Kalgoorlie: Centre of Universe

In Western Australia, for over 100 years there was a federal electorate of Kalgoorlie named after the mining city of Kalgoorlie.

The electorate covered over 90% of Western Australia, the largest state (i.e. almost one third of Australia – excluding the Antarctic claims). It’s size was about 2.3 Million square kilometres, about the size of Western Europe (excluding the Nordic countries) and nearly four times the size of Texas It was the largest single-member electorate by area in the world – almost a third of the continent.

Kalgoorlie was represented in the Australian Parliament by a single man (no woman was ever elected by the about 80,000 registered compulsory voters of this mostly desert region).

Yet Kalgoorlie was also just about the richest electorate due to the massive gold and nickel mines, mountains of iron ore, diamonds and beach sand reserves. Interestingly, even though the town of Kalgoorlie is about 350 km from the Southern Ocean at Esperance and 600 km from the Indian Ocean at Perth, the electorate encompassed about one third of Australia’s coastline.

There are many tales written about the mines and miners (both geological and financial) of the region and the history of the Australian Stock Exchange is riddled with stories of ill-gotten gains and true fortunes. Closer to home Kalgoorlie is famous for its pubs, bars, legal prostitutes and larger than life figures, as well as being unashamedly the centre of the Universe.

The West has had its fair share of ‘retreads’, men born in the UK who migrated to Oz (Australia) and made (and lost) their fortunes, either financially or in other categories, men such as Alan Bond.

But, let me tell a story about another of these men, a politician named Graeme Campbell. Graeme emigrated to South Australia as a child. He gained numerous skills, including grazing and fencing on the Nullabour (hundreds of kilometres). He moved to Kalgoorlie in his 30’s. In his early forties as Labor Party candidate he was elected to the Federal Parliament and held the seat for 18 years, each time with increasing majorities (independent of the tide of politics elsewhere in Australia).

He took great interest in criticizing defence (especially the ill-conceived and subsequently financially and technically disastrous submarine project), immigration policy, Australian independence and mining – more is better. He also travelled his electorate widely, seeking out and representing the interests of electors in every far flung corner of the Kimberleys and the desert from the Southern Ocean to the Timor Sea.

Campbell enjoyed being called a ’maverick’. There is just one story that tells, for me, the real Graeme Campbell. The Labor Party was always subject of factional fights that make Italian politics seem boring.

Graeme was fed up with the ’bickering’ and ’back-stabbing’ so in the late 80’s decided to form his own faction, with his particular policies and rules, which he named the ’Extreme Centre Faction’. When asked by a journalist how he eliminated the problems of other factions, he responded – ’by limiting the membership to one’.

Of course they got him eventually, the poppy was too tall.

(This article is reproduced under licence from Energitismo Limited for the Australia Blog)