A project from the National Trust of WA
A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.
“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert”
John Aspinall was a New Zealander whose family had a gold claim in the mountainous hinterland of Central Otago. The claim was worked by sluicing in this area where water was abundant and produced enough gold to provide a comfortable life for a family with nine children.
But Johnny left New Zealand in February 1895 for the waterless red earth of the Eastern Goldfields in hopes of finding a fortune.
Instead he found a grave and this line, from a poem, is the title given to the diary he kept until his death about a year later at Hawks Nest near Laverton:
The human tide swept swiftly West
Then slowly ebbed again
And some fulfilled their golden quest,
While some found loss and pain.
And some returned to whence they came
With wealth and tales to tell:
And some found graves that bear no name;
And some still with us dwell
Since John lived and died on the arid goldfields before the water supply scheme was built, his writing gives great insight into how desperate conditions were at times. He searched for water as well as gold. His diary details experiences such as using a teaspoon of water to wash a plate and digging desperately in a dry creek bed for water.
John Aspinall’s diary is housed in the University of Otago’s Hocken Library in Dunedin. Prospector Alf Thomson came across John Aspinall’s grave west of Laverton in WA’s Mount Margaret Goldfield in February 1980 and was able to decipher most of the inscription, including that John was a resident of Otago, New Zealand. Alf sent a letter to a Dunedin newspaper and several of John’s relatives responded, in particular a nephew who knew of the diary’s existence. The Goldfields Diary of John Aspinall, compiled by Alf Thompson and published by Hesperian Press, is available under the title And some found Graves.
We have used extracts from the diary on The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail website and on signs along the trail. A journey along the pipeline is enhanced by reading extracts from it since he travelled much of the same route.
If you have the time you can combine the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail with the Golden Quest Discovery Trail that takes you from Coolgardie to other places mentioned by Johnny in his diary and even to the site of his grave. Signs on the Golden Quest Trail too contain extracts from the diary.
John Aspinall, dead before the age of 23, but whose legacy, in the form of words in a diary, lives on in Western Australia’s fascinating history. We have used it to make history come alive for students too. Teachers should look at our Education Resources.
Click on any map section or place below to discover The Golden Pipeline.