Story and photos by subcommittee member Kathi Miller, Senior Tenement Geologist, Norton Gold Fields Ltd
Heart of Gold Discovery Trail Series
In 1896, if you opened the door of Boulder Block Hotel and stepped inside, would you expect to find gold?
Yes, there is a story to be told about the secret goings-on at the Boulder Block Hotel. The underground miners of the Golden Mile were “on the gold”, and some of them were said to be selling the gold on the sly at the infamous pub before the whistle blew for the end of shift.
The Boulder Block Hotel was demolished in 1991, but its folkloric stories live on in the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia. So let’s trek back through gold rush history to the 19th century.
In 1892, after prospectors William Ford and Arthur Bailey deposited their horde of five hundred ounces of Coolgardie gold in the bank, the gold rush was on in Western Australia. Nine months later, three men made the next big gold discovery. The prospecting party consisted of Paddy Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan O’Shea. After one of their horses lost a shoe, the men searched the ground, and noticed signs of gold. They decided to stop their journey about 40km east of Coolgardie and prospect.
The men found the first gold from what became a world-class deposit of over 50 million ounces, the "Golden Mile”— the richest square mile on earth. After the alluvial gold was claimed by the rush of prospectors, companies moved in to mine the reefs of gold. More than 1000 ore lodes have been identified on The Golden Mile. That’s rich!
To find the site of the Boulder Block Hotel, you had to travel south along the Golden Mile from Kalgoorlie, to Boulder. Imagine seeing numerous poppet heads hoisting ore, equipment and men from the underground workings to the surface. Rows of stamp batteries pounding and crushing the ore to grains of sand. Chimney stacks pumping smoke into the air. There’s not a tree in sight. Dust is blowing everywhere. Bells are ringing to let the miners and their wives know that the shift is finishing.
Miners are living in canvas tents or corrugated iron sheds. The lucky ones have small cottages. At the end of the Golden Mile there is an acre of land known as the Boulder Block. This place has a reputation, and it’s not a clean one. Lawlessness, thieving and bandits gave the the goldfields in the gold rush days a “wild west” character. There are several hotels, a brewery, shops, surgeries and brothels open for business on the Boulder Block.
Over on the corner of Beel and Contention streets is the infamous Boulder Block Hotel. The single storey building has wide verandahs on both sides. The pub is constructed with blocks of granite which offer protection against fire and arson. Inside the old hotel, I personally remember seeing the billiard tables, but down to the cellar is where you want to go.
Imagine climbing down to the cellar.
There’s a hole in the floor.
A draft of warm air rises up.
You can smell the raw earth and broken stone below.
No doubts, we’re looking at a mining shaft.
Deeper still, there’s the start of a tunnel that fades into the darkness.
This is where the miners were said to bring up their gold to sell to the publican or shady dealers hanging out at the bar.
According to the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society Inc, the miners of the Golden Mile were searched when they knocked off shift. Six months of hard labour was given if they were caught passing gold ore into the hotel.
I once heard a tale that some of the historic miners nipped up to the pub for a beer. Was it a pint of “Hannan’s Lager”? Who knows? The Boulder Block Hotel is now gone, but not forgotten. The old site of the pub is now located within the boundaries of KCGM’s Superpit mining operation—the life-blood of the modern city.
If you ever get a chance to visit the twin cities of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, stop by Boulder’s main street to see the wonderful painted mural of pioneering gold history featured in this article.
Were there any other hotels in Kalgoorlie-Boulder with underground mine tunnels….maybe.