Murder and riots: just another evening in Kal

Glen Devon Hotel, Kalgoorlie, 1912

Glen Devon Hotel, Kalgoorlie, 1912

As part of Dodgy Perth’s ongoing quest to bring harmony and love between all sections of Western Australian society, we dig up a forgotten story of Italians and Australians brawling in Kalgoorlie.

It all kicked off in August 1919, with a small disturbance between a few Italians and Australians, who had a brief fight at the Majestic Café.

As the Italians left through the back door, one of them picked up a knife. Later that evening, the same group of Italians, still looking for trouble, brawled with some young men at the corner of Hannan and Porter Streets.

In the commotion a returned soldier, Thomas Northwood, was stabbed in the buttock by Jim Gotti, a 23 year old Italian.

Northwood bled profusely, and although several people tried to assist, none of them knew first aid. By the time the doctor arrived, it proved impossible to save him.

Meanwhile, another returned soldier had been stabbed, although without fatal results.

As the Italians headed towards the Glen Devon Hotel—the main watering hole for Southern European woodcutters and miners—they broke windows, and fired shots from a revolver.

As news of Northwood’s death spread, a bell ringer walked through Kal’s main streets summoning all returned soldiers to assemble the next day.

Several hundred did so at the Soldiers’ Institute, determined to get their revenge against the Italian community.

The Resident Magistrate addressed the crowd and appealed to the men not to use violence. The Italians would soon be back at their camps on the woodline, he said, and the whole thing will be over.

The crowd was having none of it. “They must leave the country,” was the chant.

The returned soldiers agreed not to take revenge if the Government deported all Italians and closed all Italian-owned hotels. And, if all Italians had not left the goldfields by Saturday night the consequences would be severe.

A couple of hundred young men still decided to make their feelings known at the Glen Devon Hotel. Despite a strong police guard, a number managed to force their way in to confront the patrons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hotel was deserted.

The would-be rioters decided to help themselves to a few drinks, and tore down an Italian flag hanging behind the bar. They then moved on to another hotel where Italians were known to drink, where windows were broken and more booze stolen.

But failing to find anyone to fight, the crowd slowly dispersed.

The Italian community was not prepared to risk staying in town. Some fled to Perth, while others went to the camps on the woodline a few kilometres from Kalgoorlie.

A few Italian families remained, but it was promised that these would be left in peace.

One of the more unpleasant aftermaths of the whole affair was a general mood across the State that employment should only go to Britishers and that ‘aliens’ should be forbidden from either employment or renting houses.

Preference for our own? Foreigners taking our jobs? Sounds familiar, somehow.