In the last years of the 1890s the law regarding alluvial mining vs reef mining came to head in a number of protests. It was the closest the Eastern Goldfields in Western Australia came to having a Eureka moment. Large numbers of mounted police were transported to the fields and the Premier John Forrest was attacked by an umbrella (which became a symbol of the resistance).
A regulation was introduced known as the “Ten-foot regulation”. The regulation was brought in to protect reef miners from claims of alluvial miners which subsequently put a large number of alluvial miners in the Fremantle jail. Nobody knew where the reefs started and finished. Under the new act alluvial miners were not allowed to dig within 50 feet of a reef and they were limited to only ten feet in depth. It was widely known that the layer of overburden that the gold was found under was at least 100 feet or deeper.
John Forrest went off to a Federation Convention over East leaving Edward Wittenoom to put this into action. With effigies of Forrest and Wittenoom hanging from hotel balconies and being set on fire, this upset a number of political leaders in Perth. Wittenoom even braved the wrath of miners who drowned out his speeches with hoots and jeers. Mounted police became a feature on the streets of Kalgoorlie to control the crowds turning out to protest the regulation.
Forrest returned to Western Australia and enraged the protesters more by refusing to hear their anger over the regulation. When the Menzies railway line was opened, Forrest came up from Perth to go to Menzies. He refused to stop to hear the miners protest and carried on up to Menzies. Word got out that he would on the return journey listen and talk to representatives for a short while before going back to Perth.
On the Premier’s arrival back to Kalgoorlie two thousand miners waited for him at the station. Across Forrest Street two hundred mounted police waited to charge the crowd to disperse the mob. Forrest got off the train to jeers and yelling and was jostled as he crossed the street to the Railway Hotel, where he would meet representatives. The crowd wanted Forrest to talk to them and they wanted to hear what was said behind the closed doors. They were quite agitated by the time the doors opened again. Forrest refused to talk to the mob, the representatives asked that the mob allow Forrest and others to leave unmolested.
On the way back across the street to the train station Forrest was attacked by the mob. He was ruffed up and jabbed repeatedly with an umbrella in the ribs. On the station platform Forrest and John Kirwan were pushed off the platform in front of the train. By this time Forrest was livered. He got back on to the platform roared at the crowd that “I cannot fight you all at once, but only one at a time.” The Riot Act was read out and the crowd started to disperse fearing the police would now attack. Forrest boarded the train and went back to Perth. The Mayors of Kalgoorlie and Boulder sent off telegrams to apologise for the behaviour of the crowd. Forrest ripped into the miners and the regulation was repealed.
The damage was done and the alluvial miners lost any hope of a fair law to protect them from the big deep miners. Many alluvial miners left Kalgoorlie and Boulder and worked further out bush or left the fields altogether.
At Global Tenements although sometimes sorely tempted to use umbrella poking to make our point, we usually sort issues out with regulators using more peaceful persuasion methods.
Story sourced by Tim Moore, local historian