Ethnic Riots

Article | Updated 2 years 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.

Damage to the Home from Home Hotel, 1934

Damage to the Home from Home Hotel, 1934
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia, 283103PD

Two boys at the broken window of a store after the Kalgoorlie Riots

Two boys at the broken window of Williamson's Fillet & Kippers after the Kalgoorlie riots, 1934
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia, 283111PD

 

Rulyancic family sitting at a table after the Kalgoorlie riots, 1934

Rulyancic family after the Kalgoorlie riots, 1934
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia, 000627D

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.

Mrs Radanovich with her daughters in front of their home before the riots, 1934

Mrs Radanovich with her daughters in front of their home before the riots, 1934
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 008732D

The Radanovich family after the riots, 1934

The Radanovich family after the riots, 1934
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 219049PD