The History of Norseman

One crisp winter's night in 1894 prospector Laurie Sinclair tied up his horse to a tree outside his brother's tent at a site 300 metres south-west of the current lookout.
Legend has it that in the morning he found his horse lame, and on inspecting he found a sizeable chunk of gold-bearing quartz stuck in its hoof.

Laurie's horse was named Norseman, and on August 13 that year he and his partner John Allsop registered the claim of the same name with Warden Hicks in Dundas.

On the same day three other prospectors - Bob Ramsay, H. Talbot and John Goodliffe - registered a nearby claim, the Mt Barker. These five men (and Sinclair's brother George) are recognised as the founding fathers of Norseman.

The claims lodged on that August day in 1894 lead to a new gold rush, with people flocking to the area from Dundas - and many other fields - to seek their fortune in and around Norseman.
By 1896 there were five English and twenty five Australian companies at work, processing gold through two batteries.
The output for the year was 4'271 ounces (compared with a current output from the town's primary mines of about 100'000 ounces per year).

Norseman's gold is 'hard reef gold', not alluvial as found at Coolgardie. Underground mining in this immensely hard rock was just one of many challenges facing the district's pioneers.

For many early settlers just getting to Norseman meant a seven day trek, walking beside a horse or bullock drawn cart from the port of Esperance. Home then - if they were fortunate - might have been in a tent.
Bicycles were a common form of transport for those who didn't have horses.

The early years of Norseman were difficult - the community struggled to survive and reach 'municipality' status, and life was hard for individuals and families who came to the new gold fields. Essential items such as water and building materials were in short supply, with transport a major contributor to exorbitant costs.

All manner of housing was erected, using whatever materials came to hand locally.
Timber framed structures clad in Hessian bags or thatch sprung up around the town. Floors were beaten earth and furniture was made from boxes.
With freight costing up to 35 pounds per ton few could afford 'proper' building materials.
Many homes had an underground room, where weary men working night-shift could sleep on hot summer's days.

Nonetheless, local ingenuity lead to some remarkable responses to these shortages, including the famous 'Tin Dog Hut' made entirely of flattened bully-beef cans.
Such a building would have been considered almost luxurious at the time.

The first Post Office opened in 1895 with mail arriving once a month by pack-horse from Esperance.

In 1899 Cobb & Co established a route linking Coolgardie to Esperance, and thus Norseman had regular access to the outside world. Camel trains further boosted Norseman's fledgling transport systems, hauling wool from stations on the Nullarbor and providing 'heavy haulage' to other communities in the goldfields and inland areas.

As the community grew and transport routes opened up, so local houses took on a more established air, with residents aspiring to a neat two or three room cottage, some of which can still be seen around town. Blossoming family life nourished the new township and supported a growing host of business and social activities.

Business flourished and the local Council set about all manner of works, including 'metalling' all the main streets.
By Federation in 1901 the town boasted a Roads Board, school, fire brigade, hospital, 3 churches, 5 hotels, newspaper, courthouse, brewery, post office, Masonic Hall, Mechanic's Institute and two general stores.
The population peaked between 1900 and 1910 at almost 4'000, well beyond today's 1'100.

The Norseman Pioneer, one of two newspapers operating until 1899, carried numerous advertisements for local stores.

Norseman's water supply was not ensured until the pipeline from Mundaring Weir reached the area in 1936.
Water shortages were a regular challenge to the residents of the community.

Condensers such as that at the All Nations Gold Mine converted salt water from the surrounding lakes to drinking water - at a price!
One hundred gallons of water so-produced cost thirsty miners the princely sum of 25 shillings.

Fancy a bush picnic amidst the welter of wildflowers in spring? So did many of the locals a hundred years ago.
Or a game of football to warm the body on a cool winter's day? Norseman had at least two teams playing regularly in the early 1900's.
Indeed, the sporting and social life of the town in its 'golden years' between Federation and the first War was both varied and entertaining. Tennis, cricket, football, cycling, horse racing and even skating (at Krakouers Hall) provided a focal point for much socialising, while the bars of local hotels were always lively places.

Life for unattached young ladies was particularly pleasant, with men, men everywhere and keen competition for their favours.

Local police, working in the first case from a rudimentary bush camp, were kept busy, and felons were commonly chained to a log as cells were non-existent.

Through it all the town of Norseman grew strong from its, early privations, and has blossomed into the stable and proudly independent community it is today.
Norseman owes its existence to gold mining.

Yet even in this core aspect of local history the woodlands have had a major role - and not just here in Norseman.
Most of the country north of Norseman for several hundred kilometres is in fact 'regrowth' woodland - as a result of the 'woodlines' that supplied mines and mining communities from 1900 to 1960.

Timber for shoring up shafts and underground tunnels; timber for cooking and heating houses; timber for the massive condensers that turned salty water into fresh; timber for the steam-driven winches that dominated underground mining - it all came from the woodlands.

Vast networks of 'woodlines' (narrow gauge railway lines) fanned out from key mining centres such as Kalgoorlie, seeking out ever more remote and untouched stands of species such as merrit, salmon gum, gimlet, boongul and blackbutt. Woodlines reached to within 50 km of Norseman, to the north east.
Nearly one and three quarter million tonnes of wood were cut, right up to the early 1960s.



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Last updated: Thursday, 20.03.2008 12:34 PM