A Brief History Of Menzies

Menzies is a mining and pastoral town in the Eastern Goldfields, 730kms east of Perth.

The Shire of Menzies covers an approximate total area of 125,000 square kilometres. There is a total population of 235 people in Menzies and district as at June 2008. A further approximately 150 people live in the Tjuntjuntjara Community near the South Australian border.

Menzies is not a large town and doesn't appear in the news very often, but this was not always the case. Like many towns in Western Australia it was born in and boomed during the gold rush days of the 1890s. Then, following the pattern which has become typical of many gold mining towns, the limit of available resources was reached, the people drifted away and the area declined. Despite these changing fortunes, Menzies continued to survive.
The first gold discovery in the Menzies area has been credited to a prospecting party led by James Speakman in 1891. His find was reported but for some unknown reason Speakman did not return to the area.

The discovery of the rich Coolgardie field in 1892 tempted prospectors further inland. The track to Ninetymile (Goongarrie) north of Coolgardie became well known as people trying to make their fortune ventured forth.

JJ Brown, C Kirby and C Jackman had found gold about 20 miles north of Ninetymile. They had sunk a shaft about six feet deep showing a reef carrying good visible gold.

LR Menzie and JE McDonald in company with Jimmy, an Aboriginal tracker, and Cumbra, an Afghan camel driver, were prospecting for a Perth syndicate headed by Sir George Shenton. Menzie met Brown at the Ninetymile and agreed to inspect his shaft, with a view to purchase if it proved suitable. While at the show he ran short of water and journeyed to a rock soak eighteen miles east of the Ninetymile to replenish his supply. When returning he kept too far to the west and went past Brown's camp. It was at this point that he stumbled on a rich alluvial deposit.

Menzie and McDonald followed the line of the reef to the tip of a rise where they found many very rich nuggets and quartz specimens studded with gold. They packed as much as they could in their saddle bags and hurried back to Coolgardie, the nearest mining centre with a Registrar's Office, leaving Jimmy and Cumbra to guard the find. On the way they ordered tools, a forge, dynamite and groceries at the Ninetymile.

On the 1 October 1894 the claim was registered, Lease No. 1380 in the name of LR Menzie and Sir George Shenton, and Lease No. 1381 for LR Menzie and RF Scholl. These became the Lady Shenton and Florence mines and the place Menzies.

While the two were in Coolgardie, rumours of a rich find abounded and several parties started for Ninetymile to find the location. However many were forced to return because of lack of water. When Menzie and McDonald arrived back at Ninetymile dozens of eager prospectors were waiting, determined to follow them to the find. Next morning saw them on the track with a crowd of men carrying water bags eagerly tramping after them. The party travelled across a lake and off into the bush until they came to the Eight Mile (from Menzies) where they camped the night. They arrived at Pioneer Hill two miles south of Menzies about 10 o'clock next morning. A man by the name of Billy Ivory climbed the hill but could see only scrub. The party camped to the right of the present Golden Age shaft, from which position they tried to locate Menzie's leases. An Afghan employed by Brown, Kirby and Jackman came up with some quartz saying he had found the strike. The whole crowd made a rush in the direction from which the Afghan had come, and soon all hands started out to peg alluvial claims.

The news of a strike this big spread rapidly and soon the area was crowded with prospectors hoping for similar good luck. A string of mines including the Alpha, Florence, Nada, Friday, Wedderburn, Crusoe and Lady Sherry were developed soon after the registration of the Lady Shenton claim.

Of the years, which followed the discovery of the rich Lady Shenton reef, 1895 must surely have been one of the most vigorous and eventful. During this time Warden Gill marked out the town site and issued licenses for business and residential areas. Stores, hotels and public buildings were erected and a Progress Committee was formed. Mr Hugh Mahon published the first newspaper, and by December the first land sale saw seventy-eight blocks of land realize an aggregate of $25,555.

Menzies was proclaimed a Municipality on the 20 December 1895 and the first Council was elected on 20 January 1896 with H Gregory elected as Chairman. According to the writings of Warden Owen, it was estimated that in 1896 the population was 10,000, half of whom resided in the town and the other half in the surrounding land.

In common with many of the towns in the North Coolgardie Goldfields, these early residents had to endure heat, flies, lack of water, poor diets and limited transportation, often for little or no reward. Sickness and disease plagued the early inhabitants, claiming many lives, especially among the young. The materials used to build the early buildings were an extreme fire hazard, and fires took a heavy toll.

Despite all these hardships, the people strived to make Menzies a vibrant profitable town. Water was carted to the town from surrounding lakes and underground supplies. The Government built a dam in 1897 and in 1901 this supplied water to the residences. The railway line between Kalgoorlie and Menzies was officially opened on 22 March 1898. The local Fire Brigade was formed to help control the damages caused by fire, and a Council by-law making it compulsory for at least one wall of business premises to be made of brick helped prevent the spread of many fires. Improved sanitation and a 50 bed hospital helped control the spread of disease.

Menzies at this time boasted 13 hotels, 3 banks, its own breweries and cordial factories, a Post Office with a staff of 25, a school with 205 pupils, a public library (in 1904) and 4 churches.

However, this prosperity was not to last. The gold which had made Menzies a town of major importance at the turn of the century was becoming more elusive a decade later. Figures show that production fell from 35,000 ounces in 1905 to 2,787 ounces in 1909. The population by 1910 had fallen below 1,000 and the decline of Menzies had begun. World War 1 hastened the decline, as many men who were drawn from the town were loath to return to the rigors of the gold fields after the hardships they had suffered overseas.

The general revival of gold mining during the depression years was reflected in Menzies by the renewed interest in the Lady Shenton group and the discovery of the First Hit mine. The pastoral industry, the railway line, and the nickel boom have all contributed at various times to keeping the little township alive. The 1980's and the 1990's saw another gold mining revival in Western Australia, and the future looked a little brighter, though the boom days of the 1890's were gone, it seems, forever.

In the late 1890s and early 1900s Menzies was the administration centre of the North Coolgardie Goldfields. There were some twenty small towns in this area: Davyhurst, Mulline, Mt Ida, Kookynie, Niagara, Yarri, Yerilla and Edjudina to name a few. From around 1905 the gold mining industry experienced a downturn and most of these towns literally disappeared. Menzies has survived but is just a shadow of its former self, and the pub at Kookynie is the only reminder of a once thriving community.

Places of Historical Interest