WHEELCHAIR DOWN UNDER:
Chapter 14 – Kalgoorlie: Across the Nullarbor
Friday, 20 May, 1994:
At last, very tired [after an all-night bus ride], we arrived in Kalgoorlie-Boulder (pop. 29,000) around 11:00 A.M. Named after a local edible silky pear called kulgooluh, Kalgoorlie had amalgamated with its Siamese-twin sister of Boulder in 1989. We stopped directly in front of the tourist information bureau in the center of town and climbed off the bus into an unexpected blast of warm air. It felt good—like stepping out of cold upstate New York into the sunny climes of Florida. Two different passengers on the bus had advised us to check in at the historic old Palace Hotel, just down the street, so that's where we headed.
Kalgoorlie is "Old Australia," a wild-West town with a grid of broad, tree-lined streets wide enough to turn a camel train, a necessity in turn-of-the-century goldfield towns. The streets and sidewalks are wide and flat; they offered little resistance as we made our way to the hotel via wheelchair while carrying our full complement of luggage. The Palace was exactly like the fancy old hotels seen in Hollywood westerns. In its time, this "Grand Old Lady of Kalgoorlie" was the most luxurious hotel outside Perth. We went through the swinging doors and were greeted by the friendly hotel clerk.
"We've got a nice twin at the top of the stairs and the shower's down the hall. There's nothing on this floor." She looked at Anne, quizzically. "Will you be able to climb the stairs?"
Since most of these old hotels were built before wheelchair accessibility was even thought of, every other hotel in town would be the same. And we didn't want to stay outside of town in a boring, modern motel.
"I guess I can make it one more time," said Anne. She smiled. "We'll take it!"
We wheeled through the foyer and came face to face with a wide-carpeted spiral staircase, right out of Gone With the Wind.
When Herbert Clark Hoover, USA's thirty-first president, was only twenty-three, he was already known as a brilliant mining engineer. He was sent to Kalgoorlie by his employer in 1897 to help a British firm introduce Californian mining methods into their properties.
Apparently, Hoover became enamored with a barmaid who worked in the Palace. Sometime after his return to the USA, he had the large mirror unit made and shipped it as a gift to the hotel along with verses (excerpted below) adapted from the poem Carita, by Hilton R. Greer (published in the American literary magazine The Smart Set, August, 1905).
"Are you sure you're up to this climb?" I asked. She nodded and struggled up the seemingly endless stairway to the landing while I took two trips with the wheelchair and luggage.
Our room was about ten feet square with twin beds and a couple of small tables, but it must have been at least fifteen feet high. Temperature and fresh air adjustments were via the rope-controlled skylight. There was also an overhead paddle fan. We slept until 4:00 P.M.
Saturday, 21 May:
Our day started with a serve-your-own continental breakfast in the hotel's Hoover Restaurant. It seems that our own President Herbert Hoover used to stay in this hotel when he was a young mining engineer…
In the evening, we sat in the hotel foyer's big, soft leather chairs. There was a lot of Hoover memorabilia here and we finally had time to study it. Adorning the wall from floor to ceiling opposite the stairway was a large mirror unit finely crafted out of dark, rich wood. To the right was a framed caricature of "H.C. Hoover" as a well-dressed young-man-about-town cupping his pipe by his mouth. To the left was a framed lyrical poem, said to be written by Hoover himself.
I took a couple of photos and started to write down the words of the poem. One of the staff saw me doing this and gave me three copies as she told us his story. Later I researched the details…