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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

The town tales of Menzies, Western Australia

1 and a half hours drive north of Kalgoorlie (8 hours north north east of Perth) lies the small town of Menzies. The town is named after Leslie Menzies, a Canadian born prospector, who took up a mining lease here in 1894.

Menzies today has a population of just over 100, down from its 10,000 during the Gold rush days of 1894 – 1910. The Shire of Menzies spans over 128,000 square kilometres (larger than Tasmania!) with just 400 people living in the entire Shire. Before the European settlers came to the dry area, local indigenous people lived in and traveled through the area around Menzies, and many of their descendants still live here. This remote area holds a beauty of its own with the clear blue skies above and the dry red dirt below.

The Menzies hotel, once known as the Railway hotel, is the only pub now left standing in the town, from a peak of 18. In its heyday, only the elite could drink at the Menzies, the general worker was not permitted inside. I had a lovely chat with the friendly and welcoming barman while drinking an icy cool beer on a very hot day. He was full of tales and stories about the pub and the town. It is worth the drop by to chat with him, and also to keep this country pub open.

With the pub also operating as the general store and only one other business open in town, I was surprised to see a coffee shop advertising its delights in the middle of nowhere. However, the publican advised that it is only open when the flags are out, and that is rare now-a-days. Such a shame, but like a lot of businesses that rely on tourism, 2020 has seen so many shut their doors.

18 interpretive panels and a series of rusty steel ‘ghosts’ give a unique insight into the historical town of Menzies. The Great Town Hall Clock Saga gives details on the how and why it took over 100 years to get the clock.

They are a fun way to learn about the town, and strolling around reading the various quips was entertaining. They are stories of ordinary people that bring the town to life, most of them are of the local indigenous Wongi people.

Taking tucker to the train. Joyce Nudding (nee Newland) has a story on the plaque. “Wongi people look out for each other – the culture dictates that they share resources, especially food. “Well the train used to come through from Leonora or Laverton, going to Kalgoorlie – used to arrive here about lunchtime. Or the train could be coming from Kalgoorlie, going to Leonora and it still arrived here about lunchtime. My mother would be watching to see if there were any Wongi – they started waving from over there, then she would get me and Margie to take some food over to them….

Let’s Dance. Joan Tucker

Wongi people learned to dance the “white fella way” early on – but had to wait decades before being allowed to attend local events. Mum and her future husband, James Brennan, learned the old style ballroom dances at Moore River and after they were married and came back to Kalgoorlie they used to go to the hall where they held dances for Aborigines”…”In 1958 (I think) I went to the first cabaret that Aboriginals were allowed to attend here at the Town Hall.”

“Stop fighting over the barmaid you two – or I’ll thump you both!” The Reverend John McTig - reputed to be very handy with his fists! (The good Reverend went on to marry a local barmaid, having defeated all his rivals)

Step inside you handsome man, my sheets are clean and my price is keen…” – The ‘red light lady’

How on earth do I STOP this infernal machine? Local Mining Warden, William Owen, test riding the first motorcycle in Menzie.

In the main street of Menzies there is a display of antique machines and vehicles that make you very grateful for today's air conditioned luxury vehicles. It also makes you appreciate just how tough those early settlers were, with none of the modern conveniences we take for granted.

The town has a lovely painted wall to commemorate their fallen soldiers near their Rolls of Honour.

Menzies is a great place to stop and spend a few hours learning about their history and also seeing the town struggling to survive. Another reason to stop on a hot day is the modern Sister Sam Water Park. Named after Janet Mazza a nursing sister in Menzies 1993 - 2014, it opened in 2014, and is a fun way to cool off for both locals and travelers.

Happy Travels!

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