Hoover takes the lead

Herbert HooverHerbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was an American geologist and mining engineer who had worked at several mines in Western Australia before he was appointed Mining Superintendent (manager) of the Sons of Gwalia Mine from 1 May 1898.

Hoover, who was just 23 years old, immediately initiated radical changes to cut costs. He increased working hours, introduced single-handed work, ordered shift changes to occur at the working face rather than above ground, and stopped double time on Sundays as well as bonuses for working wet ground.

He employed contract labour from the pool of European migrants willing to work for lower wages, bringing him into conflict with the Miners’ Union which had already organised a number of strikes on the WA goldfields in a bid for better pay and conditions. He is reported to have written of the migrants, whom he regarded as his allies against the powerful union:

"I have a bunch of Italians coming up ... and will put them in the mine on contract work. If they are satisfactory I will secure enough of them to hold the property in case of a general strike and ... will reduce wages."

This trend of employing migrant labour continued into the next century and, until the closure of Sons of Gwalia Mine in 1963, a large proportion of the miners were Italian and Yugoslav immigrants who gave Gwalia its unique character.

In his six months as mine manager, Hoover designed the mine manager’s house and oversaw the design of the staff and office buildings, all to be constructed on the hill overlooking the mine and the growing townsite where the workers lived. He was transferred to China in November 1898 before the majority of the buildings (including the mine manager's house) were completed.

In China, Hoover was chief engineer for the Chinese Bureau of Mines and general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation, but he maintained his confidence in the potential of the Western Australian goldfields:

“The ore reserves already opened in many West Australian mines are not inconsiderable, and will insure a life of several years… Western Australia is a country of surprises; it may do more than this, but it can conservatively be expected to do so much.”
- The West Australian, 6 February 1899, reported from Herbert Hoover’s comments in the Engineering and Mining Journal of New York

In 1901 Hoover was made a partner in Bewick Moreing & Co, the British-based mining engineering company that owned the controlling interest in the Sons of Gwalia Mine, taking on responsibility for a number of Australian operations and investments. Bewick Moreing & Co, which by 1904 was among the most important players in the Western Australian gold mining industry, would eventually manage 20 mines which accounted for almost 37% of the gold produced in WA and employed nearly 20% of the state’s miners (source: jstor.org).

Herbert Hoover was later elected the 31st president of the United States of America, serving from 4 March 1929 to 4 March 1933. He died on 20 October 1964.