When our next door neighbour, Jean Chalmers, told me about President Herbert Hoover and his association with Gwalia, I thought she was ‘romancing’, as Beria used to say to me when I told about another of my strange notions. I later discovered it was true. On his way to the White House, the 31st President of the United States did live and work in Gwalia, and for a couple of years. To the end of his life he maintained contact with the town and his former colleagues. He said it was one of the happiest times in his life.
Mr. Hoover built mine manager’s house which was at the top of Staff Hill and formed the apex of our small community. He was an engineer based in Kalgoorlie and travelled to the many mines under his control, including the Sons of Gwalia. To cut mining costs he travelled to Italy and hired Italian labourers, starting migration programme between the two countries. Consequently, the town’s population was made up mostly of immigrants. On their first day of work many of them arrived wearing the only clothing they possessed, a tailored suit.
Mr Hoover chose the site and supervised the building of the Oregon-lined manager’s residence. It was a grand design which looked-out over the town. The house, which was completed in 1899 at a cost of £750, was surrounded on three sides by a wide wooden verandah. A small back room accommodated a full-time cook. Each room was fitted with a servant bell pull and during winter a yardman was needed to supply the wood for the kitchen and the four fireplaces. A tank behind the house was used as a pool.
While it is denied by the Herbert Hoover Library in the United States, the people of Kalgoorlie maintain that he fell in love with the barmaid at the Palace Hotel, where he lived when he was in town. When he left Kalgoorlie, he presented them with a mirror which still hangs in the downstairs entrance parlour. During my time in Gwalia, Reg Barden was the manager of the mine. He lived in the house with his wife, Eileen, and their four children. On the occasions I dared venture close to the house I was intimidated by its high wrought-iron fence, the imposing gates and concrete steps, the manicured lawns and gardens, and a magnificent display of roses planted by Mrs Barden. The vegetable garden and grapevines were located in the yard behind the house and the chicken and turkey pen a short distance down the back of the hill. One night four drunken teenage lads, led by Vergie Cugini, stole a turkey which they killed, plucked and cleaned, and attempted to cook on an open fire behind the South Gwalia hill. Having done with the turkey, they decided to borrow the mine’s green utility to take a joy ride around the town. One of the lads became nervous and headed home, later confessing to his father. Their high-spirited prank turned sour when the Gwalia policeman wanted to press charges, but Reg Barden was opposed to the idea. ‘No. I was young once,’ he said and let the matter drop. Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.