In 1893 Paddy Hannan discovered Australia’s richest goldfield becoming a founding father of the industry, but it’s taken much work over many years to distil the man from the legend.
Story By John Dunn
Most visitors to Kalgoorlie find their way to the Town Hall to have their photograph taken beside Paddy Hannan’s statue, on the corner of the main street in the city centre. It’s an arresting sculpture of this wiry, bearded Irish miner, wearing a distinctive high-crowned hat and clutching an all-important waterbag. He was the man who became famous for discovering Australia’s richest goldfield and can arguably be called the father of the country’s gold industry.
It was, and remains, a highly significant find. The area, then a remote part of eastern Western Australia, became Kalgoorlie. And today, 115 years later, it still produces this most precious metal in quantities that confirm its place as one of the world’s great goldmining centres.
As a third-generation “goldfielder” and long-time resident, Tess Thomson was intrigued by this legendary prospector, who was not only a local hero but a nation builder who brought immense and necessary wealth to a fledgling country.
Tess, 69, was born in Kalgoorlie but grew up in nearby Boulder where her father was an engine driver in a power station. Her grandfather, a miner from Clunes in Victoria, came to the Kalgoorlie goldfields in the 1890s so her interest in Hannan has a hereditary connection. After raising her family, Tess ran a stationery business in Kalgoorlie for 19 years with husband Barrie, combining that with volunteering for historical and genealogical societies, the cemetery board and the museum. Even though they now live in retirement at Ravenswood, 88 kilometres south of Perth, Tess and Barrie return regularly to “Kal”, as it is affectionately called, to see family – there are now five generations of “goldfielders”.
“I grew up knowing about Paddy Hannan but my real interest in him was sparked in 1978 when I joined the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society and was involved in inquiries about him,” Tess says. “As well, I began to take note of the many interviews in the local paper, the Kalgoorlie Miner, with visitors who thought they might be related, and I watched those who delighted in finding his statue and having their photographs taken sitting on his knee. For instance, one day the society received a letter from a family in the eastern states claiming they were descendants of Paddy. This attracted my attention because it was always accepted in Kalgoorlie that Paddy was a bachelor.”
Later, in 1988, Irish mining company Burmin, in association with the Australian mining operation Whim Creek, marked Paddy’s contribution to the mining industry and to Australia by bringing some of his descendants here. They were father and daughter Thomas and Mary Hannon, from Paddy’s birthplace at Quin, near Ennis in County Clare. Everyone, including the pair themselves, believed they were Paddy’s relations despite the different spelling of the surname. Thomas and Mary presented the mayor of Kalgoorlie with a snuff box reputedly sent to them by “Uncle Paddy”. None of this, embarrassingly, turned out to be so. About the same time Tess was given some documents purporting to show Paddy’s family tree and they, too, were found to be wrong. It was clear not a great deal was known about Hannan’s early life.
This story excerpt is from Issue #57
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008