Article | Updated 6 months ago
The mob spirit is always dormant – waiting only for something to waken it into activity, as anti-foreign frenzy urged the Kalgoorlie rioters to pillage, incendarism and murder.
Sydney Morning Herald, 6 February 1934
The Kalgoorlie riots that began on 28 January 1934 have been described as Australia’s worst ethnic conflict.
The events were sparked by the accidental death of local sporting identity and miner George Edward Jordan. An inebriated Jordan had twice been ejected from the Home From Home Hotel by Italian barman Claudio Mattaboni. When he returned the next day to settle scores, Mattaboni pushed him out onto the street. Jordan fell, striking his head on the curb. He later died from a fractured skull.
Rumours that the Italian had murdered the popular miner sparked widespread violence.
The hotel incident was the catalyst for long held resentment toward non-‘Britishers’ on the goldfields. It was alleged that workers from Southern Europe offered bribes for jobs and accepted lower wages and conditions on the mines. Resentment for the perceived loss of jobs and working conditions saw property belonging to the Italian and Slav communities – hotels, homes and shops – razed and looted. Two lives were lost and it took three days for order to be restored. The police secured 83 convictions and 14 men received gaol sentences.
Many workers were able to ignore the racist divide in 1934 and the multi-national Kalgoorlie workforce continued to live, work and interact strongly.