Category Archives: Environment

Animals on the Goldfields

During Ballarat’s gold rushes, there were many animals – both native and introduced – living on the diggings. Some were of great use to the miners and their families as a source of transport or food, while others were security guards, working animals and even served as hot water bottles. Many native animals were just living their lives but when gold mining changed their habitat, they had to relocate to different parts of Victoria as the risk of becoming extinct was high. Let’s explore the roles they played and the lives they would have led back then.

definitions

possum

Rugs made from possum-skins like this one would keep people very warm during a cold Ballarat winter. The Wadawurrung people made these to sell to the miners, who paid a lot of money for such soft and life-saving rugs.

The Wadawurrung people encouraged certain native animals across this region for thousands of years before the arrival of the European squatters and then gold miners in the 1800s. Animals such as brushtail possums, eels and grey kangaroos were plentiful around Ballarat because traditional Wadawurrung landscape management took care of them by making sure their sources of food were in rich supply. This meant that when people wanted to make use of these animals for food or clothing, they could easily be located and collected. However, enough of each species was always left alive at the end of a hunt to ensure people living in this area could keep eating and using products from these animals long into the future.

After 1835, European farmers (known as squatters) brought introduced animals such as sheep, cows, goats, and horses to what we now call the State of Victoria. The introduction of these animals (mainly sheep) and the use of European farming practices changed the landscape in terms of the kinds of plants and trees that covered it. As a result, the habitats for native animals were affected. While some native species survived, others became locally extinct (like quolls, bandicoots and bustards [also known as bush turkeys]) because Europeans ate them in unsustainable numbers, or the introduced animals seized their ecological niche. This means that today there is a mix of native and introduced species wherever you go in Australia, from kookaburras to sparrows in the sky, wombats to foxes on land, and blue-ringed octopuses to European green shore crabs in our oceans.

We had kangaroo-soup, roasted [wild] turkey well stuffed, a boiled leg of mutton, a parrot-pie, potatoes, and green peas; next, a plum pudding and strawberry-tart, with plenty of cream. Katherine Kirkland (who lived in Trawalla – 40kms west of Ballarat), Life in the Bush. By a Lady, 1845, p.23.

mutton.png

Here is one of our Education Officers taking visiting students to the Butcher’s Shamble, where miners could buy mutton (this mutton however, is made of plastic).

The gold rushes began in 1851 and brought hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world to the shores of Victoria. Many of these new migrants transported yet more animals with them. Dogs were particularly useful companion animals on the diggings because they could keep you warm at night and guard your tent/hut while you were goldmining. For this reason, there are many dogs featured in the sketches of ST Gill, one of the most famous goldrush artists. Some animals were even introduced from the late 1850s onward to help Europeans ease their homesickness! Songbirds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds were thought to make the Australian bush sound more like England.

horse

The most useful of horse breeds on the diggings were draft horses, also known as Clydesdales – these are the biggest and strongest type of horse.

Horses were also in high demand during the early years of the gold rushes (before the need for steam-powered machines increased), as all mining work relied on muscle power. As a horse can typically push/pull the same load as ten people, they were used to lift heavy metal buckets of dirt, rocks and gold from below ground in the first few years of the gold rushes. Likewise, horses could be attached to machines that were used to free gold from paydirt and quartz rock, for example, puddling machines and Chilean mills.  People and goods could also move around by horse (or sometimes bullock). They were attached to coaches or other vehicles to transport larger groups of people and/or numerous goods. Cobb & Co built a coach, which was a bit like a modern bus, called the ‘Leviathan’ (a word meaning big monster). This vehicle could carry up to 60 people from Ballarat to Geelong with the help of 16 horses, but it did not prove very successful.

soap

Sheep fat was commonly used to make soap for washing clothes and bodies. Candles could also be made from animal fat.

Many animals were also brought by the new arrivals for food. Goats and cows were milked to produce dairy products to feed miners and their families, while chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were farmed for eggs and their meat. However, the meat that was most commonly eaten on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s was mutton (old sheep). You can see many animals around Sovereign Hill which represent the animals that were brought here by goldrush migrants. During a visit, you might even spy our museum cat ‘Fergus’ who helps to keep the mice and rats away from the outdoor museum.

Some animals also toured the Victorian goldfields as entertainment – read about the visits from a tiger, an elephant and two zebras that came to Ballarat in the 1850s here.

corset

Even 19th century ladies’ underwear, like this corset, were often made using animal products – the tough ribbing was typically made of baleen whale teeth, while the smooth lining was made by silk worms (the caterpillar of the silk moth).

Next time you visit Sovereign Hill, perhaps you could take photos to write a story book about the many animals that miners would have encountered on the diggings – from native animals to domesticated pets and animals that produce food.

Links and References

An ABC Education ‘digibook’ featuring Bruce Pascoe talking about traditional Aboriginal land management: http://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/3122184/bruce-pascoe-aboriginal-agriculture-technology-an

An ecological niche explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIVixvcR4Jc

A brief history of Victoria: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2017/05/18/the-history-of-victoria/

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans in Australia ate native foods to survive: https://cass.anu.edu.au/news/parrot-pie-and-possum-curry-how-colonial-australians-embraced-native-food

SBS Gold on Australia’s introduced species: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=130

A fact sheet on invasive species in Australia: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/2bf26cd3-1462-4b9a-a0cc-e72842815b99/files/invasive.pdf

The introduction of rabbits in Australia explained by the National Museum Australia: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/rabbits-introduced

A blogpost exploring what was commonly eaten by goldrush immigrants: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

An online version of Katherine Kirkland’s book Life in the Bush. By a Lady, published in 1845: https://tinyurl.com/yxavj9fh

Information on animals introduced to Australia to make European settlers less homesick: http://myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1860/decade_landing_14.html?tabRank=4&subTabRank=3

A blogpost on mid-19th century transport: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/06/25/1850s-transport/

A great Gold Museum blogpost about dogs on the Victorian diggings: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/canine-companions/

More information about the Leviathan coach: https://blog.qm.qld.gov.au/2017/09/13/how-big-was-the-leviathan-monster-coach/

lollies

In the 1850s, animals were even used to create the red colour of raspberry drops. The cochineal beetle from Brazil was dried and ground-up to make red dye. But don’t worry, no living things are harmed in the making of Sovereign Hill’s lollies.

 

Environmental Changes to Victoria’s Landscapes

During the 19th century, what we now call the State of Victoria changed dramatically. In 1800, it was an organised collection of Aboriginal cultural landscapes, and by 1900, it was dotted with new industrial cities while the countryside was covered by farms featuring exotic animals and plants. With the introduction of European farming, the feverish gold rushes, a huge increase in population, and the impacts of the Industrial Revolution, Victoria’s landscapes were completely redesigned in less than a century. Let’s explore how and why the landscape changed, and reflect on some of the consequences of this change.

maps

Maps showing how much the surface of the landscapes have changed in Victoria since colonisation. Reproduced with permission from: https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/naturekit

For tens of thousands of years Victoria’s landscapes were carefully managed by Aboriginal people to produce food, fibre and medicine. In Ballarat, the Wadawurrung people farmed many plants and animals (and in some places still do today), often using fire to weed certain areas or to promote new growth. For example, on the sunny plains they farmed the murnong – a root vegetable like a mini-sweet potato. In forest areas with lots of old trees, they farmed the brushtail possum – the meat was eaten while the pelt (the skin with the fur on) could be turned into warm, waterproof clothing. By looking after landscapes carefully, they made sure there would be plenty of murnong and possums for the next generation and the many who would come after them. Such landscapes are today called Aboriginal cultural landscapes.

for blogAfter 1835, when hundreds and then thousands of European immigrants – mainly English and Scottish people – arrived to colonise South Eastern Australia with their flocks of sheep, traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and landscape management practices were interrupted. In the following sixteen years, almost all of what came to be called Victoria was divided up and made the private property of individual European farmers (known as squatters) and their families, leaving only the largest mountains and deserts un-colonised. The huge amount of wool that was produced as a result of this was sent to the new factories of England, and made many of these squatters very rich. Some historians believe this was the fastest land-grab in human history, with fences, foreign animals and protective European farmers with guns taking over. This meant the food, fibre and medicine that was being produced across Victoria’s landscapes changed radically in a very short time.

pastoral map

A map of Victoria which demonstrates how quickly European colonisation happened in this part of Australia. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum Ballarat Collection.

It is thought that the murnong was nearly extinct within 1-3 years after the arrival of sheep, because these new animals ate it and at the same time changed the nature of Victoria’s soils with their hard feet. Now, murnong is only found in a few places across the state. It fed people for tens of thousands of years (thought to have eight times more nutrition than the potatoes we buy from the supermarket today) and was a staple of Aboriginal diets all across South Eastern Australia (meaning it was eaten regularly, like most Australians now eat bread). Its sudden disappearance had grave consequences for 19th century Aboriginal communities.

The rapid changes to local landscapes left many Aboriginal people hungry. Occasionally they stole sheep, fruit and vegetables from the European farms to keep their families from starving. Some of the squatters reacted by killing the Aboriginal people who took these possessions, or any other Aboriginal people they found on or near their farms after a theft had taken place. As a result, we know that at least 69 massacres of Aboriginal people (where 6 or more people are killed at a time) occurred during the first sixteen years of European colonisation of what we now call Victoria.

Many Aboriginal people survived this period in our history – commonly called the “Squatter Era” – by adapting to the new colonial culture and economy. This often meant learning English, wearing European clothes, and eating the foods common to a European diet at the time. Due to this cultural change and a lack of access to land, Victorian Aboriginal people could no longer practice their landscape management to produce the foods, fibres and medicines of their ancestors. The old staple foods of murnong and possum had been replaced by wheat and lamb.

Black Thursday post-restoration

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th. 1851, 1864. Reproduced with permission from the State Library of Victoria Collection. The largest fire in Victoria’s history happened in the summer of 1851. It burnt one quarter of the state, killed millions of animals, and a handful of people. Some believe this fire was so ferocious because Aboriginal people had not been able to practice traditional landscape management techniques (like firestick farming) for the 16 years beforehand, thanks to the arrival of sheep farmers. This meant that “fuel” (like dry leaves, branches, dead trees etc.) had built up across the state, making this a devastating fire both economically and environmentally.

Then, in 1851, some of Victoria’s landscapes began another transformation – the rush for gold brought thousands of new immigrants with shovels, axes and gold pans, eager to find their fortune. These gold seekers quickly multiplied (more than 500,000 new arrivals came to Victoria from all over the world between 1851 and 1861, which is the fastest population increase that Australia has ever experienced) as did the environmental change they caused to landscapes in the hunt for shiny yellow metal. Most did not plan to stay on the goldfields – or even in Australia – for long, and thought little of the lasting environmental impacts of their mining activities. Soil was upturned, rivers diverted and polluted, and trees were cut down at a rapid rate. These new arrivals all needed food, shelter and water, and took whatever could be collected from local landscapes, causing a number of plants and animals that had survived the Squatter Era to become locally extinct.

After the social change brought about by the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, many miners decided to stay and make goldfields like Ballarat, Bendigo and Beechworth, a permanent home. At this time, some local landscapes started to be protected for their beauty, or for their good soil for farming. However, this permanency also brought the Industrial Revolution to Victoria, with its wood-hungry steam engines and CO2 emissions. This transformed landscapes again. Trains, boilers, factories and foundries created urban industrial landscapes around Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo which demanded yet more natural resources to be taken from local environments and re-purposed.

steam ops

Sovereign Hill employee in the role of Boiler Attendant feeds a boiler to produce the steam to power working steam exhibits. During Australia’s Industrial Revolution, lots of communities burnt wood from local forests, instead of coal like their European equals to power their steam engines.

From this, modern Victoria as we know it today was born. There are many places across this state where sheep are still farmed, gold is still mined, and factories and foundries still operate. While Aboriginal landscape management practices were disrupted across most of Victoria for more than 180 years, in many places these practices are now being revived by Aboriginal communities and government agencies to help restore biodiversity, and manage bushfire risk. So, next time you travel around Victoria in a car/bus/train/plane, take a moment to think about how much the landscape has changed in recent history, and how it might change again in the future.

Links and References

Australia’s Aboriginal farming history in a nutshell: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/indigenous-historian-bruce-pascoe-says-weve-got-our-story-all-wrong/news-story/70518cd1c35efd73c126ec0c19bb8281

The National Museum of Australia has produced a free video series on Australian history, including environmental history: https://www.nma.gov.au/learn/classroom-resources/australian-journey

A free online podcast series made by La Trobe University on Australia’s environmental history: https://itunes.apple.com/au/course/australian-environmental-history/id499537077

The Australian Research Council on “Australia’s Epic Story”: https://epicaustralia.org.au/

Australia and New Zealand’s environmental history by professors Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths: https://ceh.environmentalhistory-au-nz.org/wp-content/uploads/Environmental_History_in_Australasia_2004.pdf

ANU Professor Tim Bonyhady’s take on Australia’s environmental history in “The Colonial Earth” (2003): https://www.bookdepository.com/Colonial-Earth-Tim-Bonyhady/9780522850536

The State Library of Victoria Ergo Blog on Victoria’s experiences of environmental change: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/land-exploration/environment

SBS Gold on the environmental impacts of the gold rushes: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=124

Is modern Australian farming broken? https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-dark-emu-and-the-blindness-of-australian-agriculture-97444

An article from The Conversation called “What Australia can learn from Victoria’s shocking biodiversity record”: https://theconversation.com/what-australia-can-learn-from-victorias-shocking-biodiversity-record-113757

How? When? Why? – The Industrial Revolution in Australia

Last of England

Ford Maddox Brown, The Last of England, 1855, reproduced with permission from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Student visitors to Sovereign Hill often explore this painting during our education sessions because it can tell us interesting stories about the hundreds of thousands of people who came to Australia during the height of Ballarat’s gold rush. Painted by Ford Maddox Brown, it is entitled ‘The Last of England’. If we could, we would ask these people about the skills and ideas they are bringing with them to Australia, because these are the kind of people who shaped modern Australia into the country it is today. You can watch a source analysis of this artwork here. For better or for worse, European immigrants like these brought the Industrial Revolution, democracy, and a completely new agricultural system to this land ‘girt by sea’.

Let’s explore these imported skills and ideas in more detail.

Definitions:

Europeans realised there was gold in Victoria in 1851 at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In the same year Queen Victoria launched her Great Exhibition in London which showcased England’s new industrial technologies. Many of the six million people — equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time — who visited the Great Exhibition, were soon to join the mass migration to the Australian goldfields. They brought with them Industrial Revolution knowledge, experience and skills – many had ridden in trains, worked in factories, and believed that the ‘Age of Steam’ had made Britain the most powerful nation on Earth, and could have a similar impact on Australia.

Gill

At the start of the Victorian gold rushes, only simple hand-held and often handmade technologies (like the ones in this sketch) were needed to find gold, but by the 1860s steam-powered machines were required to extract gold from deep underground. S. T. Gill, Prospecting, from The Australian Sketchbook, c.1865, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

After the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, the muddle of goldminers’ tents that people called ‘Ballaarat’ (a local Aboriginal [Wadawurrung] word for resting place) became a more permanent city. As the easily accessible gold started to run out, these immigrants began importing steam-powered machines from Britain so they could mine for gold trapped deeper underground. This meant that Ballarat’s mining changed from an individual occupation to a company (group) project, and helped to keep people here once the initial ‘rush’ was over. Without these technologies (which among other things pumped water out of mines and fresh air in, powered elevators, and crushed quartz to extract its gold) the Ballarat gold rush would probably have come to a grinding halt.

During the 1860s and 70s, many Ballaratians invested their gold wealth in local factories and foundries to build their own industrial machinery, such as steam engines and boilers. This meant that you didn’t have to wait a long time for your steam engine to arrive on a ship from the other side of the planet, you could instead purchase it (much more cheaply) from a foundry just down the road.

 

Phoenix

The Phoenix Foundry in Ballarat – capable of smelting iron to create steam engine components and steam trains. S. Calvert, PHOENIX FOUNDRY, BALLARAT. – THE ENGINE FITTING ROOM (where Target in central Ballarat is located today) 1873, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

Many Victorian towns had been built on gold by this time, but many withered and died as soon as their gold ran out, to the point that many are now ghost towns. However, Ballarat and Bendigo are major regional cities today, and although there are still gold mines in or near both, they do not rely on gold to continue to grow. So what are the things that decided whether a town would grow, survive or die after a gold rush? We think the answer involves the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Australia.

The decision to change the local economies and jobs in these cities from mining to manufacturing, helped these cities to continue to grow and thrive. Immigrants with experience building railways, factories, foundries, and deep mines back in Britain used their knowledge and skills to start an Industrial Revolution here. Had it not been for the gold rushes, it may have taken much longer for such steam-powered inventions to arrive in Australia.

By 1900 the Ballarat region was dotted with steam-powered machines, and the people who lived here enjoyed mass-produced and therefore cheaply-made goods. Much came from local factories, but as steam trains and ships were making product transport much faster and safer than people had experienced before, buying things from overseas became easier than ever. Tractors and other farm technologies, along with introduced plants and animals (such as wheat and sheep) were also industrialising the way food, fibre and medicines were produced, and because we could support a growing population with jobs and food, modern Australia started taking shape.

 

Queen Mine

Enter aAn example of a (steam-powered) company quartz mine in Ballarat. F. Kruger, Queen Mine (near Black Hill, Ballarat), 1887, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat. caption

Australia’s Industrial Revolution did have some significant environmental impacts which should be explored – namely in the way it required lots of trees to be chopped down to burn in boilers (local wood was also used to build houses and line mineshafts). This deforestation devastated local forests and caused the localised extinction of many plants and animals. Due to advances in industrial mining and transport technology, when wood couldn’t be regrown fast enough to replace what was being burned/built with, Australians started burning coal to produce power instead (once huge quantities of it were discovered). Read more about the environmental impacts of the Victorian gold rushes and Australia’s Industrial Revolution here.

While democracy – like the Industrial Revolution – was on its way to Australia one way or another, it is often argued by historians that the gold rushes and the Eureka Rebellion helped it get here faster. You can read more about this here.

 

Yr9 IR

Some Year 9 students learning about the arrival of steam power in Australia and visiting many of Sovereign Hill’s related museum exhibits through the education session entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

In summary, we think that Australia’s Industrial Revolution was likely sped-up by the gold rushes. If you would like to visit Sovereign Hill to learn more about this topic, we offer an education session for students entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

 

Links and References

Wikipedia on the Industrial Revolution: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on England: https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution

A great video about the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c

A Sovereign Hill Education video on the Industrial Revolution in Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVW6Xq3Pd4

An old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/06/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia/

Another old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia: Part 2’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/04/29/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia-part-2/

Sovereign Hill Education Blog on the ‘Environmental Impacts of the Gold Rush’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2014/09/01/the-environmental-impact-of-the-gold-rush/

A history of Ballarat featuring lots of great primary source images: http://ballaratgenealogy.org.au/ballarat-history

Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution

The Khan Academy on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/acceleration/bhp-acceleration/a/the-industrial-revolution

A Gold Museum blog about a model train made by apprentices at Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry in 1878: https://goldmuseumballarat.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/phoenix-foundry-model-locomotive-engine/

A podcast about the environmental impacts of Ballarat’s gold rush: https://talesfromratcity.com/2018/08/12/episode-eight/

A blogpost from the MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences): https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/08/29/industrial-revolution-in-australia-impact-on-manufacturing-in-the-1800s/

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!

Occasionally at Sovereign Hill 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.

Life before plastic

parkesine

An example of 19th century nitrocellulose jewellery – if you rubbed it, it could explode! From Wikipedia Commons.

Many visiting students are shocked to learn that plastic didn’t exist in 19th century Australia. The Industrial Revolution, which began in England around 1750, encouraged the creation of many products which could be mass-produced in the newly-invented factories. Some plastic-like products – like fake ivory jewellery – were being produced as early as the 1860s, but the nitrocellulose from which they were made was extremely dangerous. Wikipedia says ‘When dry, nitrocellulose is explosive and can be ignited with heat, spark, or friction’! Therefore, the development of modern plastics (largely made from the fossil fuel crude oil) is a 20th century story. So how did people survive without plastic in the 1800s?

At Sovereign Hill, we have numerous garbage and recycling bins so our visitors can dispose of their rubbish responsibly, but these didn’t really exist in 19th century Ballarat. Before cheap plastics and paper (paper was expensive before we began making it entirely from wood pulp in factories), people rarely produced household waste. Items were reused and often re-purposed, and when they eventually fell apart, they would be disposed of in the fireplace or in the garden where most would biodegrade. Let’s describe a typical (European) family home’s production of waste over a normal goldrush day here in Ballarat to compare and contrast it to a family’s waste output today.

The family wakes at dawn (clocks were made of metal and were therefore expensive, so most people were woken by the sun). Their bedsheets were mass-produced in Manchester, England, from cotton shipped from the United States of America, and their woollen blankets were made in Bradford, England, from wool shipped from Victoria. If they were wealthy, they might also own a hand-made possum-skin rug, bought from the Wadawurrung people – these were sold on the Ballarat diggings for the equivalent of $4000-$5000 in today’s money! All of these items were made to last, and once they had reached the end of lives as sheets and blankets, they would be made into clothes or nappies (most 21st century nappies are made of plastic), used to stuff pillows, or as cleaning rags.

manchester from kersal moor by edward goodall c.1850

An industrial city indeed, full of cotton-spinning factories. Manchester from Kersal Moor, by Edward Goodall, c.1850. From Wikipedia Commons.

The house would be warmed by lighting a fire in the fireplace. This is also where the family meal would be prepared. Today, our energy is produced hundreds of kilometres away, by burning fossil fuels like coal or harnessing the energy of wind through turbines. Their fire fuel – wood – would be cut down from a nearby forest. Even the ash from the fire found other uses in 19th century Australia; ash could be used to make soap, polish metals, keep snails off the lettuce, fertilise the garden, or be used in the outhouse (also known as a ‘dunny’)!

clarke bros

Clarke Bros. Grocers at Sovereign Hill – sometimes we have to wrap food in plastic for safety reasons, even though it isn’t historically accurate.

A breakfast would be prepared using food grown in the garden, or bought at the local grocer’s (the supermarket wasn’t invented for another 70 years!). Most store-bought food would be sold wrapped in paper (often wax paper), or perhaps even weighed and placed immediately into the family’s cooking pot (made of local iron from Lal Lal) or bucket (often made of cheap leather at this time). Only (relatively expensive) preserves like jam or mustard would be sold in glass jars or ceramic (clay) pots. After the meal, food scraps would be used again in cooking (bones for making broth/soup) or fed to the family chickens/pigs/goats/dog. The wax paper would be reused to wrap other foods until it disintegrated (the invention of Tuppaware was nearly 100 years off) and it would then be thrown in the fire. Jars or ceramic pots would be saved for another household purpose. The plates used to eat such a meal would have most likely been made in Staffordshire, England from nearby natural clays, and then shipped (by wind/steam power) to Australia. Drinking water was collected from local rivers and groundwater pumps.

If children were lucky enough to be sent to school, there they would learn the ‘3 R’s’ (reading, writing, and arithmetic) using slate boards and graphite pencils (which would last many generations of students) in the younger years, and after Grade 4 would begin using paper, ink, and dip pens (but only if they passed the Grade 3 writing test – paper was too expensive to make inky mistakes on!). For most children except the very wealthy, 19th century toys were typically handmade from wood or animal bones (which are all biodegradable materials, unlike plastic). As school uniforms were yet to be invented, children simply wore their normal clothes to school.

howmuchclothingwasted

Clothes waste in the 21st century – a big problem because much of it will never biodegrade. From Wikipedia Commons.

While cloth for making things like sheets and clothing was getting cheaper in price thanks to the Industrial Revolution, most people – including children – merely owned two to three outfits at any one time. The wardrobe only became common in houses in the 20th century when ready-to-wear clothing became fashionable and was being produced very cheaply. Therefore, in the 19th century your clothing was cared for, and carefully patched and refitted, until the fabric disintegrated. Clothing was most commonly made of cotton (or sometimes other biodegradable natural fibres like wool or silk), whereas today lots of the clothing in your wardrobe is made of plastic.

While the children were at school, and wives/mothers busied themselves with 19th century housewifery, men would be at work. Most men in Ballarat worked in the goldmining industry, or in another industry that supported mining, such as a candleworks or foundry. These types of workplaces produced some waste (but nothing in comparison to most industries today!), and while some was biodegradable, some industrial waste from the 19th century is still causing pollution to Ballarat’s soil and waterways today (like arsenic from mining). The safety clothes men wore (if any!) were made from thick leather and would often last their entire working lives.

At lunch time, family members would return home for a hot meal prepared by the woman of the house. If the wife/mother had found the time to visit the grocer, baker, or butcher (all selling food produced locally – refrigeration wasn’t invented yet, so only dry food like flour, lentils and herbs could travel vast distances), she may have fresh food to serve the family. Otherwise, people ate preserved foods like salted meat, stewed fruits or re-hydrated beans. Fizzy drinks were invented in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that mass-produced glass and good sealing techniques made these beverages widely available. Dinner would be similar to lunch, and any leftovers would be saved for the next meal.

At night, candles made from animal fat (called tallow) would be lit if the family could afford it. Soap was also made from animal fat at this time. Again, today your candles and soaps are most commonly made of petrochemicals (taken from crude oil, the same as plastic).

PreCutProduce

A typical sight at the supermarket today – food wrapped in plastic. From Wikipedia Commons.

So, no plastic for covering or storing food, no plastic for toys, no clothes made from plastic, and no plastic safety wear at work. No drinks in plastic bottles, no plastic bags to carry the groceries, and no plastic pens and rulers etc. for school. This meant there was no need for weekly bin collections – because there were no bins! Life certainly was different in the 1850s.

Links and References

What is plastic?: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic

The history of waste management: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_waste_management

An ABC Catalyst episode on the arsenic in Ballarat’s soil: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2843289.htm

A 4-part vlog on life as an 1850s woman produced by Sovereign Hill: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/students/video/woman-of-the-hill/

A great documentary series about the history of the rooms of our houses (and many of the items you can find in them): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrn42rvTlpk

Fire in the 19th Century

Capture

Fire is an important yet destructive force in Australia.

Fire was an important tool for Australians new and old in the 19th century, but it could also be an enemy of gold miners and farmers alike.

Aboriginal People used fire to help them with hunting, and to promote the growth of valued edible and medicinal plants. This land management system also had the benefit of keeping “bush fuel” (leaf litter, fallen branches etc.) from building up to cause huge, dangerous fires. Many historians and scientists argue that Aboriginal People regularly and strategically burned parts of their country in this way for tens of thousands of years. Learn more about this here.

When large numbers of European People arrived in Victoria in the 1830s, a lot of land was cleared to grow more grass for sheep. The felled trees were used to build houses and fuel the fires people needed for cooking and heating, and later yet more trees were felled to reinforce the mineshafts and feed the boiler houses of Australia’s industrial revolution.

HH squattors

A page from Sovereign Hill’s new website about the Aboriginal side of the goldrush story. Learn more about Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People here.

In places like Ballarat where people searched for gold in deep quartz mines once the alluvial deposits dried up, gold workings relied on steam power, which came from boiler houses fuelled with wood taken from the surrounding bush.

By 1851, farming had changed much of Victoria’s landscape from what it looked like before European colonisation. Fire was no longer a key land management tool but instead a threat to fear. Very few Aboriginal communities were still able to routinely burn their country, which meant bush fuel had the opportunity to build up. Within 16 years of the arrival of European People, almost all of the farmable land in Victoria had been turned into private property owned by squatters (European farmers). View a map that outlines this sudden change to the Victorian landscape here.

Some historians argue that as a result of this change in land management systems, one of Australia’s largest fires in recorded history occurred in 1851, the same year gold was discovered. Black Thursday, as it was later called, saw a quarter of Victoria burn, killing 12 people and destroying 1 million sheep. There is a famous painting of this catastrophe at the State Library by celebrated goldrush artist William Strutt, entitled “Black Thursday, 6th February 1851”.

Ballarat’s firefighting history

SH Fire

A re-enactment of 19th century fire fighters putting out a staged fire as part of Fire Awareness Week 2015 at Sovereign Hill.

European and later Chinese miners on the diggings needed to use fire daily to warm and light their huts, cook their food and boil their tea. However, due to a combination of highly flammable eucalypt trees growing around the township, and its many wooden buildings etc., it was no surprise that dangerous fires featured in people’s experiences of Ballarat goldrush life.

1 December 1855: Got into Ballarat by the Red Streak (coach service) where we beheld the scene of last night’s fire. The American Hotel, the Adams Express premises and a clothing establishment next to it, and all along to the Charlie Napier which, God knows, had escaped. Several stores on the opposite side of the street had caught and were burned down. Report says eleven lives have been lost. The proprietor, Nicholls, was awakened by the noise and left his room. When he got into the lobby he recollected having left his pocket book with £90 below his pillow and returned to get it, but this delay cost him his life for he got so severely burned that he died about 9 o’clock this morning.Victorian Goldfields Diary, manuscript diary by an unidentified prospector on the Ballarat and surrounding goldfields during 1855–1856.

As a result of the danger that fire presented to the community, Victorian towns established dedicated fire brigades to tackle fires caused by campfires, candles, oil lamps and lightning strikes. In 1856 Ballarat’s first fire brigade was formed and relied entirely on volunteers. Horse-drawn hose carriages and water carts raced to a fire when the alarm bell sounded. To fight a fire, firemen used leather buckets, hooks, ladders and tomahawks. Water was very precious,so instead of using it to fight the fire they often tore down buildings in the path of the fire to stop its spread.

pump

The Yarrowee, an original, hand-operated pumping engine from the 19th century on display at Sovereign Hill.

Along with the famous burning down of James Bently’s Eureka Hotel in the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, in 1859 the Ballarat Town Hall burned to the ground!

At Sovereign Hill we have built an Engine House based on a photograph of the nearby Smythesdale Fire Brigade Hall of the mid-1860s. The pumping engine it houses is an original Shand Mason hand-operated device, and is called the Yarrowee, probably after the nearby Yarrowee River. It was recently used during Fire Action Week to demonstrate how important fire fighters are in our community.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association future fire plans

There is still a lot to learn about fire use and management here in Australia. As a result, members of our research team at Sovereign Hill are keen to test some land management techniques we think were used by Wadawurrung People in this region before European colonisation. At our 2000 hectare, historic pastoral property Narmbool, we are planning to control-burn a patch of grassland area to see if we can improve the growth of Kangaroo Grass. We hope this fire will also cause old seeds lying dormant in the soil to germinate and start growing interesting, indigenous plants that haven’t been seen on the property for over one hundred years. Many plants in Australia require fire to make their seeds germinate, they are called fire-promoting plants, like eucalypts. Other Australian plants are fire-tolerant, like grass trees, while others are fire-sensitive, like native orchids.

Links and references

Get prepared for bushfire season: https://schools.aemi.edu.au/bushfire/bushfires-be-prepared

A visual history of fire fighting in Victoria: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/history-timeline/

Ballarat Fire Brigade artefacts and photos: http://victoriancollections.net.au/organisations/ballarat-fire-brigade

A great article about Australia’s fire history: https://meanjin.com.au/blog/this-continent-of-smoke/

Wikipedia on the history of firefighting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_firefighting

The government Department of Primary Industries research into the effects of fire on Australian plants and animals:  http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/fire-and-emergencies/planned-burns/plants-and-animals

A CSIRO article about the differences between wildfires and “prescribed” fires: http://www.publish.csiro.au/onborrowedtime/docs/PCB_Ch11.pdf

Bradby, D. & Littlejohn, M. Our Stories: Life in Colonial Australia, Walker Books, 2015.

The Environmental Impacts of the Gold Rush

If we compare our environmental footprint to that of those who lived here during the gold rush, it’s easy to think they were gentler on the environment than us. During the 1850s the vast majority of people travelled about on foot, while modern Ballarat is a city of cars. Much of the food they ate was produced locally (mutton) and organically (using human or animal excrement as fertiliser on vegetable gardens) while we eat food with huge food miles, the production of which relies on intensive farming practices. Today, most Australians shower every day, which would have been unheard of in the 1850s; bathing only occurred once a week – if that! – in Victorian times, as clean water was often scarce. Life was simple and more environmentally harmonious before the Industrial Revolution got into full swing here in Australia, right?

Let’s look at the evidence.

Environmental change began in Ballarat when squatters established sheep runs across Victoria after 1835. The millions of sheep which fed on Victoria’s lush natural grasslands during this time not only destroyed much of those grasslands, they also caused the near-extinction of the Myrniong Daisy – the staple plant food of the local Aboriginal people. The Myrniong, which has an edible, nutritious tuber all but vanished within three years following the introduction of sheep.

The second wave of environmental change in Ballarat occurred as a result of the discovery of gold in 1851. According to research undertaken by Dr Fred Cahir, the early miners knew their work to be “the great despoiler of nature” (Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870, 2012, p.118). During the time when surface (alluvial) gold was easy to find, Ballarat was quite literally turned upside down by the diggers. In addition to this, waterways quickly became polluted by the mining itself and by the miners living nearby. Trees were cut down to house and warm the miners, but also to use as timber in the mines.

William Howitt wrote that “The diggers seem to have two especial [sic] propensities, those of firing guns and felling trees. It is amazing what a number of trees they fell.” (Land, Labour and Gold, 1855, p.176-7).

In 1852 the artist Eugène von Guérard, wrote:

Just a year since my arrival at Ballarat, and how changed it all is in that short time. Stretches of fine forest transformed into desolate-looking bare spaces, worked over and abandoned. In many parts, where a year ago all was life and activity, there now is a scene of desolation. At the same time the population has enormously increased, and there is less and less chance of having a lucky find… (Smith, Documents on Art and Taste in Australia: The Colonial Period 1770-1914, 1975, p. 119).

Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill - 1857

S.T. Gill, Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill, 1857, Gold Museum Collection.

Ballarat’s forests, soil composition, waterways, and air quality were all profoundly impacted by the post-1851 population boom and the mining practices of these immigrants. Further evidence of this can be seen in the two drawings by Samuel Thomas Gill. “Ballarat Flat from the Black Hill” shows a vast, largely treeless plain with only small tufts of grass between the mounds of unearthed clay. The purpose-built cart in the background of “The Splitters” suggests the considerable size of the timber industry by 1864.

Splitters

S.T. Gill, Splitters, 1864, Gold Museum Collection.

The photo “Black Hill and Railway” by William Bardwell shows Ballarat’s light-coloured clay which is here excavated and piled up in enormous mounds which loom over the centre of the city.

Black hill and Railway - 1874

W. Bardwell, Black Hill and Railway, 1874, Gold Museum Collection.

The Black Hill area was the only site in Ballarat where open-cut mining was practiced. Although not visible in this image, the principle waterway in Ballarat, the Yarrowee River, runs along the bottom of this clay moonscape and was used for steam production and washing (to separate gold from soil) by the Black Hill Quartz Mining Company pictured on the far right. Fortunately, Black Hill has now been completely reforested by trees which hide much of its ugly upturned history. Similarly, the photo “Llanberis Mine” shows a damaged landscape, silted water (on the left) and air pollution resulting from the introduction of largely wood-fuelled steam boilers which powered the mines from the 1860s onwards. In the steam powered stamper batteries, quartz rock was crushed into powder to extract the gold. This process not only consumed a lot of trees and water, it also utilised dangerous chemicals like mercury and cyanide which no doubt lingered in the landscape for a long time.

Llanberis Mine, Ballarat - 1906

Llanberis Mine, Ballarat, 1906, Gold Museum Collection.

The city of Ballarat was built as a direct result of this environmental damage, but to a degree the wounds on the landscape have healed. Trees in backyards and public parks have brought wildlife back to the city, and the Yarrowee River now has a great walking track along it which takes people past lovely bush areas and relics from our mining history. The people of the Ballarat gold rush left a much more visible mark on the environment than us, but are we really doing a better job at caring for nature? What will be written about our treatment of the environment in 150 years?

Links and References:
Cahir, Fred. Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870, ANU Press, 2012: https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/aboriginal-history-monographs/black-gold

Goodman, David. Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, Allen and Unwin, 1994, http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/9718935

Howitt, William. Land, Labour and Gold, Cambridge University Press, 1855, http://goo.gl/UmMvAU

Smith, Bernard. Documents on Art and Taste in Australia: The Colonial Period 1770-1914, Oxford University Press, 1975.

On the Myrniong Daisy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microseris_lanceolata

On the Myrniong Daisy – http://www.bundianway.com.au/yamfields.htm

Eugène von Guérard, Warrenheip Hills near Ballarat 1854, oil on canvas on plywood, 46.0 x 75.5 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-03/eugene-von-guerard-warrenheip-hills-near-ballarat/2702474

A similar blog on the environmental impact of gold – http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=124