A Child on the Goldfields

One and a half hours drive, 132  kms north of Kalgoorlie and 729kms east north east of Perth, is Menzies, a mining and pastoral town in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia.  The Shire of Menzies covers an approximate total area of 125,000 square kilometres. The first gold discovery in the area, later named Menzies, has been credited to a prospecting party led by James Speakman in 1891. His find was reported and it’s unknown why Speakman failed to return to the area.

The following year discovery of the rich Coolgardie field tempted prospectors further inland and the track to Ninetymile (Goongarrie), north of Coolgardie, became well known as people trying to make their fortune ventured forth.

L R Menzie and J E McDonald, accompanied by Jimmy an Aboriginal tracker and Cumbra an Afghan camel driver, were prospecting for a Perth syndicate headed by Sir George Shenton.  Whilst inspecting a shaft at the Ninetymile, which they were considering buying, Menzies stumbled upon a rick alluvial deposit east. Following the line of the reef to the tip of a rise they found many very rich nuggets and quartz specimens studded with gold. Leaving Jimmy and Cumbra to guard the find they packed as much as they could in their saddlebags and hurried back to the nearest Register’s Office at the mining centre of Coolgardie. It was a rich gold find and the Mining Warden for the area recommended a township be declared, naming the place Menzies after the prospector. The townsite was gazetted in August 1895 and proclaimed a Municipality on the 20 December 1895

The news of a strike this big spread rapidly and soon the area was crowded with prospectors hoping for similar good luck. According to the writings of Warden Owen, it was estimated that in 1896 the population was 10,000, half of whom resided in the town and the other half in the surrounding land.

Three months after the gazetting of Menzies, my children’s paternal great grandmother was born at home, in North Adelaide, South Australia, the first child of William Henry Hembury and Emma (Amy) Kowalick.  Named Mary Eveline Hembury she was generally known as Ev but to us she was Nana Andie.

It was to Menzies in Western Australia that William Hembury took his wife and young daughter, about eight years after the first find. The Electoral Roll has them first enrolled for voting in Menzies in 1903 with William’s occupation labourer and Emma’s home duties.                                          Mary Eveline Anderson (nee Hembury)

Nana spoke of living in a tent on the Goldfields and carting water. In common with many of the towns in the North Coolgardie Goldfields, these early residents had to endure heat, flies, lack of water, poor diets and limited transportation, often for little or no reward. Sickness and disease plagued the early inhabitants, claiming many lives, especially among the young. The materials used to build the early buildings were an extreme fire hazard, and fires took a heavy toll.

Despite all these hardships, the people strived to make Menzies a vibrant profitable town. Water was carted to the town from surrounding lakes and underground supplies. The Government built a dam in 1897 and in 1901 this supplied water to the residences. The railway line between Kalgoorlie and Menzies was officially opened on 22 March 1898. The local Fire Brigade was formed to help control the damages caused by fire, and a Council by-law making it compulsory for at least one wall of business premises to be made of brick helped prevent the spread of many fires. Improved sanitation and a 50 bed hospital helped control the spread of disease.

However, this prosperity was not to last. From around 1905 the gold mining industry experienced a downturn. The gold which had made Menzies a town of major importance at the turn of the century was becoming more elusive a decade later. Figures show that production fell from 35,000 ounces in 1905 to 2,787 ounces in 1909. The population by 1910 had fallen from 10,000 below 1,000 and the decline of Menzies had begun.

The Hembury’s stay on the goldfields was brief.  The electoral roll has them still enrolled in 1906, however the SA Railways Records show that William was back in their employ on 14 February 1906 working at Islington as a glut labourer earning 6/- per day, later increased to 7/6.  Furthermore, their next child Vera Adeline was born on the Chicago Blocks, Islington on 11 May 1905. 

There is a family story that Grandpa Hembury did “quite well on the Goldfields”.  His daughter, Mary Eveline, lived to the age of 90 and left many journals full of her memories of a long life, well lived, which includes those childhood years on the Goldfields at Menzies.  What a joy it would be to read those stories.


SOURCES:  A Brief History of Menzies. http://www.menzies.wa.gov.au
                   Menzies, Western Australia.                                                             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menzies,_Western_Australia

 Copyright (c) 2012 Catherine Crout-Habel

3 thoughts on “A Child on the Goldfields

  1. What a wonderful story. I love how you set the background to your ancestor`s arrival in Menzies and gave a very well researched account of Menzies` history. I had an ancestor involved in mining in the other end of Australia, Waarnambool, in Victoria around the 1890s. This gives me a sense of the hardship he most likely faced.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 … My maternal Great Grandmother, Eliza Jane (Rowen) Murray was a Pioneer of Broken Hill, New south Wales, when mining began there. Also a time of great hardship, disease, death of babies etc… My Nana was actually born there and the only one of their first 3 babies to survive. They sure were hard times… You might like to read “Of Scabs and Riots” which tells a little of the story. Cheerio for now and thanks for visiting…

  2. Pingback: A FEW MOMENTS IN TIME… | Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s