Introducing Outback Family History 1


My new blog series focuses on some of my favourite free Australasian family history research websites, and this month's focus is on Outback Family History. The term ‘outback history’ brings to mind the wide-open spaces of the middle of Australia. In fact, this free to use website focuses on the Western Australian central goldfields.

Coolgardie goldfield, page 23, Goldfields of Western Australia, 1894 via British Library, Flickr Commons

What’s on the website?

For anyone who had an ancestor who chased the gold around Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie this website has a range of resources including:

  • Aboriginal history
  • Cemeteries
  • Hotels
  • Maps
  • Military (Boer war soldiers, war memorials, Western Mail photo index and WW1 soldiers)
  • Miners
  • Miscellaneous (includes first register of midwives in WA)
  • People (early deaths 1891-1898, electoral roll, employment, lodge records, marriages, Men of WA (book), photographers, post office directories, schools)
  • Places on the goldfields

How to Search

From those broad contents it is easy to see that the site has much to offer. To make it even easier there is a Place Index A-Z and by simply clicking on Coolgardie you can see a list of all the records on the site for Coolgardie. From there I clicked on the cemetery links and located the grave of six months old William Bullen. His parents George Bullen and Annie Goody had married on the goldfield of Norton in Queensland in 1892 and their first child was born there. Their second child was given the middle name of Westralia in 1895 which was a clear indication that this mining family had been lured by the riches of the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfields.

Three of George and Annie’s children were born in Coolgardie, two in Boulder and one in Kalgoorlie. George Bullen died in Kalgoorlie plus two of his sons, one aged twelve and the other just two years. The family is easily found in the Kalgoorlie cemetery records.

Main entrance Coolgardie cemetery, Western Australia, image courtesy Outback Family History

What did Boulder look like? From the Place Index A-Z there are pages of photographs which indicate that it was a substantial mining town. If you know the name of the mine your ancestors worked at, you may be lucky to see a photograph of the mine.

Place Unknown?

But what if you do not know the name of the town or place that your ancestors were living? There is a Search This Site feature and a search for Bullen quickly retrieves 16 records. There are references to George Bullen in the 1899 Coolgardie Directory, the 1921 Kallaroo Postal Directory, and references to the cemetery records mentioned above.

George’s brother William Henry Bullen and his wife Annie and daughter Florence also left Queensland for the WA goldfields. If you are tracing miners, always follow the gold especially if someone disappears. Not all mining areas have such a wonderful dedicated online resource, but as so many people went to Western Australia in the 1890s, even for just a few years, it is worth checking to see if they left a record of the time spent there.

Bayley Street, Coolgardie, late 1890s, accession no: H2005.34/1405, image courtesy State Library of Victoria.

Death on the Goldfields

The goldfields were a harsh and dangerous place to live and not really a place for families. Browsing through the list of early deaths in the 1890s we can see entries including:

  • Convulsions
  • Drowning
  • Dysentery
  • Fever
  • Gastro-enteritis
  • Mine accident
  • Stillborn birth
  • Suicide
  • Teething and inflammation
  • Thirst
  • Typhoid

Mining areas always seemed to be in places with little water or shade and due to the large numbers of miners, were often unhygienic and a place that contagious diseases quickly spread. That is probably why cemetery records give us such a vivid picture of those who lived and died on the goldfields.

As you can see, Outback Family History is a wonderful resource that is online and free to access. It can be used in conjunction with the online West Australian birth death and marriage indexes, and digitised newspapers in Trove. Remember that the website is added to from time to time. Good luck!


Shauna Hicks

About Shauna Hicks

Shauna Hicks has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and worked in government for over 35 years in libraries and archives in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. Since retiring, she has written a number of family history guides and is a regular speaker at genealogy cruises, conferences and seminars. She now operates her own business at www.shaunahicks.com.au and is the author of the blog, Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

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