On the Track

Article | Updated 6 years ago

Western Australian Museum Dwyer collection GM 3630
Man with loaded barrow on the track

My swag consisted of one 6 x 8 tent, one pair of blankets, one spare shirt, a small billy and the best friend I ever had on the goldfields – a gallon water-bag. I have gone for days without my pipe and often without food, but never without my water-bag.

Albert Gaston, recalling his trek to Coolgardie in 1892

The news of Hannan's rich gold discovery at Mount Charlotte in 1893 spread afar and, in 1894 alone, 25,000 men flocked to Western Australia. Many came to escape the depression that was gripping Victoria and South Australia at the time. Over the following decade, more than 100,000 men, women, and children from around the globe arrived to try their luck. Many came by boat and then walked from their port of arrival – Albany, Esperance or Fremantle. Later, others travelled from Perth to Southern Cross by train, and trudged from there. Wheelbarrows, bicycles, camels and horses helped with the loads.

Hunt's Track: Trekking to the Goldfields

Hunt’s Track, with its string of watering points and wells, made the journey to the goldfields possible.

In 1864, twenty-nine years before Hannan's find, young surveyor and explorer Charles Cooke Hunt set out to find the land and water supplies to the east of York that Henry Lefroy’s 1863 expedition had deemed suitable for pastoral use. Hunt discovered grazing land, which he named Hampton Plains, in appreciation of the Governor’s patronage.

Between 1864 and 1866, Hunt led four expeditions to the area, clearing a track and digging, deepening and building a line of 26 soaks, tanks and wells, based on Aboriginal water sources.

Drought conditions and the stress of the final expedition took their toll on Hunt’s health, and his diary reveals that he was unable to travel on several days. Despite  ill health, Hunt persisted with his goal and, upon returning to Perth, completed a detailed plan of the country he had traversed. He died in 1868 at the age of 35.

Hunt’s Track, with its wells and soaks, became the main route for those heading to the goldfields (and for those returning, with or without their fortunes). The track remains popular with tourists today.

Man with loaded barrow on Hunt's track
Man with loaded barrow on the track
Image copyright WA Museum

The Camel – A Miner’s Friend

It is only necessary to see a camel loaded up with billies, buckets, picks, shovels and other gear to recognise his general utility. There are corners and recesses all over for tying on small things and water bags are hung on his neck giving him the appearance of a walking caravan.

John Aspinall, prospector, 1895-6

Camels were first used for exploring inland Australia in Burke and Wills' expedition in 1860. In 1892, they were brought to the Western Australian goldfields from South Australia. By early 1893 there were 380 camels in Western Australia, and more were on their way from India. The benefits for those seeking gold were immediately obvious, as camels could survive for days without water and could feed on local vegetation.

A prospecting party standing under trees with camels, 1894
Prospecting party, 1894
Image copyright WA Museum

The cameleers who accompanied the camels were often referred to as ‘Afghans’. They shared the Islamic faith, but spoke a variety of languages, coming mostly from Afghanistan and the lands that comprise present day Pakistan. While their skills were mostly welcomed, racism towards them was common.

Afghan camp on the goldfields

Afghan camp on the goldfields
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 26739P

An Afghan was shot dead for washing his feet in a drinking hole.

Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1910

‘Afghan’ cameleers loading camels, 1900

‘Afghan’ cameleers loading camels, 1900
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 005632D

An Afghan guard of honour at Coolgardie at railway opening

An Afghan guard of honour at Coolgardie, welcoming the Governor Sir Gerald Smith at the opening of the railway, 2 March 1896
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 000737D

Faiz and Tagh Mahomet

Tagh Mahomet, 1890s

Tagh Mahomet, 1890s
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 186P

Faiz Mahomet, 1890s

Faiz Mahomet, 1890s
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 186P

The Mahomet brothers came to Western Australia in 1892, and with them brought 300 camels that were to provide transport to the goldfields. Trading as "Faiz and Tagh Mahomet", the brothers set up camel stations and businesses that sold supplies and water, which helped to provide the developing goldfields region with much needed goods.

On 10 January 1896, his brother, Tagh, was shot in the back while praying in the Coolgardie Mosque. The man accused of the crime, Goulah Mahomet, claimed that Tagh had threatened him. Goulah, however, recieved no sympathy, and was hanged for the murder of Tagh at Fremantle Prison.

Following this, Faiz bought out his brother's estate, but the business soon failed.