This story is set in Kanowna, about 20km east of Kalgoorlie. It’s a ghost town these days. But in Father Long’s day, when WG Manners penned the following notes, Kanowna was a busy town with thousands of people pouring through in the hope of striking it rich.
Gold was first found there in 1894 and by 1896, underground mining had started. Although progress continued — in 1897 a railway service and electricity were introduced— the town’s popularity started to wane. Around this time, local priest Father Long announced to the townfolk that he’d seen a huge nugget in the area. The sacred nugget, as it became known, is still the subject of mystery. It’s said to be a hoax, suggested as a way to stop miners from moving on, but WG believed Father Long saw something.
Gold, gold everywhere
Just before Father Long’s declaration, two prospectors — Sim and Gresson — were working a six-acre lease in Kanowna. They were getting good gold from a surface deposit. It was about to get better. There was another lease, Ballarat Company, adjoining the north and I suggested to a friend that we peg out a claim on the end of Sim and Gresson’s lease and see what the Ballarat leaseholders would do. At this time I had work to do in Widgiemooltha and went away for a fortnight.
During my absence Sim and Gresson found a 100-ounce nugget and another lease, Morris and party, found a 20-ounce nugget. This created a rush. My friend pegged out on my behalf, but we were half a mile away from where we should have been. On my return I noticed a shaft thirty-feet deep that had been sunk by Ballarat. I sampled the dump carefully but did not get a colour of gold, so decided to keep on where my friend had pegged.
A week or so later a party took up this shaft and, after working a few days, struck rich gold. It proved the richest claim on the lease and was called the Arctic Circle.
News spreads far and wide
It was during this time that Father Long saw that wonderful nugget. This was the sensation of the year. The lead had brought many thousands of miners to Kanowna. But, when one morning Father Long announced that on the previous night he had seen a wonderful nugget of gold worth 1200 pounds, it was in the form of a sickle and had an ironstone handle.
Excitement became intense. He alleged that the two men had brought it in and shown it to him, but had bound him to secrecy as to their identity or the location of the find. When this news was published in all the papers, thousands more rushed to Kanowna from all parts of the fields. After a day or two of intense excitement they began to clamour and press Father Long for more information. The manager of The Democrat, the Kanowna newspaper, run by a Mr Cohen, approached Father Long and was informed that he, Father, had seen it again, that it was in the Commercial Bank at Kalgoorlie.
Mr Cohen went to Kalgoorlie, but the Manager of the Commercial Bank knew nothing about it. He then inquired at all the other Banks, but they were equally ignorant. This cast some doubt on the matter. But Father Long was a priest so no one could doubt his word.
The men were getting out of hand and, after several days of anxiety, a mob invaded Father Long’s camp and threatened to lynch him on the spot unless he told them more about the nugget. It is difficult to say what would have happened to the Father had not Warden Troy, a highly respected and strong man, intervened. He quietened the crowd and got them to leave, promising that he would use his influence with the Father to disclose the secret.
The result was that Father Long agreed to disclose the location of the find, with or without the owners’ permission. He promised to announce it from the Balcony of Donnellan’s Hotel at 2pm the next day. There were thousands of men there at the appointed time, all eager and full of excitement. Then Father Long declared that the nugget had been found three miles from Kanowna, on the Kumalpi Road, just this side of Lake Gwen. No sooner was the announcement made then a stampede started: they flocked out in carts and buggies, on horseback, on bicycles, on foot, crowding the road and jostling each other in their eagerness to get past. Before the day was out thousands of claims had been pegged and, next day, thousands of men were working with shakers and tin dishes. But never a colour of gold did they see.
What happened to Father Long?
Father Long was soon after removed from Kanowna and, although he was then a fine, young, healthy man, he was dead within a few months. Poor Father Long, he had really seen the gold in the shape of the sickle, but had got a wrong interpretation of it. I can remember clearly the occasion. The Arctic Circle was having its fortnightly clean up. It was to be a record one. Tom Doyle was a shareholder and, in anticipation of the big dividend, opened a bottle or two of champagne.
Father Long was on the scene at the time and joined with us in the festivities. Bottle after bottle was opened by the lucky shareholders and, when the gold was ultimately smelted, was brought to the pub in five bars of gold arranged around a rusty iron prospector’s dish. They were thus in the form of a sickle, with the iron dish to approximate the ironstone handle. Its value was 1200 pounds.
When Father Long awoke next morning, he had forgotten all about the celebrations at Tom Doyle’s but had a hazy idea that he had seen the nugget, or perhaps he dreamed it, and, having once made the announcement, felt that he had to stick to it, to see it through to the last. Thus had booze claimed another victim and destroyed another life.
This is an excerpt from So I Headed West by WG Manners. You can download the full story here for free.