The Life and Times of Gordon Halbert

The Life and Times of Gordon Dudley Halbert – Miner, Surveyor, Assayer, Prospector and Salmon Spotter- by Pamela Bryant. 

Photo Harry Crocker and Gordon Halbert by Reg Morrison.

 Gordon Dudley Halbert nick named “King of Kundip”, “Kangaroo Jack” and “Post Hole Jack” was born on the 17th April 1903, to Rose Anne (nee Keogh, and formerly of Morac Station Mt Gambier, South Australia)  and Albert  Halbert (formerly of Kingower, Victoria). Albert and Rose lived in Coolgardie, in the 1890’s, at a time of extreme growth brought about by the lust for gold. Rose was only the third female to venture there, probably at Albert’s request. My grandmother Dulcie, Ivy, Irene and Albert (Jnr.) were born there between 1896 and 1899. Later Albert (Snr.), my Great Grandfather, nick named “Baldy”, took a road, sea and track journey to Kundip, leaving his young family at Albany for safe keeping. Whilst in Albany Rose had another girl Maud.  Ivy and Irene had died before they left Coolgardie and Maud also died in the year of her birth (1902) in Albany.

The family joined Albert in Kundip in 1902, a trip at that time made possible, by a twice weekly coach service from Hopetoun. Gordon (the sixth born to Albert and Rose) was the first white child born in Kundip and was delivered by a first time mid-wife by the name of Mrs Love. Five more children joined the Halbert clan in that way, they were Ruby, Clara, James, William and Arthur.

Albert (Snr), an ex Victorian and former Jockey accused of pulling races!, knew a little about Alluvial Gold from his childhood days and together with a Mr. Pendergast (an Irishman who had also spent time in the east of Australia) found and claimed an alluvial reward acreage in the area. Others followed and were also successful.

Initially all goods, chattels and equipment were brought up by donkey teams (sometimes 40 to a wagon) or by horse driven teams from the sea port of Hopetoun, a 20 mile trip.

As is often the case the first building in Kundip was a pub!  The second, a school, had to be lobbied for. Gordon was one of the first students at the age five sent to make up the numbers. A Mechanic’s Institute Hall, a bake-house, several “close to the wind” butchers and other stores followed. Daw’s and Lansell’s were the better businesses and remained in business until the finish of the goldfields blush. Lansell’s operated the Bake-house and the Post Office agency, the towns only means of following the ups and downs of the Great War and other matters of note. Bulletins were posted, as they were received, for the locals to view. The quartzite stone, used in the building floor and mined from a gully nearby is all that remains of the Kundip Township. The Elverdton copper mine bought to the area the first decent butcher Dick Nicholls, and soon a twice a week cutting cart service visited Kundip from the mine (Elverdton moved its operation to Kalgoorlie about 1917).

Married men’s houses at Kundip, about 40 of them, were built of gimlet, hessian, galvanized iron and kerosene tins. Single men ingeniously used anything they could lay their hands on.                                                                                                                     

Eventually a railroad was built from Hopetoun to Kundip (and on to Ravensthorpe). Workers on this project were more often than not, of Irish descent and the project seemed to take forever. Most of the work was done by hand with simple tools and wheelbarrows. When the first “iron maiden” sounded its approach to Kundip, it sent the locals children into a “tizz”, scarpering in fear and astonishment.

The first mine was established by roo (kangaroo) shooters, the Dallison brothers (Harry, Tom and Reg), from Albany. They also built the first “rough” store at Kundip.

Gordon use to accompany his dad Albert “Baldy” Halbert to the Alluvial Gold diggings as a child working eight to ten feet down and at 13 started mining at greater depths. In about 1916 he took a job at 6/- a day (a five and a half day week) in the assay office, at Kundip. Charlie Grant (Oral Historian Ronda Jamieson’s great grandfather) was the Assayer and Gordon as his assistant learnt much about chemical analysis, ores, and precious metals. 12 months later, a job earning 10/- a day as a trucker at GEM Consolidated took his eye. This took him 300 feet below ground, driving trucks on rails

and required his attendance for 5, 8 hour days and 7 hours on Saturday. After a while Saturday’s were cut back to 4 hours.

A year or so later he was off to Esperance to join the rail workers. He spent this time around Salmon Gums (60 miles from Esperance) “in the pits” shoveling, earning 4 pounds, 4 shillings for six days a week. Not happy with the Irish bosses and getting the sack for wearing an oilskin in a hailstorm! Gordon walked off carrying his gear and belongings for 20 miles, to a new beginning.

Within 2 weeks he found himself a very good job with a survey team, a job he would return to many times over the coming years. This first stint however lasted 2 and half years covering the areas between Margaret River, Southern Cross and Salmon Gums. He was driving the horses and wagons, and then walking and doing compass work for 15 -20 miles per day, cutting up all the blocks and doing chain work.

Gordon left the south west in the early 20’s to do an “Experting” course in Perth. “Experts” (they look after all the tools in the shearing sheds) where in great demand up north, as the wool industry was at that time in boom. He had always been good with tools, so it was half the year up in the nor’ west on the shearing runs and half the year back on the survey camps. This pattern of life continued for the next 10 years, always interspersed with a bit of mine work or prospecting. He was indeed a traveler, and with travel comes knowledge.

In the years of the depression and pre World War II Gordon spent nearly all of his time working mines. He worked for Claude de Benales at Kundip for a while and entered into a partnership with Stuart Campbell and Mick Lalor taking out the rights for a reserve of Magnesite at Bandalup Creek, 16 and a half miles east of Ravensthorpe. Gordon assessed this Magnesite to be 98% pure (a fact later attested too, in the 1950’s by the Americans who saw it “as one of the purest Magnesite deposits in the world” and by Canterford in 1985 who saw it as “the best of five deposits found in Australia”). It proved too big to manage however, and they later sold out to Norseman Gold Mines for a reputed 80 thousand pounds, not bad pre-war takings. Magnesite is used in the manufacture of fire bricks and these bricks are used in steel smelters. Prior to the war he also discovered Vermiculite (1300 tons of it) a substance which was then used to insulate weapons factories during the war years. 

Immediately after the war The West Australian Government seconded him to search for, survey and peg, deposits of Blacksand from which Thorium is extracted. Thorium was used in the manufacture of the atom bomb. This assignment took 22 months and saw him in and out of mangrove swamps and many dangerous places from the top to the bottom of the Western Australian coast, surviving on whatever the land served up, usually mangrove crabs, fish, oysters, wild turkey and roo.

Perhaps having had enough time on and below terra firma for now, Gordon moved to the air and water, becoming an aerial salmon “spotter” for Hunt’s at Albany, and a sardine fisherman. It wasn’t long however before a yearning for his genuine passion, mining, took hold again, and he returned to the Kundip area to work with Stuart Campbell and later Harry Crocker.

For 4 and a half years in the 1950’s Gordon worked on a Graphite site at the Munglinup deposit. The atom bomb was being worked on in America and the first atom was split using large Graphite blocks. The Americans wanted millions of tons of it and Gordon had the best of, and maybe only, supply of it here. A well known and respected Geologist (Connelly, who used to be in charge of Wiluna) conducted the option for Gordon, but 3 weeks before a deal could be sealed and monies (75 thousand quid’s worth) exchanged, the American’s discovered “heavy water” and Gordon’s dream of another big deal crumbled.

 In the period 1953-58 Munglinup produced 135.1 tons of Graphite.

 Gordon’s personal metal of choice was always Gold and he found much of it over the years, keeping him “hard at it” until near his death in 1990. In 1968, in one week, he yielded 97 ounces from 30 pounds on his eight acres at Kundip!  (Enough to scrape by on, I’d say?) This precious metal saw him through thick and thin and kept him comfortable, it was all in the chase, and never the value of a find. He lived a simple “prospector’s” life, though he must have been a rich man. He thought of gold as “dependable and steady” and he certainly knew where, and how to find it. Security of his “stash” was never high on his agenda however and it was always just lying around wrapped in rags. He was sometimes too trusting of others but was personally a much trusted and honest man.

 The substances I have highlighted were indeed very important finds at the time of their discovery. Gordon’s expert opinion and knowledge of all below ground, and above ground in relation to surveying, was sort far and wide by Locals, Shires, Governments and larger Mining Authorities alike. He has 3 Oral History tapes in the Battye Library OH 337 and 2 numbered OH 575, perhaps this is because he was a person of significance in Western Australian Mining (predominantly the Ravensthorpe Shire) or perhaps because he witnessed and could relate stories of a bygone era.  There are numerous anecdotes of his life and times printed in histories, papers and books. Many more need to be recounted, before the resources are lost.

I did hear it from his own mouth that he did find Uranium for the W.A Government, (whilst contracted to them on another search) many years, before its acknowledged discovery there. Problem was he said “at that time no one knew what to do with it”, so it was “interesting but of no interest!” This information must still be out there somewhere hidden amongst Government Mining Records. Indeed there are writings of his brother’s discovery of it also, but at a much later date. (Albert Jnr, “Stump” for short, found it for Norseman Gold Mines at Elverdton in 1954, using a Geiger counter. This deposit was thought uneconomic but the search did lead to the discovery of Copper ore which in turn led to the formation of Ravensthorpe Copper Mines. “Stump” is credited with erecting the head-frame at the Mt Cattlin Mine.) Unfortunately I cannot remember when and where Gordon came upon the Uranium, as it was of no interest to me either, but I believed him to be talking about “pre” W.W.11 times.

Some of the mines Gordon worked on were: The Two Boys, Elverdton, Gem, Western Gem, Gem Restored, Omaha, Beryl, Harbour View, Last Chance and Jim Dun There would be many others but it is difficult for me to track down such details from Melbourne.

Gordon donated his traveling camp to the Ravensthorpe Historical Society and it is displayed in its Tourist Bureau and History display rooms at Ravensthorpe. It is imperative that this display is protected and maintained for posterity. There are also photos, transcripts and other items of memorabilia there. A memorial stone and plaque was placed in the old Hopetoun Cemetery by friends Bill and Margaret Pike at the behest of Gordon’s step-daughter Heather.  

There were several fantasies expounded as to where his ashes came to rest. They were strewn from a plane over Kundip; they are in his old mine etc. But the truth is that they lie at the foot of an old fig tree near the place of his birth; it’s a place that in Kundip’s heyday was referred to as “Halbert’s Orchard”. Bill and Marg. Pike along with other friends and acquaintances gathered there with Anglican priest Ross Jones to share the moment in memoriam and farewell a true and honest old timer. A man known and respected for the way he lived his life, as a prospector, his knowledge of the land and his humorous recants. Gordon loved to lean against a tree (according to Alice Rose) and I have no doubt that is indeed where he is. It is a fitting end to a wonderful life.

 You can read more about Gordon HERE

Anecdotes by the man himself:

“You remember that old Frank Marchant? Well he had a couple of horses and a dray and he would just start them off and away they’d go to the Smelter on their own. On their own they’d go. If it was a hot day or anything like that they’d just stop and have a spell, and they’d on again, no one with them. I’ve seen them on their own….sometimes I’d see them stopped and I’d wonder what the dickens was wrong, and all of a sudden, off they’d go… He had two teams, old Frank, and he’d traveled with one and the other would be about a mile behind him probably and they’d be coming on… and he was good, he was a good horseman.”

“In school holidays, we used to knock around the old mines, or sneak into gardens to see if we could get hold of something. Sometimes we’d have to rush down old mines to save getting caught. I remember we got down one once and the old bloke didn’t take any notice of us. He’d seen where we went and he knew we’d come up sooner or later, and he waited. The first bloke that got up very quietly to look around and see if the coast was clear got knocked straight back down again by him wielding a big branch. We had to wait till about eight or nine o’clock at night before we were game enough to get out and go home.”

“There were often brawls and the like outside the pub on Saturday nights. One incident caused a bit of a stir, no one was hurt, but it did empty the pub. A fellow was there on a very cold night and they had this big stove going behind the bar, in the tap room they used to call them, big stove there and everyone came in there to get warm. This fellow couldn’t get in. He used to have a favourite place there were he used to get his grog and he’d just sit there and keep warm.

Someone else sat in his place!, and he went in and said ‘Now that’s my place your sitting in you know. The bloke said ‘It’s a free country, I think you can sit anywhere so long as you pay for your grog’. So he didn’t say anything. He went out and got down to his camp and got his detonators and his fuse and he got the paper off the gelignite and put it around a cake of soap and made a plug hole.

He returned to the pub, lit the fuse and dropped it behind the bloke in his chair. There were about 20 in the tap room at the time and the bar owner seen it (he went straight through the other side and out through the window) then everyone one saw this thing fizzling and they didn’t wait to see if it was dynamite or not.  Another bloke jumped straight through the window and he landed flat on his belly in the bar, he stayed there waiting for this thing to go off.

Someone knocked over the stove and the pub caught fire. The perpetrator put out the fire with a bit of water and then he sat in his usual seat in the tap room. When they all come back, a little at a time, looking around the corner, they saw him in his usual place having a warm. That’s one way of getting a warm, eh?”

Gordon recalls the day the railway opened at Kundip.

“You could hear this rattling locomotive coming for miles, and everyone was ready for this big day down at the pub. The pub was just across the creek from where the train stopped, where the end of the line was. Just before she was going to pull up the driver pulled the string on the whistle.  It made a terrific screech; you’d think someone was getting killed in the bush. All the kids took to the scrub. There were three kids who had to be dragged out by their back legs from under the pub floor. The pub floor was on stilts, three feet off the ground because we had very wet seasons then.”

Gordon explains his fathers expertise in dentistry.

Baldy worked for a period in New Zealand, in the shearing industry, and in the process he learned to pull teeth. This ability had its uses. One day a miner called “Old Jack”, jumped his claim at Kundip, but a rattle of the tin dish soon got rid of him. Baldy got his own back some time later when Old Jack came to him with a bad toothache. (Gordon made a very good story of this episode in a paper he delivered to the Ravensthorpe Historical Society in April 1971.)

Anecdote by Cliff Belli and his sister Alice Rose, as related.

“One day when Gordon and his brother, nick named “stump” were kids; they put a half plug of dynamite into their dad’s wood heap. You know, just to see what would happen as kids do. Well, it blew the wood heap sky high and in fear of what their father may deem appropriate punishment they took off like scared rabbits and just kept going, and going, and going . It is believed they were missing for three days. But their absence did not soften their dad’s heart and they still copped a whacking!”

 Anecdote by Dennis Walker:

“We (Our family) arrived in Ravensthorpe in May 1969 and although I was a builder by trade I had some experience at prospecting in various parts of Victoria New South Wales and South Australia. On arrival, Gordon along with The Wehr Brothers, Hans and Vanner (Werner) were some of the first people I sought to meet. (All Prospectors) Gordon at the time was working together with Harry Crocker their little operation at Kundip on “The Western Gem”, I spent some time prospecting around the area and also used to drop in on Gordon and Harry , go underground with them and have a cuppa at crib time.

During the first three or four months I did a general reconnaissance all over the district and I discovered nickel just a few kilometers out of town which I decided to peg, I invited a friend from Victoria to join in with me as a junior partner to assist in the job of pegging and to share the cost of eight three hundred acre mineral claims.

The sale of the mining rights of this prospect enabled me to continue prospecting and after another three successful lots of pegging I decided to open a gold prospect at Kundip and although at the time the price of gold was a very low $38/40 an ounce I still went ahead and put down a couple of shafts, One of my sons, Garry helped, The first, a round shaft of about a meter in diameter was south of the old “Gem Restored”, to a depth of about 20m, but only got traces of gold . The second shaft was an old pre war pit of about 4/5 meters, we sunk this to 20 meters, and this had a good showing of gold and enabled us to take a crushing to Norseman State Battery for treatment.

During all this time Gordon and Harry and Garry and myself used to see a lot of “How it was going” sort of thing at each other’s workings.

Garry and I had an electric hoist, underground lights, electric ventilation fan and of course a good diesel air compressor, and as well I had a Kango Electric Hammer/drill, all of this really impressed Gordon and Harry.

They at the time depended on “Carbide lamps”, Hand hammer and Tap” for drilling explosive holes and an old hand winch for hauling their ore.

Garry and I always called into see Gordon after work as his mate Harry run the Hopetoun to Ravensthorpe school bus and therefore left Gordon by himself from about 2.15 every afternoon to return the children to Hopetoun. In consequence of this we always dropped in to make sure Gordon was ok. One afternoon we wound our way from our shaft through the very thick Banksia track to Gordon’s shaft, we noticed a lot of smoke issuing from the shaft, we thought that Gordon had just fired but couldn’t see him around, Garry and I approached the shaft and Gordon then appeared with his carbide lamp and water bottle, he didn’t clear shaft and as 4or 5 charges went off blasting rock and dust skywards which literally lifted Gordon clear off his old mallee ladder. (He had just put his gear on staging)

In amazement I said,” Gee Gordon you cut those fuses a bit short didn’t you”, he replied, “You can’t waste it, you know, it’s pretty expensive nowadays!!

About this time we offered to show Gordon and Harry the “Modcons” of our mining, Garry and I parked our Inter four wheel drive alongside their shaft and dropped a power lead down from my Petter Diesel generator in the utility and then lowered the Kango Hammer drill, we drilled five or six four foot holes in the face in about one and a half hours, this was very impressive to Gordon and Harry. They sometimes only were able to drill one or at the most two each day.

Sometime later Gordon and Harry purchased a Kango Electric Hammer and petrol driven generator, both second-hand but still worked well.

 We kept in touch and there would be more such items as these recorded in my daily diaries.”

 References used:

Battye, J.S (Library)

Beach, Hilda Alice (Partner)

Belli, Cliff (Friend)

Challis, Heather (Partner’s daughter)

Cox, Roy (Friend)

Goldfinch, Richenda (Author) 

Halbert, Gordon (Oral History Tapes and transcripts of presentations)

Jamieson, Ronda (Recorder of Oral History)

King, Bunty and Marg. (Friends)

Kundip 1901-2001 (A Publication by Richenda Goldfinch)

Morrison, Reg (Photographer)

Pike, W (Bill) and Marg. (Friends and Carers) Hopetoun

Quartermaine, M.K. (Keith) (Mining Historian)

Ravensthorpe 1901-2001 (A Publication by the Ravensthorpe Historical Society)

Ravensthorpe Historical Society and Museum.

Rose, Alice (Friend) Perth 

Tink, Edith (Ravensthorpe Historical Society)

Walker, Dennis (Acquaintance)

Walker, Rob (Acquaintance) 

Weyland, John (Journalist)

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