Nothing but Gold: The Diggers of 1852
by Robyn Annear
Rereading sections of Robyn Annear’s wonderful gold rush history is like reacquainting oneself with a beloved long lost friend. Even better, it evokes a witty conversation where all your best thoughts and lines are voiced with perfect timing. Some of Annear’s repartee may make the reader laugh out loud. After quoting a frazzled dispatch from Governor La Trobe explaining the difficulties of the early gold rush Annear writes:
“You’ve got to admire the man’s grammatical pluck – in the teeth of chaos, he still remembered not to split his infinitives”
Annear’s prose provides a colourful insight into the goldfields’ experience for the average miner. In describing to road to Mt. Alexander she writes
“Alec Finlay, a Van Dieman’s Land squatter with an eye for a carcass, reckoned he saw a dead horse or bullock every half mile, all the way up to the diggings. In the worst of the bogs, there would be as many as five or six carcasses, half submerged and rotting. At Carlsruhe, about half way to Bendigo, a leg-pulling cart-driver claimed to have seen an entire bullock team swallowed in a bog. Only a pair of horns stuck out of the mud, he said, but the bullocky’s chocking voice wafted up faintly from the depths, still cursing his charges and threatening the other ‘bloody bastards’ on the road…”
This book is decorated with her pithy observations and witty lines. But as you may have already guessed, the book is better suited to an adult rather than a student audience – it is excellent teacher background material.
While it is a good read, this book is also tremendously well researched and littered with short, first-hand quotes. If you’ll pardon the pun, these primary sources are ‘gold’ for history teachers and it is worth trawling this publication to find them for your students. And it is easy trawling. Chapters are thematically based (for example: The Road, The Tent, Tentkeeping, The Land of Chops and Steaks) which makes for easy navigation.
Nothing but Gold has a strong focus on the Mt. Alexander Diggings around Castlemaine and many of Annear’s quotes refer to this area. The initial chapters give a good overview of the early discoveries and their international effect.
Robyn Annear is not only a good historian but a talented story teller to boot. We strongly recommend this reference for teachers doing a unit on the gold rushes. It is a good read, it is well researched and full of gems you can use with your students. Annear has also authored a number of other very readable Victorian history books which you can read about on her website.
This post was written as part of our celebrations for the National Year of Reading.