‘The life lessons I learned living in outback Australia as a teenager’

Jun 11, 2019
Fran spent some time living and working in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Source: Getty Images

I was 17 and living in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. I was on my second job since arriving in town. My first job was in a grocery store in Boulder, called Tom and Fred’s. Two Italian brothers, Tom and Fred Nasuti owned it. They taught me how to make great continental sandwiches. The food store is still there today and I’m told has hardly changed in 50 years.

My second job was in a little coffee shop/café in Hannan Street. Hannan Street was the hub of the city and I loved it. I loved my job too. My boss was great. The town of Kalgoorlie had a ratio of three men to one woman. Most of the men were from other parts of the country, working in the nickel and gold mines. Some had left their families behind to try to make a better living. My boss was good to me and flexible with my hours, especially as I was just beginning to go out and enjoy myself. The only nightclub in town was our Friday and Saturday night haunt and sometimes I turned up at work with little or no sleep from the night before, or still in my long dress or thigh length boots.

Kalgoorlie was a good place for me to become me, I think. It was the first time I had not had to be partly responsible for my brothers and sister. It was the first time in years I did not wake at night in a cold sweat, too frightened to go back to sleep. It was lively and fun and I was on my own at last. I settled in to life on the goldfields, making real friends for the first time in my life and answering only to me.

Life in Kalgoorlie was good. I met some wonderful and some strange people. I mixed with all types and learned what it was like to be accepted for just being me.

One Monday morning, I had the early shift at work. My boss had taught me how to make coffee. I was very adept at making flat white, cappuccino, long black and short black coffee. We were not known as ‘baristas’ back then, just waitresses or waiters. There was no latte or adding flavours etc. to coffee. Froth on a coffee was a big thrill!

Three ladies came into the café as soon as the door was opened. I can’t remember what they looked like, but I will never forget them. They were full of laughter and sat on the stools at our ‘bar’. They were from Hay Street.

Hay Street is the red light district in Kalgoorlie, or it was back then. I’m not sure now. The street was lined on both sides with houses full of women of all ages and from all backgrounds. Some just liked the lifestyle being a prostitute, gave them, many were there to earn enough money to buy a home and put a child through a good school in another state. All the women I met were the nicest ladies I had ever known.

The three ladies on the morning, I remember, were tired. They joked with me and teased me about my boyfriend and all agreed they needed strong black coffee to get through the day. That was the day I learned how to make ‘short black’ the way the ‘girls’ liked it. It was so thick, the spoon almost stood up in the tiny cup on its own. They always left me a good tip after that and kind of looked out for me while I was in Kalgoorlie. They say there was very little crime back then in the boom days, because of those very ladies.

Kalgoorlie has changed now I think. Back when I was 17 it was very friendly. It was a safe town full of men and women making their way in the world and having a wonderful time doing it. For me Kalgoorlie was the place I learned to trust, but not to be gullible. I learned what it was like to have friends who looked out for one another. I learned that sometimes love and kindness comes from the unlikeliest person. I learned that I was worth something and I thank Kalgoorlie. It will always hold a special place in my heart as the reason I gained the strength to be who I am today.

Is there a place you’ve lived that holds strong memories, like Kalgoorlie does for this writer? What’s something someone taught you that’s stayed with you over time?

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