Alice Dunstall – A Post For Mother’s Day

The Ballangarry Mine, owned by Herbert Dunstall who is almost certainly in this photograph. Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), Tuesday 1 August 1905, page 24

This is a semi-fictional account, although the included facts are accurate as far as we know.

The details come from oral histories and from archived records. Herbert and Alice were married in Kalgoorlie in 1899 and their son Kenneth was born there in 1900. They were a pair of intelligent, capable young adults who shared a dream of breaking free from the poverty and overwork that had destroyed their parents. In late 1900, Herbert purchased the Ballangarry Gold Mine at Lake Darlot. Alice planned to operate a boarding house, having observed the profits made in that industry in Kalgoorlie. In late 1901, Herbert and Alice became the proprietors of the Ballangarry Hotel, taking over from William (Wes) Beal(e) after his untimely demise from kidney failure at the age of 39 years .

In 1901, Herbert, Alice and baby Kenneth made the long journey into one of the harshest environments in all of Australia.

Red dust.  Swirling in the air and catching in her mouth, in her hair, in the sweaty cracks between her fingers. Rivulets of sweat trickled down her back and soaked into her sturdy shirt.  It was always a tough decision – thick clothes to protect against scratchy branches or thin clothes to stay cool.  Perched on a swaying camel tied into the middle of a camel train, Mrs Alice Dunstall reminded herself that all trials eventually come to an end.

She wiped sweat from her forehead. Kenny was a heavy red faced lump dozing against her chest.  He was tied to her, not pleasant for either of them in this afternoon heat but the only way to keep him safe for the journey.  A camel back ride was tough enough without holding a baby at the same time. The Aboriginal women in Boulder had taught her the tying trick.  They’d loved him. They always loved babies.

She turned to look behind at Herbert.  He was staring dreamily off into the horizon with the  sweat-dampened map open in his hands, unaware of the dirt or the heat or the insects buzzing in his ears.  His shirt was unbuttoned at the collar and he’d rolled up the sleeves.  He looked quite relaxed on the back of a camel in the scorching heat. 

She brushed the flies from Kenny’s face and Herbert noticed the movement.  He gave her a dazzling smile and nodded towards the west. Alice followed his eyes and recognised the shape of the hill from their map.  Herbert’s new mine was there.  He’d bought it in Kalgoorlie from a fellow who’d had enough of loneliness.  That wouldn’t happen to Herbert.  He was a solitary man who lived more in his own head than in the outer world. 

Lake Darlot’s location in the East Murchison Gold Field. Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

With a lurch, the camels changed step.  She grabbed for the pommel with one hand and cupped the other round Kenny’s head.  They had topped a rise.  Now it was a long descent to – to what?  Was it rooftops before them?  The hard bare land stretched in all directions like an ocean in sunset, perforated by stunted trees and shadowy hollows that might be caves.  Sweat dripped into her eyes and her cheek stung.  She was burned, even with her broad-brimmed hat.

Was there a lake at Lake Darlot?  Sometimes there was, she had been told. When the rains came the place turned green in a matter of days. It was because of the rains that they were coming in by camel.  Five months ago the greatest flood ever known in the region had washed away the cart track and even now the eroded surface was all but impassable. The long, slow journey by steam train from Boulder to Leonora had been an adventure.  This stretch was rapidly losing its charm.

After the rains came the water soaked into the ground in a matter of days.  The skies powdered into a harsh blue and the red ground reasserted its supremacy. She had seen it already, right across Western Australia.  In her childhood she had known swirling white fog over the Thames in an English world of winter, cloaking the buildings until it seemed as if no other person could be found in the county at all.  This was the same scene painted in different hue.  Maybe those empty-seeming hills were as peopled as the world she had left?  Maybe locals were watching them even now?

The descent was bumpy and Kenny woke with a sad, croaking drizzle.  She pulled out the water bottle and splashed a few warm drops into his mouth.  At eight months he needed to drink more, but she wouldn’t feed him now. The buildings before them were taking shape – squat wooden structures quickly erected in the new little mining town and a main street taking form with tall, graceful houses of stone.  Faces stared from doorways as they passed.        

Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

The Ballangarry Hotel was a low, long building walled in painted iron sheets with a wide verandah. It was a very welcome sight on a hot afternoon.  The camel driver gave a bellow and Alice clung for dear life as her mount lowered itself into a kneeling position.  An Aboriginal woman came out from the hotel verandah and reached out a hand to touch Kenny’s cheek.  The woman said something that Alice did not understand.  Alice nodded slowly and smiled.  She did not know the language but the sentiment was clear.

A portly man appeared then, his white skin a strong contrast to the woman’s.  He reached out a hand to help her off the camel.  Alice very stiffly forced her limbs into motion.

“You’d have to be Mrs Dunstall.”  he greeted her.  “Welcome to our little town.”  He had a wheeze in his voice.  “Wes Beal, proprietor.”

Herbert came to stand beside her. “How long before nightfall?”  He asked.

Alice gave him a sharp look.  “There’s no time to see the mine this afternoon, Herb.  We have to release the camels or they’ll charge us another day.”

Wes chuckled and nodded.  “They have us over a barrel, these Afghans, and they know it. They’re richer than the rest of us all together.  Got to admit, they’ve been invaluable to the Ballangarry. Would you like to step indoors, Mrs Dunstall?”

Oh, how Alice wanted to step indoors!  “I’ll just watch the unloading first.”  she said with a sigh.  Herbert was too dreamy, all kinds of tradesmen took advantage of him. 

Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), Friday 29 August 1930, page 2

The Aboriginal woman made an arm gesture, offering to hold Kenny.  Alice threw her a grateful look and untied the wrap.  The woman reached out eager arms.  She knew just how to hold a baby.  She stared with fascination at Kenny’s face.

“Kenny.” Alice touched her son’s head.  The woman smiled.  “Kenneh.”

Close enough.  Alice pointed to herself.  “Alice.”

The woman frowned.  “Ah – Ale.”  Then she pointed to herself.  “Ehggei.”

“Ehggei.”  Alcie repeated.  The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Ehggei”  She repeated.

After three attempts, Alice still hadn’t got it right but had come closest with ‘Egg’.  They smiled at each other in satisfaction.  Ale and Egg. 

With the camels unloaded and some local miner’s sons earning a few pennies bringing the goods indoors, Alice finally entered the spacious interior of the hotel with her husband, her son and her new friend Egg.

Herbert Dunstall – Optimism Against the Odds – #52Ancestors Week 12 – Misfortune

Templers pic

Between Bethel and Templers 2016

William Herbert Dunstall was born in harsh summer’s heat on 26th February 1873 in the Midnorth district of South Australia.  At the time of his birth his brother John was aged five and his brother Charles was three.  Another brother, Kenneth Norman, had been born two years earlier but died as a baby.

Herbert’s father James Dunstall was a struggling farmer, the son of a more successful farmer from Yankalilla.  James knew how to farm, but unfortunately he had made a bad speculation – he headed inland for land to the harsh, dry salinated regions thinking he could make a go of it.

Herbert’s mother was a Scottish woman named Annie McLeod.  She was an orphan, brought to South Australia by her married sister after the death of her parents in North Uist.  She was an intelligent woman, able to read and write and a hard worker, but plagued with ill health seemingly from birth.  The South Australian climate was tough on her.

Despite their struggles, the children in the family all gained an education.  The parents managed to raise highly literate, community minded children.

Dunstall locations SA

Dunstall locations in South Australia. This is a modified version of User:Fikri’s GNU-licensed road map of South Australia on Wikipedia under conditions of .

Herbert was still a baby when the family left Templers and moved to Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula.  They lived at Orrie Cowie station.  I’m not sure of the circumstances – if they were employees or if they owned or sharefarmed there.  They lived at Orrie Cowie for the rest of Herbert’s childhood.

Approach to Warooka

Herbert was aged 2 when his little brother Ernest was born, and just 3 when Lewis came along. The older boys probably helped their father on the farm, while the younger ones may have helped their mother around the house.  It is hard to see when they had time to be educated but we know that they were.

Members of an Aboriginal group lived on the property and may have helped, but were not employed by the Dunstalls.  Herbert played with the Aboriginal children and learned a lot from them, skills which may have helped him survive at later times.  These were probably Narungga people, who suffered greatly from white settlement in their territory.  Annie had experienced the domination of British white autocrats herself, as a member of the McLeod clan who were forced by England to leave their home in the 1850s.  She was no friend to oppression and it seems tried to pass her native Gaelic on to her children despite a British attempt to remove it from their colonies.

As I said in my last blog post, Herbert was a very gentle soul, an extremely quiet and meek person.  He comes across as having a belief in strength through community.  He gave, wherever he went.

The youngest two members of the family were born in 1879 and 1882.  After all those boys, finally there were two daughters, Annie and Martha (Mattie).  The family was complete.

Uniting church

Uniting Church at Warooka 2015

There probably would have been more children had the family not lost their father after Mattie’s birth.  His death was devastating, depriving them of their breadwinner as well as of a much loved family member. He died on 17th May 1883 when Herbert was aged 10.

James Dunstall death again

“Family Notices” Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) 19 May 1883: 2. Web. 1 May 2018 <>.

John and Charles took over management of the farm and the family continued to live at Orrie Cowie.  But things were tough.  Their mother sickened and did not regain her strength.  She developed tuberculosis. She wrote a will where her great concern over the future of her children was her principal concern.  Mrs Annie Dunstall passed away on 9th June 1887 when Herbert was aged fourteen.

No announcement was placed in the papers upon Annie’s death.  I suspect the young orphans were too distressed to think about such a thing.

John Dunstall was aged 20 in the year of his mother’s death, still not at the legal age of adulthood and now the legal guardian of a whole family.  This is exactly the circumstance of his aunt Mary McVicar nee McLeod, who brought her orphan siblings with her to South Australia in the 1850s.   There must have been some assistance, but it’s a puzzle. The family continued to live near Warooka, continued to struggle to hold their family together without a legal adult among them.


John James Dunstall grave

Grave of John James Dunstall 1867-1890, eldest son of James and Annie Dunstall of Warooka

But the sickness was still in the family. Tuberculosis had struck several of them and they languished in these harsh years.  The first of the siblings to die was John, the eldest, the guardian of the Dunstall children.  He was only 22 years old. Little Annie followed him to her own grave a year later, aged 11.

These would have been very dark years for Herbert.  With so many deaths he was probably convinced that he, also, would sicken and die.  The five survivors were split up. Nine year old Mattie went to Dunstall relatives who seem to have been living on the Yorke Peninsula at that point.  The boys continued to live in Warooka until Lewis’s death at the age of 18 in 1894.  Herbert was now aged 21 and had reached the official age of adulthood.

You certainly can’t blame them for leaving.  Three young men still with their health having watched their family slowly die of tuberculosis.  Charles was 26, Herbert was 21 and Ernest was 19.  The brothers packed their things and headed for the goldfields of Western Australia.

The years had been tough on Herbert, but even now he had hopes. He had a dream of finding gold and becoming rich.  He had worked hard all his life, he knew he could do that. He had watched his father put every ounce of strength into farming and it is clear that Herbert had no belief in farming as a means to safety and security.  Gold was the answer – it was either there or it wasn’t, and if it was there then wealth was to be made.

Misfortune had not defeated him.


At Port Augusta on the logical route from Warooka to Kalgoorlie. ‘Bob, the railway dog’ at Port Augusta, State Library of South Australia, B 6422