Port town’s path to boom

Town to take off: The Eastern Goldfields Fresh Air League pictured in 1955. Photo: State Library of Western Australia.
Town to take off: The Eastern Goldfields Fresh Air League pictured in 1955. Photo: State Library of Western Australia.

Part One

In the later part of the 1890’s, the phenomenal activity in the Goldfields strengthened the belief Esperance would become a thriving port. 

The WA colonial government provided railway networks to access the state’s mineral and agricultural wealth; the rail link had been withheld in the Esperance district, with the government in Perth earmarking Fremantle as the major export point for goods.

In Esperance, community leaders advocated for a railway and engaged in a lengthy and bitter political struggle.

In their view, the railway was the only thing that would bring permanent prosperity to Esperance and its district.

Explorers and gold-time speculators who had sailed through the archipelago admired the ideal and pleasant appearance of the Esperance bay and its surrounds, the ancient coastline and mysterious bold granite crop formations jutting out from the sea.

Some with vantage points offering picturesque views.

Gold rush passengers somewhat grateful to arrive onto the shore, may have wished for some resemblance of home comforts.

Cottages and streets were still a thing of the future.

Those who ventured inland were greeted with searing heat, dust, water shortage and the impoverishment that went hand in hand with life on the Goldfields.   

The safe anchorage of Esperance bay and its sheltered seaside with enticing clear blue waters was an ideal location.

For swimming activities, an enclosed female bathing shed was built on the beach at William Street.

Bathing costumes were  a full sleeved, high necked to knee length gown ,slight shoes , headwear and accessories reflecting the more structured society.

The male custom of nude bathing ceased around 1910 and an open fronted bathing shed was built in their area further along near the Dempster’s little jetty .

The beach near the headland was then called Picnic Cove.  

It was a day’s outing to walk over to picnic at West Beach or to climb Dempster Head to reach Lovers’ Cove.

In 1922 the State government made some concession to Esperance and work commenced on the Esperance railway to Salmon Gums.

The Esperance to Coolgardie railway remained incomplete and isolated. In 1927, with the continuance of the railway through to Norseman finalised, the official railway ceremony opening took place.  

Esperance’s hopes were realised.

In 1932 the Esperance Flyer, an overnight passenger steam train operated by WAGR, ran a weekly service during the summer months.

The Flyer travelled between the two stations, Esperance and Kalgoorlie, five hours faster than the mixed goods train and took 13 hours to travel the 264 mile distance.

Welcoming parties and onlookers gathered to enjoy the exuberance of the lively and sociable din at the station during arrival and departure times.

The first stop for many passengers was the jetty - a fisherman’s paradise. 

To be continued.