Life before we knew about germs …

How did we get from Miasma Theory to Germ Theory in the 19th century?

The way we see the world, and ourselves in it, can completely change when new scientific theories/ideas come along. While this can be scary in the eyes of some people, for others it provides better ways of living, and exciting new opportunities to make money. Some examples of big ideas in science which have changed the world include:

germs

Scanning electron microscope image of Vibrio Cholerae. This is the bacterium (germ) that causes cholera, a big killer on the 19th century Victorian goldfields. Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

In this blogpost, we will explore the scientific idea that microscopic germs exist, and how this idea radically changed the way we treat disease and deal with human waste. We are interested in this topic at Sovereign Hill Education because the 19th century gold rushes in Victoria were happening at the same time Germ Theory became popular. It changed the way Ballarat’s doctors did their work, and is the reason sewage pipes (that Ballaratians still use today) were installed under our city.

What is Miasma Theory?

Miasma = from the Ancient Greek word for ‘pollution’.

For thousands of years, people (and their doctors) in many places around the world believed that diseases, especially epidemics (like the Black Plague), were caused by ‘bad air’ which was commonly called miasma in English-speaking countries. It was thought that breathing-in or being too physically close to bad air from rotting organic matter (like a compost heap or pile of dog poo) could cause the four liquids found in your body (blood, phlegm [like snot], yellow bile, and black bile) to get out of balance. People believed that the weather and seasons could also affect these liquids and cause sickness (click here to learn more about a related idea called Humorism). Miasma was thought to cause all kinds of diseases, from diarrhoea to chicken pox, from the flu to obesity!

 

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A representation by Robert Seymour of the cholera epidemic of the 19th century depicts the spread of the disease in the form of deadly air (miasma). Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

Staying away from rotting and smelly things is smart because they can cause disease, so those miasma believers were on the right track, but it’s not the smell of these things that actually makes people sick.

In the past, when doctors treated sick people based on this theory, treatments often involved draining some of their blood. We now know that such treatments could be more dangerous than the sicknesses they were treating – for example, in 1799 it is likely that George Washington was accidentally bled to death by his doctor while being treated for a throat infection!

What is Germ Theory?

Germ = Late Middle English word (from an Old French word, originally from Latin) germen, which means ‘seed, sprout’.

While the compound microscope (from the Ancient Greek forsmall’ [mikros] and ‘to see’ [skopein]) was invented in the 1600s, it wasn’t until the 1800s that people realised they could actually see (through Lister’s improved microscope design) that germs – also known as microorganisms – existed, and could cause disease in people, animals and plants. A number of people had already tried to replace Miasma Theory with Germ Theory, but it took the work of scientists like Louis Pasteur and John Snow in the 1850s to popularise the idea that germs caused most diseases. Support for Miasma Theory didn’t completely disappear until the 1880s because, like any new scientific idea, it took a while to catch on. And unsurprisingly, people found it hard to believe in something they couldn’t see, until the technology came along to help them see it!vid

 

The first doctor on record (named Ignaz Semmelweis) to suggest that doctors should wash their hands between patients to avoid spreading disease was completely ignored by other doctors … He eventually died in an lunatic asylum from a disease he could have avoided if only his doctor had washed his hands!! There are many scientific ideas through history which people laughed at, or ignored, which turned out to be true. You can explore some of the most fascinating ones here.

How did these changes to the way we understand disease change our lives?

butcher

S.T.Gill’s Butcher’s Shamble, 1852, shows the unclean conditions in which meat was bought and sold before the popularisation of Germ Theory and the invention of electricity (to enable refrigeration)

By the time Germ Theory became popular, the Victorian gold rushes were well underway. In other parts of the world, the Industrial Revolution was creating factories around which cities were growing. Such hives of human activity like a mining centre or industrial city pushed people closer together than they had probably ever lived before in all of human history – and of course this meant diseases could spread more easily than ever from person to person. Knowledge of Germ Theory and the medicines it made possible over the next 100 years helped cure many diseases, but most importantly it helped to create more sanitary conditions, which meant people started living in cleaner houses and communities. For the first time, we started washing our hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, sterilising surgical equipment and removing and treating our sewage to make sure it didn’t end up in our drinking water. During this time, we began vaccinating children to help them avoid the most deadly diseases of childhood such as smallpox, and cleaning our teeth and bodies through the popularisation of soaps and toiletry products

In Ballarat, all of these Germ Theory changes reduced the death rate, particularly among children, and helped our city continue to grow. It affected the way we built the city and organised the infrastructure, like sewage treatment plants, hospitals, street gutters, and reservoirs (to collect and hold drinking water). Without Germ Theory, our lives would be just as brutal and short as those of our ancestors who lived during the rule of Miasma Theory.

Links and References

TEDed on the development of Germ Theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9LC-3ZKiok

Wikipedia on Miasma Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory

Wikipedia on Germ Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease

History of the microscope: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microscope

Learn about the job of a nightman – the human pooperscooper: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/11/07/bad-19th-century-jobs-the-nightman/

Life expectancy has improved radically in the last 150 years in Australia: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

The Science of Gold

What is gold and why do we like it so much? In response to the many questions we receive like this from visiting students during our education sessions, let’s explore the origins of gold and our fascination with it.

Where does gold come from?

Humans can’t make gold, although many in the past have tried. And the Earth can’t make more of it even if we wait a couple of billion years. Only recently did scientists confirm the long-held theory that gold is created by the universe during supernovae (when neutron [dying] stars explode/collide). These violent astronomical events produce lots of the heavy metals we now use for things like ‘bling-y’ jewellery, as well as microcircuits for electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Gold can even be used in food like this burger, which costs $AU81! This great video explains the creation of gold really well.

All

People today use gold for all kinds of weird and wonderful things. We hope the 24 karat gold toilet paper isn’t a real thing. Pictured are gold pizza, gold sushi, a gold facial, gold toilet paper, a gold doughnut, a gold cappuccino, gold flies for fly-fishing, a gold turkey, and the $AU81 gold burger!

Neutron stars are the densest objects in the known universe, and when their super-hot collapsing cores explode or smash into one another, they create elements like gold and silver. It is believed that such an event or series of events in the distant past created meteors containing gold and silver which then fell to Earth, delivering the precious heavy metals that adventurous miners sought to dig out of the ground in places like Ballarat and Bendigo during the 19th century. According to some research published in 2011, a meteor shower about 4 billion years ago dumped 20 billion billion (Wow!! That’s a big number!) tons of gold and other precious metals on our planet!

The chemical symbol which you find on the periodic table for gold is Au (from the Latin word aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’). As gold is an element, it can’t be broken down into other substances, which is the reason humans can’t make gold themselves (although with the development of nuclear chemistry, one day we might figure it out).

Why do we like gold so much?

Many cultures around the world for at least the last 8,000 years have used gold for things like decoration/art, religious ceremonies, false teeth, currency, sporting medals, medicine, and more recently in human history, electronics and satellites. It is useful to us because it never goes rusty, it’s soft and easy to shape, it conducts heat really well, and it’s a beautiful colour. In scientific language, we describe gold as being dense (that’s why it’s heavy), malleable (soft and easy to bend) and lustrous (shiny).

While some cultures have used it for thousands of years, others have not. For example, the Aboriginal people of Ballarat – the Wadawurrung people – knew of the gold that could easily be picked up from the ground across Western Victoria, but instead they valued much more practical and sustainable natural resources like brushtail possums, and certain kinds of stones useful for tool making. You can learn about how gold has been used by many cultures here.

One of the main reasons we like gold today is because it’s rare. If all of the gold found on Earth were collected together, it would only fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools! If it were more common and easy to find, it wouldn’t be worth anywhere near as much money as it is today. The price of gold changes day to day, depending on how much is being dug out of the ground, and the number of people keen to buy the gold (the demand for it). The price of gold today (9/2/18) is $54.52 per gram, or to state the value in the unit of measurement more commonly used to weigh gold, it’s currently worth $1,695.97 per ounce (1 ounce = 31.1 grams). You can find the current price of gold here: https://goldprice.org/

Ballarat is an alluvial goldfield, basically meaning that our gold has been brought here and is moved around by water (including underground rivers) and is often on the surface or not far beneath it. For miners in Ballarat at the beginning of the gold rush (from 1851 until about 1853), this meant they didn’t have to dig very deep underground to find big gold nuggets. By the 1860s most of that easy-to-find gold near the surface was gone, meaning miners had to dig much deeper underground to continue finding payable (enough to make a profit) amounts of the precious yellow metal. This is when deep lead and quartz mining really took off in Ballarat.

The gold miners who came to Ballarat largely used gold to buy better lives (better clothes, housing, food, investments etc.) and the majority of the billions of dollars of gold found here was turned into gold sovereigns (English money made of gold, after which our museum – Sovereign Hill – got its name) or gold ingots (gold bars). Some however, was turned into spectacular, flashy pieces of jewellery, and even the beautiful mayoral chains owned by the City of Ballarat!

If you visit a jewellery store, you will notice items made of gold are usually described as ’18 karat gold’ or ’10 karat gold’. A karat is a unit of measurement which explains how much gold was mixed into the alloy (a mixture of metals) that have gone into the making of that piece of jewellery. A carat is used to value gemstones and pearls. 18 karat gold jewellery has a higher amount of gold in it than 10 karat gold jewellery, which is why it is always more expensive. If, say, a ring is made from 24 karat gold, it is pure gold – but of course this would make it an easily bent piece of jewellery!

The Castlemaine Goldfields is the only mining company in Ballarat still successfully finding payable gold underneath the city. There is still a lot of gold in the ground in this part of Victoria, but it’s very difficult and expensive to get out of the ground.

Links and References

TED Ed on the chemistry and origins of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf_4z4AKwJg

Sovereign Hill research notes for students about the different kinds of mining common in Ballarat in the 19th century: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/sovehill-pdf-file/SovHill-mining-notes-ss1.pdf

Some great facts about gold: https://www.livescience.com/39187-facts-about-gold.html

A report on the recent confirmation that gold is produced by supernovae: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uoc–asc101517.php

A fantastic explainer video on the creation of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iaviqwMfJ0

How the gold karat system works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fineness

Gold in antiquity: https://www.ancient.eu/gold/

A video explaining why we use gold for currency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18yIHCSemhs

How NASA uses gold for space exploration: https://curiosity.com/topics/nasa-uses-gold-on-its-spacecraft-curiosity/

Should we eat gold?: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/is-gold-safe-to-eat

Gold according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold

What is more valuable than gold?: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-rarer-than-gold-45073180/

 

Sovereign Hill’s Free Educational Resources – A Guide

All of Sovereign Hill’s Education Officers are qualified and experienced teachers. When we’re not dressed up in 1850s costume teaching our visiting students, we create free educational activities to help you with your History, Geography and cross-curriculum studies at home or at school. Whether you’re studying the Australian gold rushes, the Industrial Revolution, Australia’s relationship with China, or Victorian Aboriginal history, Sovereign Hill offers a wide range of educational resources for students and teachers.

For Students

Student ResourcesIf you are a student preparing for a visit to Sovereign Hill with your class, check out this introductory video. You can also make use of our free research notes, videos, audio files and an interactive map published by Sovereign Hill Education here which might help you with projects/homework about our goldrush history. We have also published many blogposts – like this one – which can help you with your history studies; just take a look at the different ‘Recent Posts’ headings down the right-hand side of this page and click on the ones that interest you. There is also a ‘Search This Site’ bar just below the banner photo at the top which can be used to hunt for blogposts on more unusual topics. Type ‘tiger’ into the search and prepare yourself for some weird and wonderful goldrush stories!

hhYou can learn about Victorian Aboriginal history through the free ‘digitour’ (digital + tour) of Sovereign Hill called Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People. This digitour features videos, a game, an interactive timeline and lots of images/quotes from the 1850s-60s. This digitour can be used on-site during a visit to Sovereign Hill, or at home/school.

Sovereign Hill Education has also made learning activities for little kids who aren’t old enough for school yet. So if you are coming for a visit with your family and have little brothers or sisters, you might like to show them this webpage.

Some ‘Social Stories’ have been published on the Sovereign Hill Education website to help visiting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have a good time – take a look at them here along with our other Accessibility resources. If you are visiting Sovereign Hill and you have ASD, you can ask at the entrance for a special ‘Sensory Map’ to help you have a great day at Sovereign Hill (by knowing how to avoid the loud noises etc.).

We have also made some videos about Sovereign Hill which are translated into Auslan. You can take a look at them here.

Most importantly, what are you going to eat during your Sovereign Hill visit? Take a look at the different food options here.

If your teacher gives you and your friends some free-time, what can you do at Sovereign Hill apart from gold panning and bowling? Learn about all of our free-time activities here.

For Teachers

Teaching kitsSovereign Hill Education publishes a wide variety of resources for your Foundation to VCE students – learn about how the Victorian Curriculum links to our resource collection here.

Take the time to peruse and download some free teaching kits, or brush up on your history knowledge by reading a few posts on this Sovereign Hill Education Blog. There are also resources for children in the Early Years, EAL learners, students with ASD, a variety of maps to use before you visit with your class, and all of the information you need to plan a fun, safe excursion to Sovereign Hill at the Sovereign Hill Education website. It also features ‘Discover It Yourself’ learning activities for independent student exploration of Sovereign Hill, a dedicated page for Catholic schools, and a selection of ‘Learning Stories’ about teachers’ experiences in bringing their classes for an educational visit.

Discover it yourselfTeachers who plan to bring students on excursion/camp to Sovereign Hill are encouraged to take advantage of Sovereign Hill Education’s wide variety of education sessions; all visiting classes receive one free education session with the cost of admission. You can also contact Sovereign Hill’s Education Officers prior to your visit to discuss alternative/bespoke education sessions to suit your students’ inquiry projects etc.

The spectacular sound-and-light show ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ is being revamped in mid-2018 – stay tuned for more information on our new and improved night-time experience! For all other enquiries about booking an excursion or school camp, call one of Sovereign Hill Education’s friendly Bookings Officers on (03) 5337 1188, email schoolbookings@sovereignhill.com.au or check out the Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

Did you know that teachers can sign up for a Sovereign Hill e-newsletter called ‘Educator News’? It provides a termly update of new free resources available from our website, new education programs for your students, along with information about special professional learning events and competitions/special offers. You can sign up here.

Historical investigationsIf you have never visited Sovereign Hill before, sound like an expert as you guide your students around the outdoor museum by taking a look at these exhibit descriptions.

In terms of selecting a date for your excursion, be aware that Sovereign Hill Education runs special education programs: to commemorate the Eureka Rebellion; to celebrate the Horse’s Birthday on 1 August; for Book Week; for Chinese New Year and much more. Simply contact us well in advance if you would like to book your class into one of these special education programs – spaces are limited and demand is high!

Throughout the year, Sovereign Hill Education also offers a range of free and costed teacher professional learning opportunities, which are listed here. Stay up-to-date with the latest offerings by following the Sovereign Hill Education page on Facebook or on Twitter @GoldfieldsEd.

Lastly, stay tuned for more information on Education Officer-led educational programming at the Gold Museum, beginning in early 2018.

Links and References

Looking for information on Sovereign Hill’s famous Costumed Schools Program? http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/costumed-school/

Want to know more about the biodiversity and sustainability learning program available at Sovereign Hill’s pastoral property, Narmbool? http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/narmbool/

An hour or two at the Gold Museum is a great way to finish a visit to Sovereign Hill: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/gold-museum-ballarat/

Want to stay on-site at the Sovereign Hill Hotel? http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/sovereign-hill-hotel/

Learn more about ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’, our sound-and-light show: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/sound-light-show/

Keep up-to-speed on Sovereign Hill Education’s latest news through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sovereignhilleducation/

Bad 19th Century Jobs – The Nightman

Nightman

One of Sovereign Hill’s (pretend) nightmen, about to dig out a (pretend) cesspit to stop the spread of (pretend) deadly disease.

Also known as a ‘night-soil remover’ (or in Tudor times, a ‘gongfarmer’), the nightman had one of the most revolting 19th century jobs imaginable – collecting human poo and wee for disposal. This stinky and dangerous job helped to keep cities safe from diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, while moving our waste to the outskirts of town before sewerage pipes did the waste removal for us. Like all physical jobs in the 19th century, this was a job for a man. Preferably a man without working nostrils!

Most days at Sovereign Hill, at 11.15 am, you can catch a street performance in Speedwell Street about the life of a nightman. This nightman is asked to clean out a ‘cesspit’, which means he has to dig all of the dangerous excrement out of an overflowing backyard poop-dump. At the beginning of the Australian gold rushes, the public management of human waste was pretty loose and experimental (and dangerous).

outhouse

One of Sovereign Hill’s exhibit outhouses just off Main Street. By ‘exhibit’, we mean that you can’t use it!

However, by the 1870s, many Ballarat families had built outhouses at the end of their gardens, which contained large buckets – or pans – which were accessible to the nightman via neighbourhood laneways (Bate, Weston. Lucky City, 1978, pp. 248-250,). Typically, members of such families would use a chamber pot indoors, and empty it into the outhouse pan for daily or weekly collection by the nightman. Some households built ‘privies’ or ‘boghouses’ instead, which were essentially drop toilets (where you do your business into a big hole) or were connected to a neighbourhood cesspit. Such large cesspits would need to be emptied by the nightman every couple of years to stop the dangerous waste from spilling into streets, cellars, and sources of drinking water.

 

chamber pot

See the chamber pot in-situ underneath a bed in Sovereign Hill’s Speedwell Street.

Nightmen typically did their work after dark, when the revolting odours that came with the job would least offend those living in the neighbourhood, although Sovereign Hill’s nightman is so busy he has to empty a cesspit during the day! In this performance, members of the neighbourhood claim this cesspit has caused an outbreak of disease. Waterborne infectious diseases spread very easily in the new cities created by the British Empire’s Industrial Revolution and Australian gold rushes, because many were built before we knew about germs (Germ Theory only began to challenge Miasma Theory [the idea that disease was spread by bad smells instead of tiny bacteria] in the late 1850s), and before flushing toilets, toilet paper, and sewerage pipes were invented. Drinking unboiled water in such towns and cities, which was pumped from the ground or collected from rivers/lakes, could easily spread deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, which basically saw victims poo themselves to dehydration and death. Today, these infectious diseases rarely occur in Australia, but they are still common in developing countries where sanitation (safely managing human waste) remains a challenge for poor and heavily-populated towns/cities.

cart

The kind of cart typically used by a nightman to transport nightsoil, visible at Sovereign Hill behind the Ragged School across from the Bowling Saloon.

The nightman would empty an outhouse pan, or empty a cesspit using a bucket, into his horse-drawn tank. Once full, these tanks would then be taken out of town to be emptied on a paddock called a ‘night-soil depository’, or mixed in with other organic waste (food scraps, horse manure etc.). If the waste dried out reasonably well, it could then be placed in bags and sold to farmers as fertiliser for crops. Ballarat North, near the suburb of Nerrina, which is now covered in houses, used to be one of the main locations for dumping and drying Ballarat’s night-soil! Because of the high number of diseases carried in human waste, and the number of dangerous chemicals, medicines and hormones found in the poop of people today, human waste is no longer commonly used by Australia farmers to grow our food.

Satire-of-Thames-water

Check out this joke about London’s River Thames by William Heath, Monster soup commonly called Thames water, being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us!!! Hand-coloured etching, c. 1828. Reproduced with permission from the British Museum.

Today, some houses in Australia that are built too far away from big cities to be connected to neighbourhood sewerage pipes, store their stinky business in septic tanks buried in the garden. Depending on the design, these typically need cleaning every few years, but today we use specially designed ‘vacuum trucks’ and full-body safety equipment. This job used to require the nightman to get very close to the waste of others, but today it’s mechanised to keep workers well away from the dangerous do-dos. Almost all Australian houses located in towns and cities, in comparison, are connected to sewerage pipes, which became very common all across Australia from 1890 onwards. Up until this time, Melbourne was nicknamed ‘Smellbourne’, for good reason …

death-and-water
George J. Pinwell, Death’s Dispensary, Fun Magazine (1861-1901), 1866. A woodcut illustration depicting London’s often deadly water supply.

Ballarat now has 650kms of wastewater pipes under the city, and these take our waste to be treated at the Ballarat South Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Ballarat North Wastewater Treatment Plant, and another small sewage depository in Cardigan Village. Once treated, this waste water ends up in our local rivers and lakes, and eventually the ocean near Barwon Heads. But rest assured, by that time the water has been made safe enough to swim in … And believe it or not, the swan poo in Lake Wendouree is more likely to make the water dangerous than the treated human waste in there!

Links and References

A visual history of Ballarat’s waste water management: http://www.chw.net.au/sites/default/files/flash/treatment/history.html

Wikipedia’s Simple English Description of Germ Theory: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease

Wikipedia on Miasma Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory

Horrible Histories on Gongfarmers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHFQ32PpSV4

A brief history of the flushing toilet: https://www.baus.org.uk/museum/164/the_flush_toilet

A great video on the history of disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PLBmUVYYeg

Toilets changed the world, but lots of people still don’t have access to one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWQG1YZS9l4

Bate, Weston. Lucky City, Melbourne University Press, 1978.

The Australian ‘History Wars’ at Sovereign Hill

Sovereign Hill is an outdoor museum about Victoria’s 19th century history. Specifically, the exhibits and costumed characters who interpret them tell stories about the impacts of the gold rushes and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Australia. But how does The Sovereign Hill Museums Association decide what stories to present at the outdoor museum?

In recent years, we have chosen to increase the visibility of Aboriginal stories and perspectives on the gold rushes, because in the past Sovereign Hill was criticised for appearing to leave these stories out of its presentation of Victoria’s history. We now present a more accurate and fair story, and believe we have found a balanced, middle ground viewpoint on the Australian History Wars. What do you think?

What are the Australian ‘History Wars’?

When you read history books (or even school textbooks), it’s easy to think that the facts of history are unchangeable. The First Fleet arrived in Australia on 26 January, 1788. Albert Einstein invented the famous scientific formula E = mc2Edward Hargraves was the first European to find gold in Australia in 1851 … However, sometimes the facts aren’t very clear, and historians argue over which facts are true, or even truest. Causes of such arguments can be the result of:

  • new historical evidence coming to light (for example, if we were to find a diary written by Marco Polo in which he says he never travelled to China, but instead made the whole story up, that would change history);
  • a new way of looking at old evidence (for example, if we use new medical technology to DNA test Ancient Egyptian mummies, we might discover new information about their lives); or
  • the decision to include new ‘voices’ in the story, or to emphasise the role played by a group of participants who have been left out of the story until now (for example, Claire Wright wrote a history book about the women involved in the Eureka Rebellion in 2013).

In the case of the History Wars in Australia, historians (and politicians) have been arguing about the colonisation of Australia for a long time, and whether or not it was a peaceful process, a blood-stained invasion or something in between. The History Wars see people arguing about the historical facts – new evidence is being unearthed regularly, new ways of interpreting old evidence are being explored, and new voices in history are becoming louder.

Capture

These four prints by goldrush artist S. T. Gill highlight some of the relationships that existed between Aboriginal people and European colonisers in the 19th century. They capture the complicated nature of Australian history, and the difficulty historians have when trying to give a true and fair account of our story. From top left: S. T. Gill, Cattle Branding, 1869, Attack on Store Dray, 1865, Kangaroo Stalking, 1865, Native Police, 1864. All reproduced with permission of the Gold Museum, Ballarat.

While the old saying that ‘History is written by the victors’ is no longer true, the Australian History Wars demonstrate how difficult it can be for historians to get the details of the story right, especially when it comes to the impact Australia’s recent history has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But is there ever going to be a ‘right’ way to understand our history? Probably not (these kinds of questions are studied in historiography, which you can learn more about here). Let’s try to better understand the two sides of the Australian History Wars.

The ‘Three Cheers View’ of Australian history (also known as the ‘White Blindfold View’)

Some historians believe the historical evidence we have about the creation of modern Australia tells the story of brave, adventurous Europeans who came to this continent and tamed the ‘wild’ landscape to produce food (through European-style farming) and useful minerals (through mining). The historical evidence used to tell this story mainly uses written accounts like diaries, official government records and newspaper articles from the time etc. This version of our history celebrates the achievements of Europeans and the British Empire in Australia, and focuses on the stories of the pioneers who came here after the convict period to create what is one of the richest countries in the world today.

While historians who support this interpretation of the facts might admit that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were killed in the process of making modern Australia, or at least had their traditional lifestyles brought to an end by European colonisers, they argue that these were rare events or accidents, and shouldn’t be the main part of the story of Australia. At best, it presents a history of Australia that is heroic and inspirational, at worst it presents a history that is Eurocentric and nationalistic. Many supporters of this view want Australia Day to continue to be celebrated on 26 January, the day the Union Jack flag was first placed in the ground of Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip, leader of the First Fleet.

The ‘Black Armband View’ of Australian history

Some historians believe that the Australian story is an ancient one, and begins more than 65,000 years ago. This version of our history views the arrival of Europeans after 1788 as a time of abrupt, and often violent cultural, economic and environmental change, resulting in the British Empire’s colonisation of the entire continent regardless of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s claims to sovereignty (meaning ownership of land). The historical evidence used to tell this story includes both written accounts and oral history accounts. While the Black Armband View acknowledges the decisions made (mostly by Europeans or people of European ancestry) which have turned Australia into the rich country it is today, it places the impacts of these huge changes on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the centre of the story.

While historians who support this interpretation of the facts might admit that European colonisers in Australia didn’t always deliberately act in damaging and hurtful ways towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, they argue that massacres and murders of Australia’s first peoples were common, even if they weren’t always written down/recorded. They sometimes call this time of regular conflict between European colonisers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (from 1788-1934) the ‘Australian Frontier Wars’. At best, this view presents a history of Australia that is inclusive and fair, and at worst it presents a history that is shame-promoting, particularly in the eyes of many non-Aboriginal Australians. Most supporters of this view want the date of Australia Day – which some call ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’ – to be changed from 26 January to a ‘less hurtful’ date.

Why do the Australian History Wars exist?

There are many reasons the History Wars exist in Australia:

The way we understand our national story impacts upon the way we see ourselves as 21st century Australians. The kinds of historical research methods we use to write history are never going to be perfect, as historiography tells us … And this debate even affects how we understand the origins of Australian Rules Football! The History Wars are fascinating, but it’s important to remember that in debating this topic, we’re not just throwing ideas and opinions around to promote thinking; we’re talking about real people from the past, who are dearly remembered by their living family members today. So, be mindful of this if you get into a public/classroom debate about the History Wars.

Links and References

A link to the Sovereign Hill Education Teaching Kit for Level 9 & 10 History ‘Australia and Asia’:  http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/AustraliaandAsiaActivitiesandResources4.pdf

Wikipedia on the ‘history wars’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_wars

Keith Windshuttle and Henry Reynolds debating on ABC’s Lateline about the ‘history wars’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClS2gzn3QTg

The Conversation on the ‘history wars’: https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2009/november/1270703045/robert-manne/comment

The History/Culture Wars in 2017: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/rewriting-our-history-is-not-the-way-to-go-20170831-gy7q8u.html

Should we use the word ‘settled’, ‘colonised’ or ‘invaded’ when it comes to Australia’s recent history? https://theconversation.com/australias-history-wars-reignite-57065

Wikipedia article on the contentious origins of Australian Rules Football: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_Australian_rules_football#Various_theories

Is it ever OK to corrupt history for a good cause? http://www.convictcreations.com/history/historywars.html

The tension between getting the historical facts right and being patriotic: http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/resources/pdfs/198.pdf

What’s it like to work in a museum?

 

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We have lots of lolly-makers on staff!

Many students who visit Sovereign Hill tell us they would love to work in a museum when they grow up. What kinds of jobs can you do in a museum and how do you get one?

All museums in Australia employ people to do lots of different kinds of jobs, from curators who create beautiful exhibitions of artefacts (rooms creatively filled with artefacts that tell fascinating stories), to marketing managers, educators, cleaners, historians, volunteer coordinators and much more!

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One of our many musicians who play music in the street.

However, Sovereign Hill is a bit different to most museums in Australia because it’s a living, or outdoor museum. This means it doesn’t really tell stories using artefacts behind glass cases. Instead, at Sovereign Hill we use costumed characters, homes and shops you can visit, and hands-on activities like gold panning to teach people about Australia’s gold rush history. This means Sovereign Hill employs a small village-worth of people with many different skills – and that’s because we practically are a small village! We have about 300 staff members and as many volunteers, some of whom you see dressed in 1850s fashion in the streets or in the shops, while others are hidden ‘behind-the-scenes’, working on things like museum management, visitor safety, advertising, website design and creating education resources.

Many people want a job in a museum because they’re such interesting places to work. This means each advertised museum job usually has lots of applicants, making it a very competitive industry. So, if you want to work in a museum, you need to dream big! There are members of staff at Sovereign Hill who began their museum careers as volunteers or work-experience students, and are now working as part of the professional museum team. So achieving your goal of working in a museum is definitely achievable.

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Our Collections Manager taking students for a back-of-house tour at the Gold Museum.

If you would like to become a museum curator and manage/create museum exhibitions (like Bunjilaka at Melbourne Museum, for example), you need to be an organised and creative person. You should go to university to study ‘Museum Studies’ or ‘Cultural Heritage’, to a postgraduate or masters level (this means you will spend at least 4 years at university). Any of these qualifications may help you get a job in a museum as a curator.

If you would like to become a collections manager, which means you take care of the artefacts a museum has to look after (a little bit like a librarian), you need to be systematic and good at problem solving. You should get a similar qualification to a curator.

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One of our education officers teaching students about chamber pots.

If you would like to become a museum educator, which means you create and teach lessons to school students visiting the museum, you need to be good at public speaking and time management. Most museum educators are qualified teachers, which, in Australia, means that you have been to university for at least 4 years. The Sovereign Hill Museums Association’s 11 educators (working across the Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum and Narmbool) studied many different subjects at university; some are History teachers, while others are Science, Literature or P.E. teachers, which means they all bring different skills to the job.

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Some actors dressed as Redcoat Soldiers.

Sovereign Hill also has a large number of talented actors who perform in the streets and in the Victoria Theatre. Many of these actors are currently studying or have already completed a university degree in Drama, also known as Performing Arts. Sometimes it can be difficult for actors to find work, but if you get a job at an outdoor museum like Sovereign Hill, you could be acting in historical costume every day – in the street, in pantomimes, and in conversations with visitors during which you have to stay in 1850s character (so, no talk of Minecraft, cars or telephones!). Some of our wonderful actors have been working here for more than 20 years, which means it’s probably safe to say that they really enjoy their jobs!

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Blacksmithing is a rare trade in the 21st century.

Some other jobs that you won’t find in too many other museums are the jobs of Sovereign Hill’s rare tradespeople. The living museum features technology from the 19th century, like boilers and steam engines, and therefore jobs that don’t exist in too many other places in 21st century Australia. If you want to be a blacksmith, 19th century steam engine mechanic, or driver of a horse-drawn coach, Sovereign Hill is the workplace for you! Most of these professionals were given on-the-job training here at Sovereign Hill, because it’s hard to learn these skills anywhere else. Similarly, we have a highly-skilled Costume Department, the members of which have university qualifications in Fashion or Textile Design, but they also learn a lot on-the-job because there aren’t too many places making Redcoat Soldier outfits, or 1850s bonnets these days.

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Our photographer hard at work.

Additionally, Sovereign Hill is lucky to have a team of very skilled builders and (modern) tradespeople, to keep our museum looking just like Ballarat did in the 1850s. We also have a large staff of hospitality workers and cleaners, receptionists and salespeople. Our Design Department makes all of our 19th and 21st century signs and advertising, and the Marketing Department manages visitors from all over the world and runs special events like ‘Winter Wonderlights’. We have people who design and care for our beautiful gardens, photographers who take your stylish 1850s photo, food technologists who create new lolly flavours, administrators, volunteer coordinators, bookings officers, historians, animal handlers, hotel managers, IT magicians, and horse-pooper-scoopers.

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Our wheelwrights ‘hot tyring’ a coach wheel.

There really is a job for everyone at Sovereign Hill!

If there’s a Sovereign Hill, Gold Museum or Narmbool job that you would like to know more about, let us know in the comments below.

Links and References

The Sovereign Hill Careers webpage: http://www.sovereignhill.com.au/sovereign-hill/careers-at-sovereign-hill/

A good, general overview of how to get a museum job: https://www.museumsassociation.org/careers/getting-a-first-job

Tips on securing that dream museum job: https://www.thoughtco.com/getting-a-job-in-the-museum-world-182416

Deakin University’s popular master’s degree in Cultural Heritage: http://www.deakin.edu.au/course/master-cultural-heritage

Keep an eye on advertised jobs in museums, galleries etc. here: https://www.museumsaustralia.org.au/positions-vacant

Information from Museums Victoria about getting a job at the Melbourne Museum, Immigration Museum, Bunjilaka, Science Works or the Royal Exhibition Building: https://museumvictoria.com.au/about/work-opportunities/employment/

Information about jobs at the Australian Museum in Sydney: https://australianmuseum.net.au/working-at-the-australian-museum

Job opportunities webpage at Ballarat’s MADE (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka): http://made.org/about/careers/

The National Museum of Australia (Canberra) employment webpage: http://www.nma.gov.au/about_us/employment

The MASS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney – which oversees the management of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory and the Museums Discovery Centre) employment webpage: https://maas.museum/careers/

The Australian National Maritime Museum (Sydney) employment webpage: http://www.anmm.gov.au/about-us/who-we-are/work-with-us

The Australian War Memorial (Canberra) employment webpage: https://www.awm.gov.au/get-involved/work-or-volunteer/employment

A thorough ‘How To’ for museum job applications: http://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/industry/museum-careers-advice-apply-jobs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who was Lola Montez?

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Lola Montez, painted by Joseph Stieler for Ludwig I of Bavaria, 1847. Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

Most afternoons at 2.30 pm in Sovereign Hill’s Main Street, an actor playing Lola Montez bursts onto the balcony of the Victoria Theatre, fuming loudly about a bad newspaper review of her ‘Spider Dance’. Let’s find out more about this extraordinary woman.

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (c.1818-1861), better known by her stage name Lola Montez (or Montes), was a well-known 19th century celebrity and beauty before she arrived here in Ballarat in 1856.  Although she was born in Ireland, she became a ‘Spanish dancer’ and was particularly famed for her Spider Dance, during which she flashed her underpants (called pantelletes), and maybe even the body parts beneath them … For men living on a goldfield where there were very few women, the naughty Lola was a subject of great interest.

Around the age of 22, Lola began her career as a dancer in Europe. This was also the time people began calling her a courtesan, a old-fashioned name given to a woman who was a close friend, confidante and sexual companion to rich and powerful men. Many of her famous male friends were artists, writers, journalists, and army lieutenants. She was even the ‘favourite’ of King Ludwig I of Bavaria (now part of Germany).

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Portrait of Ludwig I of Bavaria, by Joseph Stieler, 1825. Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

Such relationships gave her money and power, which meant independence (uncommon for a 19th century woman). After a revolution in 1848, during which King Ludwig I gave up his crown, she left for England and later moved to the United States of America, in 1851. There, she performed as a dancer and actor for the gold miners of San Francisco. Then, in 1855-6, she toured Australia and danced for the miners in Ballarat and Castlemaine, among other places.Beyond Lola’s career as a performer, she part-owned a French newspaper, published a book called ‘The Arts of Beauty; Or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilette. With Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating’ (1858), and gave ‘moral lectures’ just before she died in 1861. In California there is a mountain named in her honour, along with two lakes, and numerous books and movies are about her or feature characters based on her life. Many historians think she was a woman ‘before her time’ as she ignored pressure to be a quiet and obedient woman at a time when that was expected. She broke the rules, and lived as she pleased.

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Lola c.1851. She was the first woman to be photographed smoking a cigarette. Reproduced from Wikipedia Commons.

As a famous beauty, and a woman who was probably keener than most to retain a youthful complexion (face), Lola published lots of recipes and ‘how to …’ guidelines in her book ‘The Arts of Beauty’. The wealthy could afford to buy luxury items like pimple cream and anti-baldness wash from the Apothecaries’ Hall; however, average people might have tried Lola’s suggestions to save money and look beautiful. Here are some of Lola’s stranger recommendations from ‘The Arts of Beauty’:

For a lady’s face

The following is a recipe for making another wash for the face, which is a favourite with the ladies of France.

Take equal parts of the seeds of the melon pumpkin, gourd and cucumber, pounded till they are reduced to a powder; add to it sufficient fresh cream to dilute the flour [powder], then add milk enough to reduce the whole to a thin paste. Add a grain of musk [taken from the body of animals like the musk deer], and a few drops of the oil of lemon. Anoint the face with this, leave it on twenty or thirty minutes, or overnight if convenient, and wash off with warm water. It gives a remarkable purity and brightness to the complexion. (p.45)

To cure baldness in men (apparently …)

6oz. boxwood shavings

12oz. proof spirit [pure alcohol]

2oz. spirits of rosemary

1/2oz spirits of nutmeg

The boxwood shaving should be left to steep [soak] in the spirits, at a temperature of 60 degrees, for fourteen days, and then the liquid should be strained off, and the other ingredients mixed. The scalp to be thoroughly washed, or rubbed with this every night and morning. (p.86)

To get rid of grey hairs

4drs. oxide of bismuth [a heavy metal …]

4drs. spermaceti [the oil surrounding the brains of sperm whales]

4oz. pure hog’s lard [pig fat]

The lard and spermaceti should be melted together, and when they begin to cool stir in the bismuth. It may be perfumed to your liking [then used on your head every day]. (p.88)

A face wash used to remove tan (only peasants had tans in the 19th century British Empire … a white complexion communicated to others that you spent your life indoors, which was the desired ‘look’ for European ladies)

1/2pint new milk

1/4oz. lemon juice

1/2oz. white brandy

Boil the whole, and skim it clear from all scum. Use it night and morning. (p.98)

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Posters to advertise events at Ballarat’s Victoria Theatre, featuring Lola ‘Montes’, 1856. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum, Ballarat.

Lola married at least three times during her life; however, her romances never seemed to last very long. Some of these relationships ended in divorce, others in death; even her manager met a grisly end – he fell off a ship and disappeared in the Pacific Ocean. In 1861, Lola died of syphilis (an STI – sexually transmitted infection), alone, at the age of about 39 in New York City.

The performance about Lola’s life, which you might be lucky enough to see at Sovereign Hill, details the story of her reaction to a bad review … A man named Henry Seekamp who was the editor of The Ballarat Times, the city’s first newspaper, famously criticised Lola for her spicy performances through a review in his newspaper. When Lola read this review about how ‘immoral’ her dancing was, she confronted Seekamp in the street and beat him with a horse whip. This event only made Lola more famous (or infamous) as it was reported in newspapers all over the world.

Links and References

The Australian Dictionary of Biography on Lola: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montez-lola-4226

Wikipedia on Lola: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lola_Montez

Culture Victoria website about Lola: http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/goldfields-stories-lola-montez-star-attraction/lola-montez-19th-century-radical/

An old Sovereign Hill Education Blog on Lola: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2011/08/10/lola-montez-the-lady-gaga-of-her-day/

The British Library historian on the expectations on 19th century women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkJJFX8Qn90 

Read ‘The Arts of Beauty’ online: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=1DQEAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

SBS Gold on Lola: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=107

The Age on Lola: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/07/08/1025667114383.html

Lola’s Obituary in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/1861/01/21/news/obituary-death-of-lola-montez.html?pagewanted=all

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Two of Sovereign Hill’s actors re-creating the famous incident between Lola Montez and Henry Seekamp, involving her horse whip.