Written by subcommittee member Kathi Miller, Senior Tenement Geologist, Norton Gold Fields
Heart of Gold Discovery Trail Series
“Fly Flat” doesn’t sound like a prestigious or auspicious name for a place that started a gold rush boom. But on the outskirts of Coolgardie in Western Australia, the flat country with sparse gum trees was rich with alluvial gold, and changed the fortunes of a nation.
In 1892, two prospectors, Arthur Bayley and William Ford found over five hundred ounces of gold at Fly Flat. At today’s gold price, the horde would be valued at over half a million dollars.
Let’s take a trip back in time and imagine what it would have been like to discover gold more than 100 years ago at Coolgardie – The Old Camp.
Imagine walking for miles across the desert carrying provisions on your back, in the heat of the day, with flies in your face and red dirt in your hair. Working up a thirst, the ground water is salty. Fresh water is scare and can only be found in soaks or Aboriginal watering places -natural cavities found in weathered granite rock called gnamma holes.
On a spring day in September 1892, Arthur and William came across coarse nuggets of alluvial gold in the ground. They couldn’t believe their luck?!
What an exciting and nerve-wracking trip they must have made with their stash of gold to Southern Cross. There, Arthur Bayley applied for his miner’s claim for Fly Flat with the Mining Warden, and the nuggets were deposited at the bank.
Here is an account from May Vivienne in 1901:
“People who were here in 1892 tell me that when the news came of Bayley's find the excitement was indescribable. Southern Cross was almost deserted. Coolgardie lies about 120 miles from the Cross, and along the track were to be seen men in scores, using every means of locomotion conceivable. Some were lucky enough to get teamsters to carry their swags; others had to carry them on their backs; others, again, had pack-horses; some had what is called a "one-wheeler" cart… Other adventurous spirits had their goods in wheelbarrows, which they drove through the heavy sand. Camels sometimes crossed as much as 22 miles of sand plain at a stretch, getting one meal at the end.”
Back at Bayley’s Reward with a gold rush crowd by their side with pick and shovel, the men dug the clay loam to speck for more gold. Their labour sends plumes of red dust into the air. Panning off the dirt and ironstone pebbles, they search for a tail of gold in the bottom of the metal dish. All eyes searching for a sign of the mother lode of gold.
Fly Flat may have earnt its name from the clouds of black bush flies that swarmed around the two men as they toiled. The insects sticking to the moisture in corner of their eyes. They breathe in flies through their nose and mouth. Talk and swallow flies. These men won’t ever forget this place of wealth and flies.
By June 1894, by crikey, the mother lode—the primary source of gold mineralisation had been located. Numerous shafts were sunk, about a mile north-east of Coolgardie.
An underground mine was in production when a reporter from the “Coolgardie Miner” newspaper wrote a full and faithful description of the premier mine on the Coolgardie field for his readers. On 22 June 1894, the journalist wrote in poetic 19th Century prose, that he’d carefully examined every nook and cranny of the Bayley’s Reward Mine. He spoke of the ore being of a most pleasing character, and of seeing grand gold-bearing stone, and the lode…is pregnant with the king of metals.
In modern geological terms, my interpretation of the newspaper article is that the main gold lode was said to be contained within a quartz blow at surface—an outcrop of bucky white quartz rock. In the underground drives of the mine, the gold lode was hosted within a quartz vein that ranged in width from 1 to 5 feet. The reporter wrote of sheared mafic rocks being located in either the hangingwall or footwall of the deposit. The vein contained visible, rich gold, possibly an ounce or more to the tonne. Mining was not a straight forward operation back then, or now, as the gold vein split into multiple lodes or was dislocated by faulting.
After the initial gold rush started by Arthur Bayley and William Ford, the Bayley’s Reward gold mine became one of the richest mines in the state. In the late 1890’s thousands of men and women came from all over the world—Africa, America, United Kingdom, Europe, China, India, New Zealand & South Sea islands to work the new gold fields. There was also a migration of people from Australia’s eastern colonies – who were given the name T’Othersiders. People travelled by foot, camel or horse and struck a beaten track to Coolgardie hoping to find their share of the plentiful gold.
The economic prosperity generated by the gold rushes in Western Australia gave the colonial government bargaining power for the creation of a nation. On 1 January 1901, the six self-governing colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia.
In the forecourt of The Perth Mint, you can see a statue of the prospectors, William Ford and Arthur Bayley. Give them a hand-wave. They were the first two men to ‘strike’ gold in Western Australia. Or give them the Australia salute—a wave of a hand to chase away the flies.