Just Passing Through: The Archaeology of Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Settlements between Mundaring and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

01st June 2011

Samantha Bolton

PhD, Archaeology, The University of Western Australia, September 2009

In 1892 gold was discovered near what became Coolgardie, Western Australia. The subsequent gold rush brought people from all over Australia and the world to the newly established towns of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. It is a semi-arid region and daily life was dictated by a constant search for both water and gold. To service the increasing population of the Eastern Goldfields, a telegraph line, railway line and water pipeline, known as the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, were built. The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, designed by C.Y. O’Connor, is a pipeline that pumps water from Mundaring, east of Perth, to Kalgoorlie, 560km to the east, and was one of the major engineering feats of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As a result of people travelling to the Goldfields and the infrastructure built, small settlements were established along the migration and settlement corridor between Perth and Kalgoorlie. Some were occupied for a short period while others are still occupied today. The population at these sites was mostly transient. The types of settlements included railway stations, pump stations, water condenser sites and workers’ camps, and provided stopping points along the route to the Goldfields supplying food, and more importantly, water.

In the late nineteenth century the Eastern Goldfields were a frontier and were settled in a period of British colonialism and colonisation. These factors, along with the transient nature of the sites and the people that lived there, affected the types of settlements that developed and the material culture used. As well as the range of uses, the nine settlement sites studied in detail were occupied for varying periods, and yet the archaeological pattern was very similar.

There has been a great deal of work on mining sites in Australia and the United States, looking at both technology and, more recently, social aspects. However there has not been as much work done on other types of sites on the frontier, such as workers’ camps and stopping points. The settlements on the way to the Eastern Goldfields were established in an important period of Western Australia’s history. They provide an insight into what life was like in this harsh environment and how people adapted to living in the region.

The sites were compared with similar sites in Australia and the United States, such as those occupied during the same time period; were isolated; had specific functions such as mining and workers’ camps; or were in a similar environment. As a result of the pattern observed in the Mundaring-Kalgoorlie migration and settlement corridor, and the comparison with other sites, a model for identifying short-term workers’ camps in the archaeological record was developed. Temporary sites are characterised by few formal structures, very little building material, a high number of cans, a low number of ceramics and a low number of non-essential or ‘luxury’ items. One of the most important aspects of this model is that it is not defined by the presence or absence and relative amount of a single artefact type, rather it is the combination of all of these factors that defines a temporary site.

Additionally, it is hypothesised that the characteristics are not solely due to the temporary nature of the sites, but once a settlement starts to become permanent, the population changes, bringing more women and children. It is a result of this change that the settlement becomes more formalised, a greater range of amenities is provided and the material culture changes, resulting in an appearance of permanence.

Daily life at the settlements in the Mundaring-Kalgoorlie migration and settlement corridor was characterised by the transient lives of the people that lived there. The period of British colonisation, colonialism and expansion of the frontier influenced the settlements that formed, and choice of material culture was limited due to supply. Although it was known from historical records that different groups lived in the region, they could not be seen in the archaeological record, and the factors of colonialism, colonisation, the frontier and transience resulted in a homogenous archaeological record.

Samantha Bolton
Just Passing Through: The Archaeology of Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Settlements between Mundaring and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
June 2011
Thesis Abstracts
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