Life on the woodline that fuelled the Goldfields

Ron MatthewsKalgoorlie Miner
060712kalmontani4supp Don Montani - 30th Anniversary Memoriam Don Montani Lakewood Woodline
Camera Icon060712kalmontani4supp Don Montani - 30th Anniversary Memoriam Don Montani Lakewood Woodline Credit: Kalgoorlie Miner

From the late 1890s until the early 1950s, because all heavy machinery was steam driven, vast quantities of wood were required to fuel boilers, as coal was too expensive.

Consequently, wood lines were born.

The last surviving company was The Western Australian Goldfields Firewood Supply Limited, which ceased operations in 1964.

From early 1946 until the end of 1948, I lived with my parents on the Kalgoorlie-Lakewood Woodline.

In 1946, Ben Chifley was prime minister of Australia, Joe Louis was boxing heavyweight champion of the world and I was a fair-haired, scruffy 10-year-old boy living with my parents on the Kalgoorlie-Lakewood Woodline.

The wood line was contracted to supply fuel to Kalgoorlie Power Station for their wood-fired boilers, to the larger gold mines for use underground as shoring up timbers and fuel for their gold-roasting furnaces.

Another major user Kalgoorlie General Hospital.

The company had secured a concession on a huge tract of land, 100 miles square, reaching almost as far south as Eyre Highway. My father ran the company store at the Number Three Camp.

He was also the first-aid man, postmaster, immigration official, tax adviser, letter writer and SP bookie.

My mother complained about the heat, dust, flies, stale bread, lack of electricity, running water and shops.

Valerie, my seven-year-old sister, played with her dolls and tea set, while 18-month-old brother Leigh ate the red dirt, cried at night and frequently wandered away from home and got lost in the bush.

As for me, I helped Dad in the store by day, where I stole 10-ounce tins of Nestle’s sweetened condensed milk, and at night, did my correspondence lessons by the flickering light of a hurricane lamp.

It was a very lonely place for an active 10-yea-old who loved to play cricket and kick a football.

I had acquired an extensive collection of feathers and eggs and could readily identify which trees were best for burning and those suitable for use underground.

I had also developed a love for the bush; the smells, especially after rain, and the subtle, whispering sounds of the gentle afternoon breeze referred to as the Esperance Doctor.

Sometimes, after dinner, Dad would say, “I’m going to see Mario Bonelli to help with his family’s immigration papers, do you want to come?”.

If I had finished washing the dishes and my schoolwork was up to date, we would walk, through the bush, to Mario’s camp.

With the paperwork out of the way, a button accordion, a couple of bottles of wine, a loaf of bread and a large, smoked ham would appear from the dark recesses of Mario’s tent.

It was time for music.

Almost immediately, other shadowy figures would emerge from the darkness; some with wine, others with a musical instrument and we would have a concert under the stars.

I would drink a glass or two of greatly diluted, sugar-sweetened wine and try to sing, in Italian, as loudly as the homesick wood cutters.

  • This article from Moya Sharp’s Outback Family History Blog is by Ron Matthews and tells part one of his story, A Woodline Childhood.

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