Ken Sharpe emigrated from Bournemouth, UK to regional Australia in 2010.
He moved more than 9,000 miles from a coastal town to Kalgoorlie, an outback city in Australia, where he works on gold mines.
The human resources advisor has become a bit of celebrity in the town over the past ten years, from making his radio debut as host of the weekly sports show to being a stand up comedian and an award winning photographer.
You can see Ken’s photography from outback Australia here: https://www.instagram.com/kensharpe
Bullet points of key topics & time stamps:
● 02:12 – Ken explains how he ended up living in regional Australia
● 07:04 – Find out how far Ken lives from the coast
● 08:04 – Ken talks about the temperature in the outback city
● 11:05 – Find out how Ken found his first job
● 13:21 – The opportunities Ken has found in Kalgoorlie
List of resources mentioned in episode, suggested reading & social media handles:
● Information about regional work visas in Australia
● Kalgoorlie Visitor Centre website
● Ken’s lightening photo in Kalgoorlie’s local paper
This episode is sponsored by Rubys Home Store (www.rubyshomestore.com.au).
Quirky homewares, statement décor and best of British design in Australia.
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This episode is sponsored by Pacdon Park (www.pacdon.com.au).
Pacdon Park is the only free range British butchery in Australia providing products such as pork pies, black pudding and haggis.
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Britstralian Producer and Host: Anna Moran
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NOTE: The views and opinions shared by the guest(s) in this podcast are the views and personal experiences of the guest(s) and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Britstralian and the host.
Britstralian acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land we have recorded this podcast on. The area now known as the City of Armadale was originally occupied by the Noongar people many thousands of years before European settlement. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
The views and opinions shared by the guest(s) in this podcast are the views and personal experiences of the guest(s) and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Britstralian and the host.
Britstralian will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information.
The largest city in the Australian outback is called Kalgoorlie. It's around 370 miles from the next nearest city, which is Perth. That's roughly the same distance as London to Dublin. People from all over the world have been flocking to the area for work, for more than 100 years, after a very lucky Irishman found a lump of gold there, back in 1893. And our next guest is one of them.
My name is Ken Sharpe. I've been in Kalgoorlie for 11 and a half years. From -8 degrees when we left Heathrow, to 31 degrees the next day. And, I can say this, I may be a photographer, a bit of radio star, like to think I'm a good actor-, I'm pretty average cricket player. But most of all, I'm a Britstralian.
So Ken, you're not from Kalgoorlie originally. Where are you from?
Well, I've lived all over the South of England, but the last place was Bournemouth, so as far south as you can go without getting your feet wet.
So you've moved from living beside the seaside back home?
Yes, that's right. We're a long way from the coast in Kalgoorlie.
So you've moved to Australia, the other side of the world. And most Brits make that move for the beaches and the weather. But you've chosen to live-, what? You've got to be at least five hours from the nearest beach? What-, why did you choose to live there of all places?
Well, Kalgoorlie was chosen for us when we came out 11 years ago. My now ex-wife is a teacher. And we were chosen out of-, about 500 people applied for teaching jobs in WA and who she was one of 28. So, that worked out really well. And they said, “Okay, guys, you're going here, you gotta go here for two years. And after that your permanent residency is secured and you can go wherever you want”. So, within a year, we bought a house and two dogs, and our daughter loves it. So we stayed, and it is a long way from the sea. But it's the people that make it such a wonderful place to stay. And that's why I fallen in love with it.
Could you describe Kalgoorlie for us and explain what it's like to live there, for people who might not know?
So it's a mining town; gold and nickel mining. It's regarded as a desert town but it is actually in the Greater Western woodlands. There's a lot of trees around here. A lot of which were cut down in the old days, for the mining. So there's a lot of orange dirt and lots of holes in the ground; digging out gold and nickel.
Yeah, and once you leave Kalgoorlie, if you drive out of the city, there's not really a lot to see is there?
Now you got about five minutes’ drive, up the road, to go north, or to go south. And then you're surrounded by bush. But there's a lot of nothing when you leave Kalgoorlie.
The amazing thing about Kalgoorlie is, it was actually set up after an Irishman, called Paddy Hannon, found a lump of gold on the ground there.
Pretty much, Yeah, him and a guy, Tommy Flanagan, and a guy called Dan O'Shea. They were three prospectors. There are many different stories about exactly what happened and where it happened. But I think Paddy Hannon found $60,000 worth in today's money in about half an hour. So he was pretty happy. So he had to march three days back to Coolgardie to register the claim, while there was 700 people around them all sniffing for the same thing. They found it. So Tommy and Dan pegged out the claim. Paddy was the only one that could read or write. He nearly got shot at by a prospector, who thought he was an emu. So he nearly didn’t make it, yeah. And then he got back to Coolgardie to register the claim. And then, that was it. History was made. Once that claim was registered, you had something like, you know, it's astonishing amount of people just suddenly arriving-, literally at the base of a hill, in Kalgoorlie. And just-, and it's called the Goldfields because there's just so much gold on the surface. It’s like literally filled with gold. Yeah, a lot of people made a lot of money out of it.
And apparently the streets in Kalgoorlie, and the next town, Coolgardie are literally lined with gold, because the streets and houses have been built on top of where the gold actually is.
Yes. No,thhat's very true. Particularly Coolgardie, because when they resurfaced the road, they bought some dirt off one of the local gold mines in Coolgardie but the gold mine made a mistake and gave them all their stock pile, not-, not the waste dirt, so the streets in Coolgardie has literally got gold in it. But, it's nickel that makes more money, and has made more money, for Kalgoorlie, than gold over the years. There's a lot-, a lot of nickel around. A lot of nickel used in steel-, in the production of steel, for example. Both commodities have done well. And usually if gold's up, nickels down; if nickels up, gold's down. There's always one of them balancing it out. So it's very lucrative.
So Kalgoorlie used to have quite a bad reputation, because of its brothels.
It did. And it's still known for that. There is still one working brothel in town; the pink house, I think it's called. Run by very posh lady, with a very posh accent. And you can do a tour, if you want. They'll take you round and you can do a tour of the brothel, and you get all the stories about what went on, and how many there used to be, and why they were ther, and how they're run-. Some of the, perhaps, more interesting stories, of what happened within the-, within the walls, of course.
I spent a few months in Kalgoorlie when I was backpacking. And the one thing that I noticed is that people who live there will often go off camping in the bush on their days off work, or they will travel quite a long way to one of the remote beaches.
all the time. There's nothing better; with your mates, a fire, clear skies, the milky way, you can see so many stars. Kalgoorlie is pretty remote. You see some good stars, but we-, you only have to go 20 minutes up the road, away from the light pollution-, and it's just brilliant. Yeah, we’ve been on fishing trips where everyone's made sure they're tooled up with compressors for their tyres, and sand mats and winches, etc. And everyone's got radios and water and that, so-. Yeah, some of these beaches, you do have to go off track, but it's worth it for the adventure and the fun. And then you're on a 10-mile long beach, all on your own. It's just you and the sea and that's it. It's worth all the hassle. Definitely.
So how long does it take you to get to the nearest beach from where you are?
Right, well we go to Esperance, which, don't tell your other listener this. This is the best beach in the absolute world. The beaches are incredible. Esperance is a four-hour drive away from Kalgoorlie. You turn left at a roundabout, you do a right turn, a left turn and you're there. That's literally it. You can do it in a day, if you really feel like getting up early, and coming back late. But it's very easy to pop down on a Friday night, after work, and come back Sunday evening. Get a day and a half on ridiculously beautiful beaches.
Oh yeah, I know. It's stunning. So you're obviously very isolated out there. But you don't really notice that when you live there, do you?
Kalgoorlie is one of those towns where the community makes it. In order for Kalgoorlie to survive and thrive over the-, you know, over 100 years it's been in existence, it's because people make it work. And if you throw yourself into that community, it will give you 10 times more than you actually put into it. It's been very, very generous and kind to me.
So how'd you cope with the heat out there?
Yeah, I get a paint roller out, fill my paint tub with factor 50, and just use the paint roller on myself most days. Because it does get hot. It does get ridiculously hot. We've just had 10 days of not less than 37 degrees during the day. It's not when you open your oven; gust of hot air. That's what it's like when you walk out. But the weird thing is, your body has a little thermostat and after about three weeks, it sort of clicks into place and you get used to it, so much so, if the temperature is under 30 degrees, I'm not going into the pool. Way too cold. Playing lots of sport that I do, particularly cricket-, I think in my first season, we had 46 degrees on the Saturda that we played and even my Aussie mates were struggling, they said, “Yeah, that's hot”. The following weekend, a cyclone had come through in midweek and the temperature was 19 degrees. And I swear to you, I was wearing my cricket jumper I brought over from England, ‘cause I was actually cold. You do acclimatise bizarrely quickly.
And even though you're, sort of, in the desert, it can get quite cold out there, can’t it?
I want to complain to someone about this. Nobody told me Australia was this cold when I came out. My word! And Australian houses are built to keep the heat out, for obvious reasons. Oh my word, I've never known it-, it’s probably-. We’ve had proper frosts. No snow, but I have had to find an old CD case, or something in the car, to scrape the ice off the windscreen because of unexpected frost.
Okay, so now I want to ask you about something that happened a few years ago. You made the news because your next door neighbor, from back home, found a really old letter that his granddad wrote to someone in Kalgoorlie, of all places.
That's right. My friend, Nick, who lived two doors down from England. His grandfather was captured, in 1941, in Crete, by the Germans. And his grandfather made friends with a really lovely guy, called Ken Sidley, who lived the two streets-, his family live two streets down for me, in Kalgoorlie. So my neighbor from Bournemouth, literally two doors down-, his grandfather was in the same prisoner-of-war camp-, and was good buddies-. And he and his family lived just two-, two streets across from me. So, I put this on Facebook, got an overwhelming response. And we managed to speak to the granddaughter of this guy, Ken Sidley, who had sadly passed away in the early 80s. And there were absolutely delighted to know that I'd actually found-, through this bizarre coincidence, someone who was very close to her grandfather. And it was such a bizarre coincidence. And I was very fortunately placed, to be able to make the connection. And putting these families in touch, And it was a pure fluke that my friend, Nick, found this information, going through his late grandfather’s stuff, and he just thought, “Oh, that’s Kalgoorlie. Oh, my mate, Ken, lives there”.
That’s crazy. So, Ken, you would have come out here on a partner visa, when you first came to Australia. I'm guessing that that means you wouldn't have had a job when you first got here. So how was that for you?
We all got put up in a hotel. And I thought, well, I'm a mad keen cricket player. So we arrived on a Sunday, on the Tuesday, I walked into the hotel, having been to cricket training, I joined the Cricket Club, made a lot of mates-. You’ve just got to dive in and get involved. I got involved in the theater, as well. So-. And because of that, you start making contacts and people see you and other opportunities come your way. So you end up doing MCing and-, and even some stand up comedy, which is quite hilarious. And because I played lots of sports, when I came over, I didn't have a job, I started playing sports. One of the guys said, “Well why don’t you talk to this guy, he'll give you a job”. So I spoke to this guy, invited me out for lunch, then I got a job. And it's like, “Brilliant”. That took a week.
And what were you doing before you moved to Australia? Were you in the same line of work?
I was in HR in local governments.
And now you're working in the mining industry. What's it like working on a gold mine?
I go underground, occasionally. I go to the open pits, or I'll climb up the top of the of the processor, in the mill. Yeah, I get in-, I get involved in quite a lot. It's really, really interesting. And to see how a lump of rock gets turned into a gold bar is fascinating.
Yeah, it is. Because a lot of the mine sites in Australia are in very remote locations, they usually have to fly their workforce up from one of the major cities, for like a week at a time. But because Kalgoorlie’s surrounded by mine sites, does that mean that you get to come home every night after your shift?
Yeah. Look, in Kalgoorlie, all the companies have a real focus on residential first. And there are times where the number of people needed, for example, if you shut down a bit of the minr to do some maintenance-. You know, a bit like an MOT for your car-, you need to fly in 200 blokes very quickly. And that happens. In Kalgoorlie, there's a real focus on residential people, which is great because that brings the wives and the kids, or the partners and the kids into Kalgoorlie as well.
So are there many Brits working in the mine sites that you look after?
A lot of, lot of South Africans. A lot of-, a lot of Africans, a lot of guys from PNG, as well as Europeans and New Zealanders, as well. So very cul-, Oh, lots of guys from the Philippines.
Yeah, wow. Very International! So you've even got involved in some radio since you've been out in the outback, haven't you?
This is the thing. Yeah, the stuff I've done in Kalgoorlie in the past 10 years, which I would not have had the opportunity to do in England. And this is the wonderful thing about Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields, and other areas of WA. If you throw yourself into the community, you get involved in stuff, and then an opportunity like this comes up-. On-, you know, I did a little radio show back at university, in the early 90s. And then I mentioned that to someone in a pub. And they said, “All right, if that's the case, why don't you come and audition for this?” I went there, I met the guy, we did a couple of auditions, just so I could get the hang of the radio voice. And then he said, “Right. We'll do your training and then you're on air in four weeks”. And yeah, so I was the ABC goldfields Esperance. Saturday morning sports presenter for two years.
Oh, that's brill! And you're a photographer. Didn't one of your photographs make the front page of the local paper?
It was. I took a lightning photo, within about three weeks of arriving in Kalgoorlie, back in 2010. And it made the front cover, which I was quite excited about that. I have a lightning bolt, striking about a mile away from where I lived. It felt like it was on my doorstep. It was pretty huge. And then a couple of years ago, I managed to get the most photographed pub in Australia, the Exchange Pub, with a rainbow over it and a lightning bolt going through it, which was a really bizarre fluke. So that one went viral as well. So that's the joy of living in the outback.
So when you came over to Australia, you brought your little girl with you. So she's 18 now How old was she then?
She was seven. Yeah, seven, when she came over here. Yeah, she’s settled. She settled in very well. Very good lifestyle here.
I think she missed the beach. And we did have to bribe her by buying her a puppy when we got here. That's part of the deal. But yes, she survived and met a lot of friends and really settled in.
Oh, that's great. So people have been coming to Kalgoorlie from all over the world, to claim their fortune. Would you say that you have found yours?
Yeah, um, you know-. I'm learning a lot more than I was doing back in England. Considerably more. It's afforded me a great lifestyle. It's worked very, very well, financially. And-, but not just that, it's worked very well, as a person, because I've been able to do so much more stuff and have such a wonderful 10 years, which has just been full of excitement and opportunity.
So it doesn't seem to me like you'll be moving back to the UK anytime soon.
No, definitely not.
So Kalgoorlie is home for you now?
Yeah, it's a great spot. It would be hard to start somewhere else now. Because it's just so enjoyable here. I think people don't appreciate just how cosmopolitan mining towns can be. There’s a lot of artists, a lot of photographers, sculptors, painters, etc. and photography’s the love of mine and the opportunities I've been afforded in Kalgoorlie-, it became quite a healthy little side gig. The skies and the thunderstorms that you get here are incredible. And we've had some amazing thunderstorms. I've taken some brilliant pictures that people have bought and beautiful sunsets with rainbows and lightning bolts going through them. It's just astonishing. This environment is really fed-, fed the hobby, and given me opportunities.
That's so good. My dad came out to visit me, when I was living in Kalgoorlie and he loved the fact that everyone you pass in the street says, “G’day”. People are just very friendly there, aren’t they?
And that’s part of the underpinning of the community, is that-, yeah, people are friendly, willing to help, and will go out of their way to help you. We made the decision, when we came out, that if this was going to be our home, we came out voluntarily, we were given all these benefits, we were very warmly welcomed. And that's it. We've become Australians, you know, we got our blue passport at the first opportunity. Amd I’ll be quite happily when Australia gets the ashes and keeps the ashes in the cricket. And I spent 20 years hating the Australian cricket team in England. But this is my home. This is, you know, this is where I'm going to be.
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