A Landmark in the Wilderness

It you were travelling in the Outback North of Laverton, and you came across this imposing headstone you might think that this must be someone important to have such an impressive memorial in such a remote place. You might decide to look up the name so you could find out more about him.  However, you would be disappointed as there is no such person as ‘Robert Irve’

Western Mail  15 October 1931, page 13

Goldfields Memories    –   By “Di O Rite.”

Nearly two hundred miles north-east of Laverton ls a lonely grave.  Twenty-five years ago it was marked by a rugged pile of granite boulders, with a flat headstone on which was cut with a hammer and the simple inscription: “Sacred to the memory of Bob True, who died on July 29, 1906. R.I.P.” Twelve months later a more pretentious tombstone, with marble slab and Iron railings complete, was brought up from Perth and erected on the site by his friends. (see above)

Bob True was my mate. He was one of the early prospectors of the Erlistoun, that 100 miles long belt of auriferous, country which stretches, and is marked by scores of abandoned mines, from Laverton to Mulga Queen. A sturdy battler and an expert gold-seeker, he toiled for years with indifferent success, paying his way, but always missing the “pile” which is the prospector’s objective.
Towards the end of 1905 Bob and I were at Duketon, 80 miles north of Laverton, and decided to search an area of greenstone country away beyond the spinifex to the north-east. We set out with two mares (with foals at foot, borrowed from Donald Mundy’s station, spring cart, tools and provisions.   About midday on the fourth day we crossed one of the arms of Lake Wells and entered upon a rugged patch of auriferous country. We called it Gregory Hills. On the map it is marked as the Mueller Range. It was hot weather and we had merely a drop of water, which did not worry us because we had been reliably informed of the whereabouts of a “permanent” soak in the locality. We unloaded and made camp. I rigged the shaker in a gully and commenced to “chase the ‘weight.” I got colours in my first run and a dwt piece in the second, and when Bob napped gold In a big quartz blow on the hillside we began to get excited.

Then Bob took the turnout and the empty tank and proceeded to the soak, a few miles away. He returned before sun-down with the startling information that the alleged permanent water hole was bone-dry. We knew of no other nearer than Duketon, so there was nothing for it but to clear out. All that night we travelled. We kept going through the blazing heat of the next day, until, just before night-fall, we reached a dry watercourse on which depended our only hope of saving the mares and perhaps ourselves. We halted and searched for a couple of miles up and down stream and decided to dig for the life giving fluid in a sandy basin. At six feet we struck a trickle and an-other two feet brought us sufficient for our needs, which were acute, as the mares had not had a mouthful for thirty-six hours.

We reached Duketon without further incident and settled down to knock out a crushing from an abandoned lease. Rain fell soon afterwards and a man name Whitford went out to Gregory Hills and pegged the reef in which we had found gold. He returned to Kalgoorlie and sold it for a decent sum (£5,000 we heard), floating it into a company which was called “The Whitford Reward.” Eventually he landed again in Duketon seeking wages men to go out and open it up.

Bob and I had put through our crushing and joined his party. It was composed of Mr Whitford, Bob True, Bert Longmore (killed on Gallipoli In 1915), Mick Cunningham (brother of J Cunningham, M.L.A., and killed In France  in 1918), Albert Cunningham, another brother (who died on the Erliston a few years later), Charlie Cox, Arthur Lever (one time proprietor of the Exchange Hotel, Coolgardie), myself and a new chum Englishman whose name I forget.

On arrival we sank a shallow shaft for a start and erected a condenser, as the water was salt. Then we sank two shafts on the reef. For the first twenty feet it looked like going down, and we could see coarse gold in almost every stone we broke. I was only a youngster and it worried me not at all that I had been one of the finders of this apparently rich mine. But Bob took it badly and was bitterly disappointed to think that he had missed, through lack of water, making that coveted “pile” I believe it broke his heart!!

On Sunday, July 29, 1906 (a holiday, of course), he and I had arranged a napping expedition for the afternoon, but Bob was absent from lunch. At dusk there was still no sign of him. We fired rifles and erected a hurricane lamp on a pole tied to the top of a tree, without result. Later, armed with a rifle, I went over to a blacks camp about a mile from ours, and when I arrived was surprised to see them all except a wrinkled old woman, bolt from their fires into the darkness of the bush. To my query, “Which way Bob sit down?” the woman said nothing, but held out to my astonished gaze his pipe, pocket knife and tin match box.

I immediately ordered her to “walk alonga camp.” On the way a buck joined us. At the camp they informed us that they had seen Bob in the bush that morning, walking rapidly, holding his hand to his side, and gasping for breath. It was then they had picked up his smoking materials.
Lamps and torches were procured and the natives took us to cut his tracks. Then for a mile and a half, over stony ground, by the dim light of a hurricane lamp, they tracked the white man’s uncertain footsteps. Near the top of a gravelly ridge the gin stopped and pointed fearfully: “Charlie! Charlie! Quick feller! Bob tumble-down. Poor old Bob” I ran forward and found my mate lying under a mulga bush with all his worries over.

It was a sad little procession which carried him back to camp. The next morning a committee was appointed. We examined the body and decided that death was due to heart failure, then sewed him up in his blankets. We dug a grave on the ridge near where he died.  A man named Duprez,
a prospector who had just found a show in the locality called the “Green and Gold” conducted the service. It was a Freemasons’ service, although Bob was not a Freemason. Duprez was, and it was the only one he knew. We had no Bible, or prayer book but, even so, the proceedings did not lack solemnity nor, indeed, did they lack dignity out there with God’s golden eye blazing down on us out of the blue heavens. We sang a hymn, filled in the grave and covered it with granite boulders. Then, at the camp, we drew up a report of the whole proceedings for submission, later, to the police at Laverton.

Strangely enough, every foot we sank on the reef after that tended to “bust” the Whitford’s Reward. At thirty-five feet the reef in both ends of each shaft  looked like a lizard’s tail tapering, almost to a point. Operations ceased, we tracked back to Duketon and dispersed and left Bob True in permanent possession of all the gold at the foot of the rainbow on Gregory Hills.

Note from ‘More Lonely Graves’ by Yvonne and Kevin Coate:-
The original burial party made a mound of stones and chipped the inscription for ‘Bob True’ on a flat piece of local granite. A collection was taken up amongst his mates and a conventional tombstone was ordered from Perth (the handwriting was misread and the headstone arrived inscribed  as ‘Bob Irve’) It travelled to Laverton and then on to Duketon where it lay for 6 months. Two of the dead mans mates then had a go and got it to the end of the spinifex where they had to leave it due to lack of water. Six months later other friends made a spacial trip and crossed the 50 miles of spinifex desert to erect it.  It stands there today, 2kms east of Lake Wells homestead, a landmark in the wilderness! 70 miles from the nearest inland settlement of Erliston.

The following two tabs change content below.
My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

Latest posts by Moya Sharp (see all)


  1. Robert Witt says:

    very interesting story about Bob True,thanks Moya

  2. Don Smith says:

    Poor bugger must be lonely out there all these years ..

Leave a Reply