16 Dec 2011
The Bikes and ghosts of Gwalia
If you want to visit my Bicycle art gallery, go here. http://bit.ly/pl3UqN.
Boy , they were tough in those days, the gold miners the shearers, the people of the bush.
As we glide around in cushioned comfort, we have no idea of the the difficulty people once had in just moving around in this vast landscape of ours.
My awakening comes from Jim Fitzpatrick’s great book, The Bicycle and the Bush.
I’ll pass on some titbits from Jim’s story after posting my special offering of the day, photographs of Gwalia., once the second largest gold mining town in Western Australia.
Its mine, The sons of Gwalia, was run in the early days by Herbert Hoover, later to become the US president.
These pics of silent Gwalia came to me out of the blue from Tim Burns.
The town of Gwalia is now an open museum.
It was abandoned on the 21st of December 1963, the day three trains came from Kalgoorlie to take away the 1500 residents, their jobs all gone with the closing of the Sons of Gwalia gold mine.
Here, you see the last trains on the last day. This photo and the other historic ones. come from the Leonora and Gwalia historical museum website
But from my point of view, equally interesting as any train, is what’s against the wall of this abandoned house.
Yes, that right , a jumble of rusty bike frames.
Sadly , as we’ve come to expect, the bike always seems to be left in the shadows when it comes to transport history.
Far more interesting apparently is the steam tram which ran the three Kms. between Leonora and Gwalia when Gwalia was the mine site, and Leonore, the place you lived.
Gradually Gwalia became a town too.
Here’s the double decked steam tram enjoying pride of place on the historic site..An interesting beast, I must admit
But when it came to getting around the early goldfields, the humble bike was probably equally or even more important.
It cost almost nothing to run once purchased. It did not have to be fed or watered, and in that scorching place, water could cost a fortune.
Water was up to a shilling a gallon on the goldfield in WA in the 1890′s, Jim’s book tells me. That would make it more expensive than Scotch whiskey today.
Julius Price running camels at the time, reports; “my kindly feeling went down to a very low ebb as I stood there, watching gallon after gallon of water (then at four pence a gallon) disappear down the apparently insatiable throat of the animals. ” (P. 94)
Some indication of the abstemious bike’s importance can be discovered here, as we view a complete bike hanging on a Gwalia fence.
Can you spot what I’m getting at in terms of clues as to this bike’s importance, something we don’t have today?
This bike sports a registration plate! They were officially kept kept track of apparently, a fee to use one, perhaps.
And bikes were not just personal transportation around the gold fields.
They also carried the mail as I showed in my last post, and were used for doing deliveries.
Perhaps it’s in the window of this shop…..
…..that this delivery bike now sleeps today, careless of passing time?
How tough was it on a bike in those days? (all info. from Jim’s book)
In 1904, there were 16,000, kms. of roads in Western Australia of which 62% were cleared only, and 25% formed only.
Most of the time you were riding not on roads at all, but on sand, in mud, over stone, on railroad tracks, even along the telegraph line.
And, if you were really lucky, you pedaled your fixie on the pads, the narrow and very smooth paths trodden down by camels.
What roads their were, were often cut into deep ruts by wagon teams so that you were; “looking at harder work (trying to stay upright on a bike) than ever befell a human being” as one rider exhaustedly reports.
Riding on corrugations, often thanks to early cars and the way they ribbed the tracks. “would shake your eyeballs out.”
Sand was the worst surface and it was all over the country. “Sand, sand was everywhere . It rose in a fine impalpable dust which made the nostrils and throat feel as if on fire.” Tom Coleman 1898. (p.104)
(photo, Bicycle and the bush)
“sand caused more walking, pushing sweating and swearing than any other factor in rural Australia. “ (p.104) Yet sandy areas were frequently crossed, and at impressive speeds .
For instance, those bike post messengers, crossed the sand plain between Southern Cross and Coolgardie in WA (177 kms.) in 12 hours.
Boy, were they tough, or were they just tough, those early riders? What would they make of our cushy rides today?
Caked mud was also a nightmare . “Until a path was worn through after the rains.. a jolting ride was the result, which according to Murif, (a famous distance rider) was like cycling up and down a stairway with the stairs of unequal heights and width, blindfolded….. Destructive to both machine and rider“
And so what happened to those heroic bikes?
They’ve ended up in Gwalia as part of fences.
Thus still, they lend some strength to the human agenda , fencing this abandoned town which you can now visit .
Both these photos. by John Lovett (splashing paint blog)
Rest well, old frames, so sturdy in your day!
And thanks to Tim Burns for telling your story in pictures as no one else has thought to do before .