Indigenous Stories of the Goldfields

Exploration/Law and Order

This Blog may contain images and names of deceased people, it may also contain words and descriptive terms that may be offensive to Indigenous Australians.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill.

Bushmans Hut by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection.

Often the perceptions that are held of Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush period of Australian history were that; Aboriginal people were marginalised and only involved on the periphery of mining areas, that they did not understand what was happening and, the experience of Aboriginal people was very negative. Now a new book is casting a whole different perspective on Aboriginal involvement in Goldfields history. “Black Gold” by Dr Fred Cahir of the University of Ballarat provides a wider view of the contributions made by Aboriginal people during the Gold Rush era of Australian history. Dr Cahir gives specific examples to show the contribution to goldfields life by Aboriginal people, in exploration, and Law and Order in Goldfields society.

Aboriginal Gold Exploration

Rather than standing aside and watching on as Europeans explored for gold, there is much evidence of Aboriginal people not only leading the Europeans to rich deposits, but when they realised the value placed on gold by the newcomers, Aboriginals started to mine the metal themselves. One example of this search for gold appears in the Melbourne Argus on October 3rd 1866:

Group of Aborigines, sitting and standing, whole-length, full face, wearing animal skins, some holding weapons. Picture taken by Antoine Fauchery approx. 1857  State Library of Victoria collection

Group of Aborigines, sitting and standing, whole-length, full face, wearing animal skins, some holding weapons. Picture taken by Antoine Fauchery approx. 1857
State Library of Victoria collection

“On Saturday morning”, says the Maryborough Advertiser, “a party of aborigines commenced a search for gold on the pipeclay at the White Hills, near Mark Drewin’s store, and in a very short time they discovered pieces which they sold for 12shillings, 15shillings, and 10 pounds odd. They say the same party were successful some time since in the neighbourhood of Amherst and Talbot”…

This is just one article that mentions Aboriginal people searching for gold, there are many more and a quick search of Trove will uncover many more. Here is one example worth searching: The Melbourne Argus 26 July 1864.

Law and Order

One of the most obvious contributions made by Aboriginal people to Law and Order on the goldfields was the Native Police Corps. These were the first police on the goldfields, and they were an important presence helping to search for unlicensed diggers and upholding the law especially on the Ballarat diggings. William Strutt , an artist and miner described the Native Police in his journal:

Native Police by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

Native Police by S. T. Gill. Gold Museum Collection

…fine and interesting corps of aboriginal black Troopers did their share of duty here before they were unwisely disbanded… The useful black troopers were for a time made to escort prisoners to town (as also drawn by me) these fine fellows were at first the only mounted police, and indeed performed all the police duty at the Ballarat Diggings…

Strutt painted a watercolour of two Native policemen escorting a prisoner from Ballarat to Melbourne which is owned by the Victorian parliament. You can view a reproduction of this image on the Public records office website , which also has a more detailed account of the Native Police.

This Blog has only touched on the contributions made by Aboriginal people to goldfields history. If you want to find out more you could read “Black Gold” by Fred Cahir, leave us a comment or you could try these web resources:

http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/aborigines-gold-rush

http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00007b.htm

http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=53

http://www.prov.vic.gov.au/online-exhibitions/nativepolice/background.html

2 responses to “Indigenous Stories of the Goldfields

  1. Nice post!

  2. Fascinating insight – thank you!

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