sup­plies arrived irreg­u­larly and there were no nat­ural build­ing mate­ri­als. The spindly gum trees and patchy wat­tle scrub were quickly used up by men cob­bling together very basic brush­wood, or wat­tle and daub huts. And yet, within just a few weeks, four licenses were issued to peo­ple who planned to build hotels. The first of these to rise from the red dirt was the Exchange Hotel. And Clara Saun­ders was work­ing there even before the town of Cool­gar­die was gazetted.

Why did they do it? Some were habit­ual prospec­tors, dri­ven by the belief that, sooner or later, they would strike it rich. Some were swept along by the excite­ment of the crowd that always accom­pa­nied a rich find of gold. Oth­ers were look­ing to escape, one way or another. What about Clara? At four­teen years of age she was cer­tainly adven­tur­ous, capa­ble and fear­less. But why was she so keen to leave behind her mother and sis­ters and see for her­self this leg­endary reef that was pro­duc­ing untold riches?

It’s only now, after more than six months research­ing her story, and the era in which she lived, that I feel I am com­ing to grips with who Clara really was and how she came to be one of the for­got­ten pio­neers of the West Aus­tralian goldfields.

Research: When is enough, enough?

Out­side the Great West­ern Hotel, Cool­gar­die, 1894

I have always said that a good story is never really fin­ished. If the char­ac­ters res­onate with a reader, they stay in the mind, cir­cling around, expand­ing and devel­op­ing other pos­si­bil­i­ties, explor­ing other connections.

It’s the same with research. Every time I say to myself, ‘yes, I can write this book now,’ I find that there is some­thing else that I need to know. As I write descrip­tions and dia­logue, con­struct scenes and develop char­ac­ters I am con­stantly find­ing ques­tions that need answer­ing. This is when I wish that time-travel had become a real­ity and was not con­fined to the rhelms of fan­tasy and sci­ence fic­tion. It would solve so many of my prob­lems if I could sim­ply go back to Cool­gar­die in the 1890s and talk to Clara, Jack, Podraig, ‘Dry­blower’ Mur­phy and ‘Smiler’ Hales.
What I do have, though, is the Museum in Cool­gar­die where the cura­tors have done a fan­tas­tic job of pre­serv­ing and dis­play­ing the dwellings, the tools, the pho­tographs of Arthur Bay­ley, William Ford and many oth­ers. Then there’s Dun­can, who lives in War­den Finnerty’s House, and whose fam­ily has always lived in the area. He has heard the sto­ries of the gold rush first-hand from the old-timers since he was a boy. And Tim Moore, who works in the archives of the City of Kal­go­or­lie. He can put his hand on  books and doc­u­ments that ver­ify (or not) the news­pa­per reports and rec­ol­lec­tions of locals past and present. There is a mine of infor­ma­tion to be explored and processed, but with­out spend­ing a life­time on the research and never com­plet­ing the book, how do I decide when enough is enough?

I’m still work­ing it out, and hav­ing a lot of fun in the process.

Feeling the wind in Coolgardie

Clara Saun­ders in 1894

Clara’s story has come a long way since I last wrote about it two weeks ago. I am push­ing my cur­rent draft of the man­u­script along, try­ing to get it into shape before I go to Cool­gar­die later in the week. One of the things I will do while I’m in the remote gold­fields town is visit the Museum. But my main rea­son for going there is to feel the wind, smell the dust and visit the harsh, iso­lated Fly Flat where the huge ridge of gold was dis­cov­ered by Arthur Bay­ley and William Ford in 1893.

This reef of gold, now known as Bayley’s Reward, rivals the nearby Golden Mile in size and in the qual­ity of its ore. For­tu­nately, unlike the leg­endary reef described in the jour­nal of Las­siter, this one has not been lost. It’s loca­tion is well doc­u­mented and I will be able to go there and see it for myself. Although it will look very dif­fer­ent, now that the gold has been extracted, I will at least be able to get a sense of what it was like and hope­fully find some photographs.

Wish me luck.

The 5th Annual Celebrate Reading conference

Direc­tor and founder of The Lit­er­a­ture Cen­tre, Les­ley Reece AM

The 5th annual Cel­e­brate Read­ing Con­fer­ence, which was held at The Lit­er­a­ture Cen­tre in Fre­man­tle this week­end, pro­vided all the laugh­ter, excite­ment, cama­raderie and insights that we have come to expect from this very pro­fes­sional, but still warm and friendly event.

This year YA lit­er­a­ture was fea­tured, as it is every sec­ond year, and the lineup of pre­sen­ters included estab­lished authors James Mal­oney, Nick Earls, Mar­cus Zucak, Libby Hathorn, Mau­reen McCarthy and Archie Fusillo. Lili Wilkin­son (daugh­ter of Car­ole Wilkin­son) was a sparkling young addi­tion while Scot Gar­diner rep­re­sented the more mature ‘new’ tal­ent. Our own Deb Fitz­patrick did a stir­ling job of rep­re­sent­ing WA. Unfor­tu­nately Dianne Touchell, also from WA, fell ill and could not con­tinue on the sec­ond day.

The Lit­er­a­ture Cen­tre con­tin­ues to be the hub of a won­der­ful sup­port net­work for writ­ers of children’s and YA fic­tion from all around the coun­try and a par­tic­u­larly nur­tur­ing, yet stim­u­lat­ing, envi­ron­ment for West Aus­tralian students.

Thank you and well done to Les­ley and The Lit­er­a­ture Cen­tre team.

The Jigsaw Puzzle of (Clara’s) Life

Elaine For­re­stal speak­ing about the writ­ing process.

I guess the jig­saw puz­zle is not so much to do with the major events of Clara’s life as with the essen­tial bits that come in between. There are other well known his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, like Moon­dyne Joe, Paddy Han­nan and the bush poets, Dry­blower Mur­phy, Car­roty Joe and P.J.Burke, who were directly involved with Clara. I need to ‘fill in the gaps’ between the essen­tial action and give read­ers a com­plete pic­ture of the world in which she lived.

At present I am work­ing my way through my research notes, try­ing to make sense of the words on scraps of paper, pages from note­books, shop­ping dock­ets and what­ever came to hand when a scene or an idea grabbed me. Scat­tered things that I know must fit — even­tu­ally — into the story. When you first tip a jig­saw out of its box some pieces are the right way up and you can see imme­di­ately where they fit into the over­all pic­ture. Other pieces are upside down, their colours con­cealed, their shapes at odd angles that don’t seem to belong to this puz­zle at all. At least with a jig­saw you can be sure that all the pieces you tipped out of the box do belong. Unfor­tu­nately writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is not quite like that. I already know that there will be some pieces of this puz­zle that will never fit. They are the ones that are part of Clara’s later life. This story cov­ers her time in Cool­gar­die between 1892 and 1894. When she left her fam­ily in South­ern Cross in 1892 and went to work in the gold rush town, aged four­teen, she was one of only two females amongst two thou­sand hun­gry, and thirsty, men. How she sur­vived, and even pros­pered, is part of her excit­ing, scary, sad and funny story.

Come along for the ride.