Clara Saunders Reminiscences

Part 1

The following is “Notes from the memories of Clara Saunders: one of the Pioneer Women on the Coolgardie Goldfields.” ( Paton, Clara Notes from the memories of Clara Saunders : one of the pioneer women on the Coolgardie Goldfields. , 1950.) I will be publishing it in sections.

It was early in 1892, that I left Brisbane with my mother and youngest sister Susan, to join my eldest sister, Mrs. Tom Farren, and my sister, Emily, whom I have not seen for over eight years. Mr. Farron was then the Licensee of the Club Hotel Southern Cross. Our first call in Western Australia was Albany where we spent a few hours and were amazed at the scenic beauty of the surroundings. We spent most of our stay viewing the places of interest. We climbed Mount Clarence and viewed the harbour and the beaches, which we felt would be an artist’s pride. My mother said: “This is the Golden West”. We had been led to believe it was a land of sin, sand and sorrow, only fit for convicts. We were surprised beyond description to find such natural beauty.

We sailed from Albany in beautiful sunshine and our next port of call was Bunbury. We were very impressed with Bunbury and its magnificent estuary and all its historic interests which we will never forget. Leaving Bunbury our final port was Fremantle which also afforded us great interest. During the few days we spent there we were very interested in the early history, visited the roundhouse, the old prison and saw most of the buildings and roads that had been done by the convicts. We then left by train for York. We also stayed for a few days and was surprised at the beautiful setting of the little town. Situated on the banks of the Avon River, surrounded by hills and dales, bounteous pastures, gardens and flowers and cattle grazing everywhere.

We left York by buckboard buggy. We camped the first night on the roadside. Our next stop was Doodlakine. We were feeling very tired after our journey but were made very welcome by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Wilkins who were building a wayside hotel. The building was being constructed of saplings with covering of mud and gravel. They called it Wattle and Dab.

After having a nice warm meal which we very much appreciated we settled down to a friendly chat which developed into a very sociable evening. Our Hostess entertained us with lively tunes on her accordion and Mr. Wilkins, sang the “Ship that never returned”, and all joined in the chorus. They were a happy family and all present joined in the fun. My mother sang “Good old Jeff” which pleased everyone. Then came Susan’s turn, who had a sweet voice and sang “I’ll take you home again Kathleen” and Mrs. Wilkens topped the evening by singing “Bringham Young”. We retired at 10:30.

The following day we continued our journey to Southern Cross which took three days. As we continued on, the country was not so interesting, very flat and the timber rather stunted. We crossed several small sand plains and saw very little wildlife, a few black cockatoos, magpies, parrots and kangaroos. Nearing the end of our journey we came to a rise. This was the line of gold bearing country. The driver stopped and we looked down on Southern Cross nestled between the Lake and the rise of the Hills. All we could hear was the sound of stamps on Fraser’s Battery.

We reached the Club Hotel where a happy reunion took place. I asked, “Do you not feel isolated so far away from the coast and find it very dull at times?”.

“Oh no, we all love Southern Cross, but we do find it very hard to get staff. Girls do not like to come so far out. I have written to South Australia to try and get Mrs. Benstead to come over and manage the household for me, as I will have to lie up shortly. I do hope she will come, her husband is here in the cross”.

Mrs. Green, Mrs. Farren and my sister Emily very early pioneers on the Yilgarn goldfields. They came to Golden Valley shortly after Mrs. Colreavy family arrived there. The mother of Jack, Ben and Peter, also Cissy and Hannah. It was the Colreavys’ who found the Golden Valley and Mr. and Mrs. Farren talk over them Nugget Hotel and Emily was with them. As far as I know they were the first white women on the Yilgarn goldfields. Shortly after this Southern Cross was discovered and when the Club Hotel was built, Mr. Farren moved to the Cross and took over the hotel.

After a few days, I had to take up my duties. Mr. and Mrs. Warden Finnerty had a suite of rooms at the Club Hotel. They had not long been married. Mrs. Finnerty was a Miss Oats before her marriage. My duties were to look after them. I was very pleased and felt that I was going to like my work. I was duly introduced, “This is my sister Clara,” and I took to them at once.

“Oh, that’s fine. Clara. I hope you will be very happy here with us. How old are you?”

“I’ve just turned 14.”

“Well, well, I would have taken you to be much older than that, you’re a big girl for your age”.

Just previous to our arrival the peace of the little town was disturbed and horrified by the arrest of one of its leading citizens, Mr Deaming, by Sergeant Williams for the murder of women and children. No one could believe it as he was very highly respected and at the time was an engineer on the Fraser’s mine. As time went on the dreadful Crimes were proved against him, having murdered these women and children and buried them under the cement hearth. Sergeant Williams had done a wonderful job. Deaming was to be married to a Miss K Ransvell, who at that time was on her way to the West to join him at Southern Cross, but very luckily escaped. Had she arrived it’s hard to say what fate held in store for her.

The population at this time was not large, only a small town. There were three hotels Mr. Snell kept the Exchange. They were very talented family and contributed a great part in the social life of the town. The Southern Cross Hotel was kept by Mr. and Mrs. Booth. There were two general stores one owned by Mr. Cameron and one by Throssell and Stewart. A Miner’s Institute, where all the entertainments were held, a school, a small private hospital. two churches and one bank.

The Murphy family kept dining rooms and played a big part in the cross. They were fine family. Warden Finnerty and his staff kept law and order and Dr Black, a very noble gentleman looked after the health and was held in very high esteem by everyone. Captain Oats, Mayor of the Cross was the manager of the Fraser’s Mine. That meant also so much to the district. Mr. I J K Cohn had a large interest in property and took a very keen interest in the welfare of the town, and Mr. Thorne, he was a capable town clerk, also Mr. Raeside, he was in charge of the water supply, which meant so much to everyone as there had been a long dry spell and very little rain during the past three years.

To be continued


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