Article | Updated 6 months ago
Sport was key to the development of a sense of community in the goldfields.
Sporting clubs of all kinds soon offered residents the opportunity to relax, to socialise and to get fit. Sunday sport with associated gambling and hotel trading was unique and controversial.
An Australian Rules Football club was formed in 1896. Cricket became popular, as did track and field sports, horse and greyhound racing and cycling. These sports were soon well established, with many thousands attending organized events.
In 1897 the Australian cricket team visited Kalgoorlie on its way to play in England.
Women’s sporting clubs were also well patronised with cricket, bowling and night croquet being popular. As well as producing some of its own sporting champions, the goldfields have hosted some of Australia’s, and the world’s, best sportsmen and women.
It is not too much to say that next to the camel, the bicycle is one of the most important factors in the development of the goldfields, and as it eats nothing, and never bucks or shies, its value as a locomotive medium is incalculably enhanced.
By the early 1890s in Western Australia, cycling was described as 'the rage’. Health authorities declared that not in 200 years had ‘any one thing [...] so benefited the human race.’ Cycling was seen as a cure for ‘indigestion, sleeplessness and all manner of diseases’ and it ‘re-created’ family life. However, the churches and the theatre saw it as a threat to numbers, booksellers complained that ‘people who wheel much read little,’ and tobacconists pointed to the massive decline in cigar sales.
While it was claimed to increase ‘the circumference of the feminine waist’, it decreased ‘the length of the feminine dress bill’ as women invested in less costly and more practical attire.
The bicycle was a common mode of transport, and was vital in the development of the goldfields. Cycle racing remained a popular competitive sport throughout the twentieth century, with international and national cyclists visiting the area to compete.
Swimming had become the goldfield's 'fashionable recreation' by 1895. However, a local pool, at that time, was out of the question. Instead, some people seeking to escape the heat and dust headed to Leviathan Crushing Company’s immense dam, intended to be used for crushing stone.
In February 1897, champion swimmer Ernest Cavill started Kalgoorlie’s first swimming baths, after securing 15,000 gallons of water per day from Hannan’s Proprietary Mine. The Kalgoorlie Swimming Club was formed in late 1900, in readiness for the opening of the new Municipal Baths in December 1900. Individual and team events, as well as general entertainment, saw the monthly carnivals become popular on the goldfields.
At first, swimming trunks for men were banned, and men and women swam separately. However, bathing costumes later became compulsory. The Kalgoorlie Olympic Pool, later renamed Lord Forrest Pool, was opened in 1938. Competitive swimming has continued to thrive in Kalgoorlie ever since.
As well as producing some of its own sporting champions, Kalgoorlie has seen some of Australia’s, and the worlds, best athletes compete in sprint races. One such athlete was Queensland born Arthur Postle who, at the age of 25 in 1906, achieved world fame in Kalgoorlie before a crowd of 20,000. This recognition came not just from the crimson costume the sprinter wore, but also the fact that he defeated the Irish world champion, Beauchamp Day. Postle became affectionately known as 'The Crimson Flash.'
Horse racing in the Kalgoorlie district began unofficially in 1894. Hannan’s Lake, then devoid of water, was the perfect race track. Kalgoorlie's first race day programme included camel and donkey races, and the day's sport was greatly enjoyed by hundreds of people.
The first official Kalgoorlie race meeting took place at the newly built Kalgoorlie Race Club on 13 August 1896, and attracted over 7000 people. Racing developed into a major goldfields’ industry over the next fifty years, often attracting huge crowds. The Kalgoorlie and Boulder Race Clubs amalgamated in 1953, forming a strong provincial race club.
Today, the annual September racing round is a key event on Kalgoorlie’s social calendar, with many thousands visiting the goldfields for this popular event. The two main races of the round are Hannan’s Handicap and the Kalgoorlie Cup, but the event is just as well known for its fashion and social sides.
Games of chance flourished on the goldfields from very early on. A popular game was two-up, which involved a designated ‘spinner’ throwing two coins into the air. Bets were placed on whether the two coins would fall on heads or tails.
Traditionally, two pennies are placed with tails facing upwards, on the ‘kip’, a small, flat board. Once all bets are completed, the ‘spinner’ tosses the coins by quickly raising the kip and twisting the wrist to ensure the coins spin in flight.
For some, the issue of gambling games such as this put morals into question, with goldfields’ churches calling it an ‘evil’ that had to be eliminated. The Kalgoorlie police occasionally raided two-up ‘schools’ and made arrests, but the game was increasingly seen as a Kalgoorlie institution. On Sunday afternoons, in 1914, around 400 to 500 men and youths were reported to be playing two-up, with around £500 changing hands.