9. Ivan “Russian Jack” Fredericks (c1864-1904), miner
One of Western Australia’s most colourful pioneers, Ivan Fredericks, better known as Russian Jack, was born in the Russian port of Archangel. In 1886 he arrived in the Kimberley to make his fortune in the gold strike. According to historian Geoffrey Blainey, Russian Jack pushed a barrow with shafts 2.2m long and a wooden wheel so wide it would not sink into soft sand.
Russian Jack personified the notion of “mateship”. On one waterless stretch he overtook two old men who were too tired to carry their swags. He loaded the swags on his barrow and delivered them to the nearest waterhole. On another occasion he wheeled a sick prospector in his wheelbarrow through the Kimberley’s harsh landscape to shelter and water.
But for all his noble deeds, Russian Jack never struck his bonanza. Once he fell 20m into an open cut while walking in the dark. He was found three days later in a sorry state. His first comment to his rescuers was, “I’ve missed a shift”.
Russian Jack was about 40 when he died in Fremantle of a hard life coupled with even harder drinking. His last years were spent in a shelter for the homeless and in prison. A Catholic priest, Father John Smyth, performed the service around his unmarked grave. Almost a century later Ivan was chosen as “a symbol of nobility” by the Russian Orthodox Church and a marble cross was erected on his grave. He is also honoured by a bronze statue outside the Visitors’ Centre in Halls Creek.