Swearin ‘n’ Spittin – by Arthur Dunstan

Swearin ‘n’ Spittin –

Kalgoorlie Goldminers were a great bunch of blokes. Their work was hard and dangerous and most of them spent their leisure time in one of the 37 pubs. They drank beer as if it was their last day on earth. Sometimes unfortunately it was. Besides living from day to day, the miners existed from pay day to pay day. In fact the whole town depended on the fortnightly pay days. Many miners lived on credit and some pubs even gave credit on grog.

The Slate:-
“Put it on the Slate”, ”Chalk it Up” or ‘Book it” could be heard in the bars. Some just nodded their heads when it was their turn to buy a round of drinks. It was also common for them to borrow from the publican to have a bet on the horses or the two up. On pay day they would enquire ‘What’s the Score” and they would be handed a chit showing what was owed. The highest ‘Score’ in those days was £30 which was a lot of drinking. For many, after settling their account, they were again broke.
Some miners would rather have a fight than a feed but most were friendly blokes who would hold out the hand of friendship to everyone. They were generous to a fault and always ready to put their hand in the pocket for a worthy cause. In the pubs they would talk about their work, but in contrast, at crib time underground, they would talk about drinking, fighting and fornicating. There were some great story tellers.

Some miners could not utter a sentence without injecting a swear word into it.  In those days the drinkers side of the counter was a mans domain. Ladies were never seen there, nor were they welcome. Barmaids were exempt, but they were expected to turn a blind ear to the swearing. The most common word,which I’m told, was one which originated in the British Law Courts. It was an acronym for ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’. Some used this word in every sentence and others for more emphasis slipped in a ‘bloody’.
Even in the middle of words such as ‘absa- #### bloodly lutely”.

Swearing was such a common way of speech that many men didn’t even realise they were swearing. When one miner was chastised for swearing in front of a lady he said “I wasn’t f#### well swearing”.In a not so subtle effort to get customers to mend their ways a sign was placed on the bar wall.


Not long after the sign was displayed a miner was picked for swearing. He justified his choice of language by pointing at the sign. ‘Surely you don’t use that language at home’ I said. He assured me that he certainly did so the sign was removed.

Speaking of spitting, nearly every miner had a lung complaint of some sort. They all had to report to the Government Health Lab for regular checks to assess the degree to which their lungs were affected.

It was a miners greatest dread that he would be ‘turned down’ or ‘dusted’, this would mean the condition of Miners Phthisis was in an advanced stage.

Spitting was as common as rolling a smoke

All Goldfields hotels had spit trays travelling along the length of the bar between the floor rail and the counter. Most spat in the tray, some near it, some just directly on the floor and others even on the wall. It was an unenviable job to clean up the bar each day but it had to be done.


Crumbed Cutlets:-
We had a visit one day (at the Gala) from “Lurkie Bill’, Bill Halligan, from the Piccadilly Hotel. He asked why we didn’t put sawdust in the spit tray. I told him that we liked to see it nice and shiny. He said that it put a fellow off his beer to see a ‘big dirty green back’ sitting in the tray. With the sawdust it just rolls over and ends up looking like a ‘crumbed cutlet’. So from then on a tradition was changed and sawdust was used in our trays. It didn’t help with the walls though and I have had a distinct aversion to crumbed cutlets ever since. (:

Extract from Publicans and Sinners by Arthur Dunstan

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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.

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