James Balzano, born in Italy in 1859, gained some education in South America and the US before joining the goldrush in New Zealand and then Victoria, later moving to Western Australia where he travelled 900km in one journey – his barrow fashioned with a few tools, a tomahawk and some leather thongs.
George Compton and Ron Manners, whose fathers had a great deal to do with Balzano, joined forces to produce a book on his barrow travels. He had little luck in his gold prospecting but left treasure in the form of his detailed diaries. Each night, by the light of the moon, the flicker of a candle stub or camp fire, he recorded his route, meals and daily experiences. He told the tales of the men he met, stories of the finds, the success and tragedies of the various places, the costs, terrain and the weather.
He was an historian who pushed a barrow.
Reviews for Kanowna`s Barrowman
LIFE STORY #19 THE BALZANO BARROW RACE
by David Gellatly
In the mid 1800’s the Interior of Western Australia was uninhabited, other than by the various Aboriginal tribes. The opening up of the Interior of WA was a direct result of gold discoveries. While the first discovery of gold in WA was at Halls Creek in the remote far north in 1885, this was too small and too remote to generate a major gold rush. It was not until there were successive discoveries of gold in the south of the state, commencing with Southern Cross in 1887, that the prospecting rush really took off.
However, the rush was held back by transport difficulties, particularly the lack of potable water. Some used horses or horse and cart … but horses needed water; some used camels; and some went on foot . Of those who went on foot the ones who used a wheelbarrow could carry at least three times as much as on their backs.
Following the Southern Cross discovery, there were additional discoveries farther east, at Coolgardie in 1892 by Arthur Bayley and William Ford, and at Kalgoorlie in 1893 by Paddy Hannon. From Kalgoorlie prosoectors went north, east and south and made further gold discoveries, including particularly the White Feather Reef at Kanowna by James McAuliffe,
also in 1893. Others quickly followed to Kanowna, including James Balzano who had pushed his barrow all the way from Perth. Balzano did not make any significant finds at Kanowna, but he is remembered for his diaries.
James Balzano, born in Italy, in 1859, gained some education in South America and the US before joining in the goldrush in New Zealand and then Victoria, later moving to Western Australia, where he travelled 900km in one journey.
His barrow was very simple, being constructed mainly of two long saplings, with interconnecting struts, a front wheel constructed from pieces of packing case wood, and two short legs at the rear.
On it he carried all his belongings. A typical load would include a bag of flour, a five gallon drum of water, sugar , tea, baking powder, tinned meat and bacon, plus clothes and mining and camping equipment such as picks, shovel and gold pan. For six long months Balzano pushed a load such as the one above, on the “pennyweight trail”, so called because of the small unpayable finds along the way, before arriving at Kanowna in 1893. Kanowna quickly grew as a mining centre, with significant amounts of gold being produced.
While he did not make any major gold discoveries at Kanowna, Balzano must have made enough to cover his living expenses. However, he decided to try his luck elsewhere, and travelled north to many places including Lake Darlot, Diorite King, Mt Margaret, Yerilla, Bardoc, Broad Arrow, and Mulgabbie, before finally returning to Kanowna where he made his
home. Not only did he cover his expenses there, but he was also able to save enough to do a world tour in 1913.
Although he did not make a fortune from his gold prospecting he left treasure in the form of his detailed diaries, which he wrote each night by the light of the moon, the flicker of a candle stub or the light of the camp fire. He was an historian who pushed a barrow.
In 1993, a few Kalgoorlie entities including George Compton and Ron Manners, decided to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the arrival of Balzano in Kanowna, by holding the inaugural Balzano Barrow Race from Kalgoorlie to Kanowna.
This was to be a race, so competitors were organised into teams of three (or four). Vehicle back-up was allowed, so that the non-barrow-pushers did not have to run the whole way! I don’t know how many teams there we’re, but I was in team 43, all from Delta Gold, which at that time (along with Peko Wallsend) held interests in most of the mining tenements at
Kanowna. I don’t know which team won, but it certainly wasn’t us.
Barrows had to be replicas of Balzano’s model…. Two long bush poles with cross pieces tied on with stringybark or rope, and a wooden wheel made from pieces of packing case. They had to carry a load similar to Balzano’s, but carried less water.
The start was in front of a large crowd near Hannan’s Hotel in the centre of Kalgoorlie, and the finish was at the old railway station in Kanowna, a distance of about 19km. At the time, Kanowna was almost completely uninhabited, but a large crowd had assembled there for the finish. It was quite a picnic day there, with some tents selling food and drinks, and some areas
where TwoUp was being played.
Since then there have been further Balzano Barrow Races, (now an annual event) organised by a Kalgoorlie group including George Compton and Ron Manners, both of whom had fathers who knew James Balzano.
The race is now run from Kanowna to Kalgoorlie, to guarantee a large crowd at the finish. There was an anniversary race in 2013, and reports of a further anniversary race being planned for 2023.
Acknowledgements; Ron Manners and George Compton; Cheryl Foster.
PHOTO – The Delta Team before the start in 1993: (left to right) Kim Stanton-Cook, Roger Thomson, Peter Van der Spuy, and David Gellatly.