Category Archives: Indigenous

Women on the Goldfields Part 2 – Working Outside the Home

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Alice Cornwall, also known as ‘Madam Midas’ ran a company mine and became a millionaire by the age of 30. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

While getting dirty hands in search of gold was viewed as a man’s job in the imported European culture of 1850s Victoria, there were many hardworking and enterprising women making a living in Ballarat during this era. In addition to managing families and households, some women on the goldfields opened shops and eateries, or worked as teachers and entertainers. There is even evidence that a few women swapped their skirts for trousers to search for gold, one became a newspaper editor, and later in the 1800s a woman named Alice Cornwall became a millionaire by the age of 30 through the company mine she owned!

Back then, it was rare for a married woman in Europe to hold a job outside her home, or to play a role in public life. However, the conditions on Australia’s goldfields provided some women with new opportunities and different lifestyles compared to their equals back in Europe. This second blogpost in our series on 1850s goldrush women explores their roles in Victorian communities beyond the home.def2

Working Wadawurrung Women on the Diggings

The Wadawurrung women of the Ballarat region experienced rapid changes to their lifestyles and local environment when Europeans began to colonise South Eastern Australia in the early 19th century. Therefore, by the time the gold rushes began in Ballarat 1851, historians tell us that some Wadawurrung people already spoke English and understood the new political and economic systems that Europeans had introduced. Using their skills in tanning/sewing possum skins, sourcing native food and medicine, fossicking for gold, putting on cultural performances and taking Europeans on tours of the landscape, Wadawurrung women (and men) made money from Europeans by supplying these goods and services. According to oral history handed down by members of the Wadawurrung community, European families also turned to Wadawurrung women when they needed someone to babysit their children.

Working European Women on the Diggings

In the early 1850s, there weren’t many European women living in Ballarat. As explained in Women on the Goldfields Part 1, most of the people who came to try their luck on Australia’s goldfields were European (mostly from Britain), and gold rush communities tended to be male-dominated during this time. By the mid-1850s, Ballarat had become one of the richest places in the world, and as a result of this and the government push to encourage female immigration, the number of (mostly young) women on the goldfields grew.

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Author unknown, Bush scene, three women panning for gold, c.1855-1910. Reproduced with permission from the State Library of Victoria.

I saw the other day four or five of these fellows strolling on behind their cart. Amongst them was a young woman very well dressed, wearing a sun-bonnet … [with] a full flap behind at least a foot long, to screen the neck. On one shoulder she had a gun, and in the other hand a basket, while one of the men carried a baby, and another a swag. … You see a good many women going up on the whole, and some of them right handsome young girls. They all seem very cheerful and even merry; and the women seem to make themselves very much at home in this wild, nomadic life. – William Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold, 1855 (1972 ed.), Victoria, p.64.

Ballarat’s immigrant women proved themselves hardworking and capable, and many appear to have made the most of the opportunity to take up jobs on the goldfields. While housewifery was a highly respected family and community role for European women to perform during this era, some of these goldrush women did all of the work for their households and worked outside their homes as well.

Part of the reason some women took on extra work was due to economics. Food, clothing and household items (much of which was imported from Europe) were very expensive on the diggings, and households with two working adults usually lived more comfortably than those relying on just one income. The main motivation for these immigrants to journey to Australia in the first place was to make money, and the more creative and resourceful you were (whether you were male or female), the more successful you were likely to be.

Some women also took up work that was usually the domain of men at this time – such as school teacher, shop assistant or hotel manager – because the men in the community were too busy searching for gold to perform these roles. Since the social norms that influenced the way Europeans were supposed to behave were somewhat relaxed on the diggings, some women saw an opportunity to work and took it.

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A costumed character at Sovereign Hill selling her potent ‘other drinks’ (sly grog) from her tent to support her family after the disappearance of her husband – a common goldrush experience for women on the early diggings.

Being practical and resilient were important characteristics for all to demonstrate on Victoria’s goldfields. Some women had to work because they were abandoned by their husbands. It was fairly common for men to suffer deadly accidents as a result of the dangers that come with gold mining, while others ventured to different Australian goldfields and never returned to their wives and families. When such abandoned women had children to support (and didn’t already have a job), if they could not immediately remarry or turn to charity (there was no Centrelink back then – churches did most of this type of welfare work) they sometimes had to resort to selling sly grog or even their bodies to pay the family’s bills.

Regardless of the work they did, European women arguably built a new kind of womanhood for themselves in Australia, which challenged the gentle, modest 19th century femininity they were expected to perform. This attempt at creating a new culture was part of a broader push by the youthful and broadminded goldrush communities around Australia to challenge European social norms. Some women who thought along these lines even became involved in the Eureka Rebellion.

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Anastasia Hayes was a mother, school teacher and Eureka rebel. Reproduced with permission from the Public Records Office of Victoria.

Some very adventurous European women from Victoria’s gold rushes who have interesting stories to explore include Clara Seekamp, Fanny Finch, Martha Clendinning, Anastasia Hayes, Lola Montez, Edward (ne Ellen) De Lacy, Caroline Chisholm, Anne Fraser Bon, Alice Cornwall, Eliza Perrin, Catherine Bently, Anastasia Withers, Céleste de Chabrillan, Ellen Clacy, Harriette Walters, Sarah Hanmer, Elizabeth Wilson and Bridget Hynes.

As Ballarat became a more permanent township by the 1860s, many of the women who had worked in shops etc. at the start of the gold rush began to return to full-time housewifery. Martha Clendinning was a shopkeeper during the early 1850s, but the more successful her shop became as time went by, the more her femininity and class came under question. 19th century European social norms began to be reapplied, sending women back to the private sphere – so how could she be the respectable doctor’s wife, and lady of the house, when working as a shopkeeper?

The time had gone by when, even on the goldfields, a woman unaccustomed to such work could carry on her business without invidious remarks.  I began to fear my husband might be blamed for allowing me to continue at it.  After the class of residents on the field had become so superior to those of the working class, whom we had found on our first arrival, to whom all species of employment for women seemed perfectly natural if they could carry it on with success. The doctor [her husband] had been most anxious and was greatly pleased when I announced my intention [of selling her shop]. – Martha Clendinning memoirs, 1853-1930.

Chinese Women on the Diggings

By the late 1850s, there were also thousands of Chinese people on Victoria’s goldfields, but only a very small percentage of them were women. The men from China mostly left their wives and children at home to care for their family farms, as most came from agricultural communities.

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The 1861 Census of Victoria shows that women were still performing many roles normally undertaken by men at the time across goldrush communities. Reproduced from Weston Bate’s book called ‘Victorian Gold Rushes’, page 37.

Some of Victoria’s immigrant women in the 1850s were ambitious and outspoken, despite these being uncommon characteristics in women in other parts of the world during this era. However, as time went by and Ballarat became a more permanent community, the social norms of Europe directed women (regardless of whether they were European, Aboriginal, or from any other cultural background) to the private sphere (learn more about this at our next blogpost). This is where they largely stayed until Australian factories needed workers during the 20th century’s World Wars (when women replaced the men who became soldiers). Women only became permanent members of Australia’s workforce in large numbers after the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960-80s.

Links and References:

Sovereign Hill Education’s student research notes about women on the Ballarat goldfields: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

A State Library of Victoria blogpost on women on the goldfields: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/women-goldfields and website about how Victorian women’s lives have changed since the 19th century: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/fight-rights/womens-rights

An SBS blogpost about women on the goldfields: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=27#94

Dr. Claire Wright wrote a book called ‘The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka’ about the women involved in the Eureka Rebellion: https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/the-forgotten-rebels-of-eureka

Women played many different social roles during the Victorian gold rushes: https://theconversation.com/flashers-femmes-and-other-forgotten-figures-of-the-eureka-stockade-20939

A Culture Victoria webpage about the few Chinese women living in 19th century Victoria: https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/immigrants-and-emigrants/many-roads-chinese-on-the-goldfields/voyaging-to-australia/who-were-they/nearly-all-men/

A gender equality timeline made by the Victorian Women’s Trust: https://www.vwt.org.au/gender-equality-timeline-australia/ and a fantastic video telling a similar story: https://vimeo.com/225932476

The gender pay gap in Australian explained: https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/fact-sheets/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics

Sex work on Ballarat’s goldfield: https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3704053/the-brothels-of-ballarat/

 

Women on the Goldfields Part 1 – 19th Century Womanhood

The lives women led in 19th century Australia were similar in some ways and very different in others to those experienced by women in this country today. Much has changed for Australian women in the last 170 years from clothes to hairstyles, average life expectancy and experiences of motherhood.

Over three blogposts we will explore what life was like for women on Victoria’s goldfields between 1851 to 1861. This blogpost will focus on the common characteristics of the women who lived in Ballarat during this era, the second will explain the opportunities goldrush women had to work outside their homes, and the final blogpost will examine domestic life on the goldfields for European women in Australia.def1

The Aboriginal Women of the Ballarat Region

The first women of Ballarat were Wadawurrung women. They have been living in this region for tens of thousands of years and many continue to practice culture on Country (their traditional homeland) today. The lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people changed dramatically when Europeans began colonising Australia (starting in 1788). The changes took place rapidly in goldrush communities like Ballarat because of the speed at which immigrants – both human and animal – arrived from across the seas to live in such places. These new arrivals changed local ecosystems and cut off access to important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural and food production sites.

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.A drawing of a young Wadawurrung woman who lived in Ballarat during the gold rush. W. Strutt, Waran-drenin, 1852. Reproduced with permission from the British Museum.

While many Wadawurrung women adapted quickly to the changing conditions and played a variety of roles in the new European economy and culture that was brought to Australia, others died from introduced diseases/alcohol and at the hands of violent settler-colonisers. By the late 1860s, most were forced off Country to live on reserves and missions in different parts of Victoria. Despite the damage this caused Aboriginal communities, many Wadawurrung women passed their language and culture onto their children, which is one of the reasons why it lives on today.

The Arrival of Non-Aboriginal Women in Ballarat

In the early years of Australia’s gold rushes, most of the non-Aboriginal women on Ballarat’s diggings came from Europe, specifically the British Isles. Female goldrush immigrants took huge risks to get to Australia by ship and hoped to become wealthy through hard work and/or a good marriage. Social mobility was nearly impossible back in Europe, but in Australia, anyone willing to work could strike it rich on a goldfield which is why around half a million new Australians arrived in Victoria during the 1850s.

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John Leech, Alarming Prospect: The Single Ladies off to the Diggings, Punch Pocket Book, 1853. Reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum, The Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

As most of these new arrivals were men, the colonial government (on advice from people like Caroline Chisholm) made many attempts to attract female immigrants because they were considered to be a ‘civilising influence’ on male-dominated goldrush communities like Ballarat. Gold seeking was thought to bring out poor behaviour in some men, and it was believed by many that just the presence of women could restore their more gentlemanly qualities.

Women were in such high demand on the early diggings – not only were they a ‘civilising influence’ but also companions, cooks and cleaners – that ships arriving in the ports of Melbourne or Geelong were often met by miners ready to propose marriage to the first female they clapped eyes on!

Typical 19th Century European Womanhood

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.A costumed character at Sovereign Hill panning for gold in a day cap which is designed to both keep hair clean and provide sun protection.

Religion, culture and tradition have always influenced the way in which people behave and dress. A model mid-19th century European woman was likely to be a Christian who obeyed the social norms that came with this identity. This included being quiet and calm, a loving mother/wife, a dutiful homemaker, and good at following the instructions of men. Such women believed that the Bible should guide their behaviour in addition to their clothing choices. During the daytime, European women wore dresses that covered every part of their body except their faces and hands because a polite Christian woman was expected to be modest and hide her body. This is part of the reason you see costumed women at Sovereign Hill wearing day caps.

Ideally, a European woman would only marry a man who could already afford to house, clothe and feed her and the family they would likely make together. On their wedding day, the bride would wear the best dress she owned in whatever colour she liked. White wedding dresses were popularised by Queen Victoria – but only very wealthy families could afford to dress brides in what was ultimately a one-use dress. Back then it was considered quite normal for European women to be married before the end of their teens, as was having ten or more children. In comparison, 21st century Australian women who choose to get married (which is far less common today than it was in the past) are on average aged 30 and will typically only have one or two children.

Womanhood on Australia’s Goldfields

Some historians suggest that immigrant women on Australia’s 1850s goldfields experienced a different kind of womanhood compared to women back in Europe. This was arguably due to the relative youth of the immigrant population and the opportunities that existed for European women in Australia to work outside their homes.

Many of the European women on the goldfields were in their late teens/early twenties. Their youth helped them survive the tough living and working conditions – raising a family in a tent and having to trudge through deep mud in a Ballarat winter to buy food or harvest it from a vegetable garden was hard work. On average, Australian women at this time in history would only live until they were about 40 years old, while life expectancy for Australian women today is about 80 years old. Their shorter (on average) lives is one of the reasons that 19th century women tended to marry and start families at a younger age than women today.

In Europe, if a woman had a job, perhaps as a seamstress, housemaid, or governess (tutor) at this time in history, she would be fired as soon as she got married (unless she was very poor). From her wedding day onwards, she was expected to be busy managing a household and having children, leaving no time for other work. If poverty forced her to work outside the home, it would be a source of shame for the whole family (you can read more about this here). In Australia, and especially in places like 1850s Ballarat, living conditions changed these social norms.

Women on Australia’s goldfields could ‘bend’ social norms somewhat because they filled essential roles that the community needed in order to function while men focused on mining. They could leave the house (to go shopping, visit friends etc.) once they were visibly pregnant, which in Europe was considered bad manners. Put simply, there were many vital jobs that needed doing, so Ballarat’s women rolled up their sleeves and got to work, whether they were already married or not. You can learn more about this topic in our next blogpost.

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Photographer unknown, (from left to right) Eliza Sharwood, John Sharwood, and an unknown woman, Lot 50, Peel Street South, Ballarat, c.1875. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum, The Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

Once Ballarat became a more permanent community from about the 1860s, the European social norms of the era resumed and women became focussed on life in the private sphere once more.

The lives of Australian women have changed significantly since the 1850s. What social norms do you think have changed for the better and which ones have changed for the worse?

Links and References:

Sovereign Hill Education’s student research notes about women on the Ballarat goldfields: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf

A Crash Course video which summarises how women’s lives have changed in the last 150 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meC5Zl5PC1U&feature=youtu.be&utm_source=hootsuite&utm_medium=&utm_term=&utm_content=&utm_campaign=

A State Library of Victoria blogpost on women on the goldfields: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/life-fields/women-goldfields

An SBS blogpost about women on the goldfields: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=27#94

Two Sovereign Hill Education blogposts on 1850s women’s fashion: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/28/gold-rush-belles-womens-fashion-in-the-1850s/   https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/09/06/gold-rush-undies-womens-fashionable-underwear-in-the-1850s/

A Sovereign Hill Education blogpost on general clothing in the 1850s: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2018/06/19/1850s-fashions-in-australia/

A Sovereign Hill Education blogpost about Queen Victoria: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/05/13/queen-victoria/

Dr. Claire Wright wrote a book called “The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka” about the women involved in the Eureka Rebellion: https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/the-forgotten-rebels-of-eureka

 

 

Sovereign Hill’s Gardens Explained

Many visitors to Sovereign Hill are surprised to see the vegetable and decorative gardens on display around the Outdoor Museum. Did you know that many of the gardens are inspired by understandings of gardens that existed in goldfields towns like Ballarat? Here, we will explore some of their stories and what they can tell us about life on the Victorian goldfields in the 19th century.

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 Peppercorn trees like this one were often planted at schools to provide shade and because they were thought to keep bugs away. This tree is identified by the orange circle on the map.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association gardeners work closely with historians to build the gardens – and even change them from season to season. These spaces tell stories about the kinds of gardens that existed in Ballarat in the 1850s and the people who would have owned them. Some residents of goldrush Ballarat had large, expensive houses and used a beautiful garden to show off their wealth. Other residents grew gardens to feed their families, or provide medicine or vegetables for sale. Trees were also used for shade, to keep the bugs away (such as peppercorn trees), or as posts for displaying advertising posters or important community news. The only lawn you see at Sovereign Hill is next to our modern Café and playspace – back in the gold rush, lawns were not very common because lawnmowers were yet to have motors (they were pushed by hand at this time, which was hard work!) and they were very expensive.

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 A map of the Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum showing the location of the gardens and trees featured in this blogpost.

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The Bright View Cottage sundial garden and rose arch.

The garden in front of the Bright View Cottage has a typically orderly Victorian design. It shows that the owner can afford to use land for decorative and not just practical purposes. While the garden does include some vegetables and herbs (which were more for viewing pleasure than eating), it also includes formal decorative features such as a sundial and hedged garden beds. A rose arch greets visitors as they enter through the white picket gate into the garden. Perfumed flowers like roses, lavender and daphne were popular because it was believed at the time that good smells kept you healthy while bad smells could make you sick. Many 19th century gardeners were also interested in growing exotic plants and hunting for rare species, which is why gunnera manicata (giant rhubarb) features on the left side of the cottage. This garden is marked on the Sovereign Hill guide map by a blue circle.

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 The garden behind Linton Cottage full of springtime foods.

There is a kitchen garden located behind Linton Cottage (across the road from the Bright View Cottage) which grows fruit, vegetables, nuts and herbs. Like many people on the goldfields, the owners of such a property improved their position in society by growing food for sale in the grocery store. The trees grown in this garden are apple, pear and walnut. There is also a grapevine along the back fence. The vegetables produced by this garden change with the season, and the herbs are grown partly for their ability to control pests; rhubarb and pyrethrum can be used to keep insects away. This garden also has a compost bin to replace the nutrients in the soil; using the garden scraps to make compost to spread on the garden beds helps plants grow better. There is also a large chicken coop for the production of eggs, meat, feathers and fertiliser. It is marked on the map by a yellow circle.

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 An example of a productive vegetable garden in the Golden Point Chinese Camp.

These two gardens found in the Golden Point Chinese Camp tell different stories. The first demonstrates the way Chinese miners from the late 1850s onwards produced fresh food for themselves and sometimes the broader community. As most of the Chinese miners had been farmers back home in China, many were skilled at growing vegetables. Typically, these gardens were grown communally. So, they would take it in turns to look after them while others went mining. Some Chinese miners began growing food for sale when Ballarat’s gold became harder to find, changing their work from mining to market gardening.

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 An example of a medicinal garden owned by a Chinese herbalist.

The second of these gardens in the Chinese Camp would have belonged to a herbalist (whose replica store is close by). Today, we would call him a Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner. This garden is growing medicines and food that can be used in a medicinal diet to treat certain diseases, although many of the herbs for sale in the herbalist’s would have been imported from China. Both these gardens are identified by the green circle on the map.

Sometimes, the Sovereign Hill gardeners grow slightly different plants than would have been seen on the Ballarat goldfields to keep visitors safe, to respond to pests, and to design gardens better suited to the region’s changing climate. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria has become warmer and drier since the 1850s. This encourages our gardeners to plant more drought-tolerant species than would have been grown in the past.

black wattle sap

 The Wadawurrung people – the Traditional Custodians of the Ballarat region – supplied black wattle sap as a diarrhoea medicine to European miners. Many native plants were promoted across the landscape over thousands of years by Aboriginal people to provide food, fibre and medicine.

Some features seen in our gardens are not as they were in the 1850s for quite different reasons. For example, while you can see poppies growing at Sovereign Hill, they are not the opium poppies you might have seen in goldrush gardens in the 19th century; real opium poppies can be turned into powerful drugs of addiction. Finally, foxes only became a pest in Australia after their introduction in Ballarat and Geelong in the 1870s. Therefore, while 1850s chicken coops were not built to keep them out, our chicken enclosures need to be much sturdier, as we do sometimes have foxes in the gardens at night.

Walk around your own garden with fresh eyes. What does it say about your diet, your family’s social status, and our climate today?

Links and References

How to cook a goldrush feast: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2016/11/30/how-to-cook-a-gold-rush-feast/

The lives of animals on Victoria’s goldfields: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2019/10/04/animals-on-the-goldfields/

The National Museum Australia on goldrush immigration: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/gold-rushes

How and why were so many exotic street trees planted in Australia? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-12/curious-central-west-why-peppercorn-trees-were-planted/10231768

Information on pest management plants: https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/pest-management-plants/9427576

How compost is made: https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/get-composting/9437492

Plant hunting was very fashionable across the British Empire in the 19th century: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/the-plant-hunters-adventurers-who-transformed-our-gardens-would-put-indiana-jones-to-shame-7936364.html

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Eureka Rebellion – what we can and can’t ever know

Browning

George Browning, Eureka Stockade, 1854, 1985-9. The City of Ballarat Historical Collection, reproduced with permission from The City of Ballarat. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are many parts of the Eureka Rebellion (also known as the Eureka Stockade) story that we know are historical facts, but there are many other parts that will forever remain uncertain, and even unknowable. This should not stop us from being curious about this interesting and important event in Australian history, as history is full of uncertainties. Sometimes these can be solved by more research, or even new ways of collecting and examining evidence, but sometimes they have to remain a mystery. The history you learn in the school subject often called History or Humanities is driven by the curiosity of academic historians, and their job is tell the truest version of our history. This can change over time when new evidence is found, or when evidence is interpreted from a new perspective.

Ultimately, stretching our critical and creative thinking muscles is really important in the study of history.

definitions

So, what can we know about the Eureka Rebellion?

Historians know for a fact that this famous Australian event occurred on Sunday, 3 December 1854. How is this knowable? Historians can find lots of primary source evidence that was written by people who experienced the Eureka Stockade Battle and all claim the event happened on this day. Here are two examples (1, 2) of such primary sources that corroborate (which means agree with each other) to tell us that the date this event happened was indeed Sunday, 3 December 1854.

Here is another: In his famous book about his experience of the Eureka Stockade Battle, Raffaello Carboni wrote in Chapter 1:

‘Brave comrades in arms who fell on that disgraced Sabbath morning, December 3rd’.

Doudiet

Charles Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3rd December, 1854. Ballarat Fine Art Gallery Collection. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

When historians can agree on something like a date, we can be very confident that such a detail is an historical fact. In the same way, we can know for a fact that it was a fight between Redcoat soldiers and a group of (mostly European) goldminers, and that people on both sides died on the day of the battle.

What is currently unknowable about the Eureka Rebellion?

Gilson2

Aunty Marlene Gilson, Surviving on the Goldfields, 2014. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum – The Sovereign Hill Museums Association. Aunty Marlene paints Wadawurrung oral histories to document her ancestors’ experiences of 19th century life. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

There are some parts of the story that historians do not agree on, and they probably never will. These are uncertainties, or things we cannot currently know based on the available historical evidence. For example, there is a debate about exactly where the Eureka Stockade Battle took place, and just how many people died as a result of it. There are questions around the role of women and children in the days leading up to, and during, the fight itself. A Wadawurrung oral history that has been passed down from generation to generation also exists. It describes Europeans running to the Aboriginal camp near the stockade to keep safe during the fighting – you can learn more about this here. While there is some evidence to support all of these aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story, we cannot be completely confident that these stories are true, and we may never be able to know for sure. And that is okay – we should still learn about them as possible truths about this historical event.

map

Samuel Huyghue, Plan of the Eureka Stockade attack by the military on 03 December 1854, 1854. Reproduced with permission from Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection. Is this a primary or secondary source of historical information? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the Eureka Stockade Battle? Why/why not?

All historical stories contain facts and uncertainties; we simply have to keep our versions of the story honest by stating which parts we can know, and which parts are currently unknowable. For example, in our popular Education Session for visiting students called Put Yourself in the Eureka Story (during which the whole class dresses up as characters who played a role in the Eureka Stockade Battle), we say ‘about 30 people died’ when talking about the battle death toll (the number of people killed) because we will never know for sure. Some reasons why we will never know exactly how many people died during the Eureka Stockade Battle are:

  • There is no police report from after the battle stating exactly how many dead bodies were found on the battlefield that day, and newspaper reports and books written by witnesses claim different death tolls. Also, due to the complicated politics linked to this event, the government of the time may have wanted to make the death toll look small, while the miners may have wanted the death toll to look large – this may explain why different primary source documents describe different numbers in their death tolls. You can view the list of people whom Peter Lalor believed were killed in the Eureka Stockade Battle here. However, Captain Thomas, leader of the Redcoat soldiers who fought in Ballarat, reported a different death toll:

‘The number of the killed and wounded on the side of the insurgents was great, but I have no means of ascertaining it correctly; I have reason however to believe that there were not less than thirty killed on the spot, and I know that many have since died of their wounds. Amongst these, and the persons in custody, several leaders of the insurrection appear, two of whom lie dangerously, if not mortally wounded, in hotels near the spot.’

  • Many of the miners who survived the battle went into hiding immediately afterwards to avoid being arrested by the police. During their many months in hiding, some may have died from their battle injuries. However, as they were on the run from the law, it is likely their deaths were never reported to the authorities.
  • Medicine in the 19th century was not as advanced or informed as it is now – you could die from an infected scratch (because we didn’t know about germs, let alone antiseptics or antibiotics, in the 1850s). As a result, there may have been people who died from their battle injuries a whole year after 3 December 1854, and these deaths were probably not added to the official count of people killed as a result of the Eureka Stockade Battle.
BRT Hi Res-MADE-9266

The original Eureka Flag, on display at the Eureka Centre in Ballarat. Reproduced with permission from the City of Ballarat Historical Collection. Photo credit: Tony Evans Photography.

There are also historical uncertainties surrounding the most famous Eureka Rebellion artefact – the Eureka Flag. While recent scientific study of the flag has helped us better understand what the flag is made of, we will never know exactly who made it. For example, there is a popular children’s book called ‘The Night We Made The Flag: A Eureka Story’ by Carole Wilkinson, in which the stars of this famous flag are described as being made from a girl’s nightdress. However, since this book was published, museum conservators have undertaken some study of the flag stars to reveal they are made from a wool fabric, which 19th century fashion experts tell us was not the kind of material used to make nightdresses. Before this research was undertaken, the stars were believed to be made of a fine cotton linen, from which nightdresses were commonly made at this time in history. The blue part of the flag used to be thought of as wool, but this new research tells us it is mostly cotton. This demonstrates how important it is to keep our minds open as to how the flag was made; the nightdress explanation was just a theory which has now evolved and been made less certain thanks to this new research.

Until new evidence or new ways of undertaking research come to light, many aspects of the Eureka Rebellion story have to remain unknowable. What other historical events or characters have question marks hanging over them?

Links and References

Some older Sovereign Hill Education blogposts on the causes of the Eureka Rebellion:

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2015/10/22/why-do-i-have-to-learn-about-the-goldrush/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/02/17/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2012/06/19/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-2/

https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/27/what-caused-the-eureka-stockade-part-3/

Behind The News (BTN) on the Ballarat gold rush and Eureka Rebellion: http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3900125.htm

A video entitled ‘Eureka Stockade: Riot or Revolution’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kry-xiVYMJc

The State Library of Victoria blogpost on the Eureka Stockade: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/golden-victoria/impact-society/eureka-stockade

The State Library of New South Wales on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/eureka-rush-gold/rush-victoria

The National Museum of Australia on the Eureka Stockade: http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/eureka_stockade

No matter how the Eureka Stockade is represented, there will always be people who critique its interpretation: https://www.theage.com.au/national/the-eureka-myth-20041023-gdyus1.html

How to encourage critical thinking in History: https://sheg.stanford.edu/history-lessons

Five ways to improve your critical thinking:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dItUGF8GdTw

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

1850s Fashions in Australia

At the beginning of the Victorian gold rushes in 1851, most of the people searching for the valuable yellow metal were male and dressed suitably for the tough camping and working conditions experienced on the goldfields. As it was dusty in summer and muddy in winter, a miner needed long leather boots to protect him from the mud, a broad-brimmed hat (usually made of felt) to keep the sun or rain out of his eyes, a comfortable cotton shirt, and a waistcoat. Here is a description of winter on the Ballarat goldfields:

This was called Gravel Pit Lead, but might with more propriety have been called Mud Hole; for a more astonishing scene of mud, muddy water, muddy diggers, muddy tools, and clay trodden into the most vilely adhesive filth, it is impossible to conceive. In fact, Ballarat in winter is unquestionably the most dirty place, the most perfect Serbonian Bog, on earth …- William Howitt Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria, Longmans, London, 1855, p.380

guerard

Typical Ballarat clothing in the early 1850s – note the long leather boots. Eugène von Guérard, Blackhill 21 Febrav [February] 1854, Reproduced with permission from the State Library of Victoria.

Capture

Gold Museum Curator, Snjez Cosic, modelling a fine example of 1850s fashion made recently by the Sovereign Hill Costume Department. Reproduced with permission from Jade Smithard, Mojo Photography.

It didn’t take long, however, for the wealth from gold to start attracting women and families to the diggings. As living conditions improved and permanent houses were built by the mid-1850s, the trendiest fashions from England, France and the USA began to grace the (still rather muddy) streets. It was no wonder – Ballarat had become one of the richest places in the world by this time, and the fashions sported by residents reflected this new wealth.

While crinolines and corsets, top hats and bling were all the rage, these flashy fashions, much like many today, were about communicating your social class (or status) in society – meaning they showed others how important you were. While the poor (and there were plenty of people at this time who weren’t reaping the rewards of the gold rushes) wore whatever clothing they could patch together, the rich were enjoying fancy fabrics, new dye colours thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and expensive accessories. Fashion brand names weren’t really invented yet, so instead of showing off your money by displaying an expensive brand across your chest like many people do today, you paraded around in lace, silk ribbons, tall hats and elaborate gold jewellery to show off. It will be no surprise that large pieces of gold jewellery were all the rage in Ballarat in the 1850s.

bling

Brooches made of Ballarat gold. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

At this time in history, cotton fabric was quite cheap to buy for sewing into dresses and shirts, because the plants that produce it were mostly being planted and harvested by African slaves in the USA. As cotton plantation (farm) owners didn’t pay their workers, this very cheap material was transported all over the world and was affordable to everyone; it was turning it from cloth to clothing that cost a lot of money (paid to a tailor/seamstress) or time (for the hardworking housewife). Poorer women made their own clothes by hand (until the sewing machine became widely accessible in Australia in the early 1860s), while wealthy women had their clothes tailor-made.

crinoline

An example of a crinoline created by the Sovereign Hill Costume Department. Underneath you can see the model’s pantalettes (undies!) and chemise (like a long singlet).

It might surprise you to learn that few people owned wardrobes until recent times, as even the cheapest clothing was still very expensive by today’s standards, which meant that during the gold rush each person only owned a couple of outfits. Clothes are so cheap today in comparison that Australians buy 27kg of new clothes on average per year, making us the second largest consumer of textiles in the world!

Interestingly, the bell-shaped crinoline underskirt which is probably the most well-known fashion of the mid-1800s was viewed by many women of the time as a liberating garment because they could walk more easily than beforehand when they had worn many layers of skirts to make the same shape. While some cartoonists saw the funny side of crinolines which many called ‘crinoline mania’, wearing one could be dangerous as they caught fire easily. Corsets were dangerous, too, when worn very tight – most women wore them like bras are worn today, while the rich and fashion-conscious sometimes wore them so tight they broke ribs and moved vital organs. The Victorian dress reform movement saw women encouraging other women to give up dangerous and uncomfortable clothing from the 1850s onwards, and this was thought by many to represent the first wave of feminism.

 

1850-g-cruikshank-crinoline-parody

‘A Splendid Spread’, a cartoon about crinolines by George Cruikshank, from The Comic Almanack, 1850. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

For men who had already found their fortunes on the goldfields, the wearing of white shirts, tall top hats and swinging about a fancy cane showed off their status, along with sporting beautiful fob or pocket watches. If your great-grandfather handed down his watch through your family, it is likely it was his most valuable and treasured possession, although by the late 1800s they became much cheaper thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

wadawurrung

This is a goldrush sketch of a Wadawurrung girl from Ballarat wearing a warm possum-skin cloak – the pelts of brushtail possums are warmer than wool and are waterproof. William Strutt, Waran-drenin, 1852. Reproduced with permission from the British Museum.

Australian-specific clothing became available from the 1850s onwards due to the special furs of our native animals. Warm brushtail possum pelts (the fur with the skin [leather] still attached) sewn together and turned into rugs which were supplied by local Aboriginal people, were useful for keeping miners alive during a Ballarat winter in a tent. As platypus pelts were fashioned into expensive jackets and rugs for the wealthy, it’s no wonder that platypus are so rarely seen in the wild these days.

The Sovereign Hill Museums Association has many pieces of clothing and jewellery in our collection of artefacts from the 1800s; however, they are mostly the fanciest items that people treasured, rather than everyday items. That’s why Eliza Perrin’s dress is a particularly special piece in our collection – watch a video about it in Chapter 6 of our ABC Education ‘digibook’ here. You can also learn about the popularisation of white wedding dresses here, fashionable 1850s hair dos here, how the Sovereign Hill Costume Department researches and makes our 1850s clothing here, the differences between clothing now and 19th century clothing here, and typical children’s clothing from the goldfields era here.

 

 

ladies

Ruffles, ribbons, fringes and extra details on outfits showed off one’s wealth in the late 1850s. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum (these Ballarat women are unidentified).

Links and References

A brief history of the ‘rush’ to Ballarat: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-lifeonthegoldfields-notes-ss1.pdf

Wikipedia on crinolines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crinoline

A Gold Museum blogpost about another interesting dress in our collection: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/a-victorian-dress/

Wikipedia on corsets: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corset

The history of men’s white shirts: https://theconversation.com/the-story-of-the-mens-white-shirt-26312

BTN on the amount of modern clothing Australians waste: http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s4663466.htm

A platypus fur cape in the National Gallery of Victoria collection: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/fashion-detective/

 

 

 

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

The History of Victoria

How does the Ballarat gold rush fit into the story of the State of Victoria? Let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

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The Wadawurrung people have lived in the Ballarat region for tens of thousands of years. This map, produced by Sovereign Hill for its annual Aboriginal history and living culture celebration – The Gnarrwirring Ngitj Festival – shows the borders of the five Kulin nations.

Aboriginal people began living in what is now called Victoria at least 60,000+ years ago. According to their beliefs, creator-spirits like Bunjil the wedge-tailed eagle made the land and its people, and stories about him have been passed down (without writing) for at least 2,000 generations amongst the people of the Kulin nations (the Wadawurrung, Woiwurrung [Wurundjeri], Bunurong, Taungurong, and Dja Dja Wurrung). When Europeans arrived in Victoria in the 1800s, they found the Aboriginal people of this land had formed approximately 35 nations, all with different languages and cultures. Each nation owned and cared for their Country. The boundaries of each of these nations were carefully protected; however, goods like greenstone axes and brush-tail possum pelts used for making cloaks were traded over them. While some of these Aboriginal nations are traditionally enemies, others continue practising important ceremonies together (like the Kulin nations’ Tanderrum ceremony) to this day.

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Nathaniel Dance-Holland, Official portrait of Captain James Cook, 1775-6, from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

When Captain Cook claimed possession of what he called ‘New South Wales’ in England’s name in August 1770, he hadn’t set foot on the coast of what is now called Victoria. After England lost its northern hemisphere penal colonies (a place to send convicts) in the American War of Independence in 1783, it was decided that New South Wales, in Australia, was the next best place to send England’s criminals. England wanted to colonise (take over ownership of) the ‘great southern continent’ before the French. So, in 1787 King George II sent Captain Arthur Phillip to New South Wales with what came to be known as the ‘First Fleet’. Phillip’s ships arrived in Botany Bay in early 1788, but decided this was an unsuitable place for a settlement, so they sailed to Sydney Cove, in Port Jackson, and sent the convicts to shore on 26 January. This fleet of English ships only beat the French ships by a few days.

Before any Europeans arrived in Victoria, their contagious diseases spread out from Sydney to kill countless thousands of Aboriginal people across all of Eastern Australia. European diseases like chicken pox, small pox and even the common cold caused large numbers of Aboriginal people to die during this time in history, as their bodies had never been exposed to these germs before. Sadly, we will never know how many Aboriginal people were in Australia before Europeans arrived, and we will never know how many died from these diseases they brought.

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Young Bangladeshi girl suffering a smallpox infection, 1973. Reproduced with permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library.

Europeans explored the Victorian coast in the hope of developing a second Australian penal settlement and decided to send a small group of soldiers, settlers and convicts from England to set up a camp in Port Phillip Bay (of what later became Melbourne) in 1803. Again, this was an attempt to beat the French in taking over the lands of Australia. During their stay of less than 2 months, they clashed with local Aboriginal people, killing a Wadawurrung leader in Corio Bay in the process, making him the first Victorian Aboriginal person to die at the hands of the European colonisers. The camp failed as they ran out of fresh water, and a number of the convicts escaped before their ships left for Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania – it changed its name in 1856) to establish the second penal settlement there. One of those convicts – William Buckley – lived with the Wadawurrung people for the next 32 years.

TheLangingoftheConvictsatBotanyBay Watkin Tench 1789

Watkin Tench, The Landing of the Convicts at Botany Bay, from his book ‘A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay’. First published in 1789. Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

The first European sent by the government from Sydney to explore (what came to be) Victoria was Major Thomas Mitchell. He met many Aboriginal people on his journey, but it would appear that, like many European people at the time, he didn’t view them as ‘inhabitants’. He described the view of Victoria from Pyramid Hill (near Echuca) in his diary in June 1836:

… the view was exceedingly beautiful over the surrounding plains. A land so inviting and still without inhabitants! As I stood, the first European intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks or herds I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes; and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and animals for which it seemed to have been prepared. See more Major Mitchell quotes here.

When he explored as far as Portland on the same expedition, he was surprised to discover European whaling ships there, and even a farm owned by the Henty brothers. When he returned to Sydney, he also discovered that John Batman, a Sydney-born free settler (with a reputation in Van Diemen’s Land for hunting and killing Aboriginal people), had claimed to have signed a treaty with the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip Bay – the Wurundjeri people – in 1835. As a result, the European colonisation of Victoria had already begun; however, it is thought that Major Mitchell’s findings rapidly sped-up the process. You can read more about the infamous ‘Treaty’ of Batman here.

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An artist’s impression of Batman’s Treaty with the Wurundjeri people in 1835 for the purchase of 600,000 acres of land. From Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, 2 vols, Picturesque Atlas Publishing Company, Sydney, 1886. (Vol 1, p161). Reproduced with permission from Wikipedia Commons.

After 1835 and the arrival of thousands of European people, millions of sheep, instead of kangaroos, now fed on the grassy plains of Victoria. This new industry put Melbourne on the map as huge amounts of money were made by selling wool to the new factories in England. These sheep caused one of the most important foods for Victoria’s Aboriginal people – the murnong daisy – to nearly become extinct, and the European fences and guns caused a sudden end to the traditional way of life for the first people of this land. At least 68 massacres of Aboriginal people took place in the first 18 years of Victoria’s colonisation.

The arrival of these European sheep farmers – called squatters – caused a sudden change to Victoria, but that change was nothing in comparison to that brought about by the Victorian gold rushes.

The year 1851 is very significant in Victoria’s history. The Port Phillip District of New South Wales (Victoria’s colonial name before 1851) experienced a devastating series of fires in February called Black Thursday, thought by many to be the largest in known history. These fires killed 12 European people, 1 million sheep and countless native animals. In July, 1851, the Colony of Victoria was first established, named after the queen of the British Empire at this time – Queen Victoria. By August, gold had been found by European people, and newspapers all over the world spread the news – one of the world’s richest surface alluvial goldfields had been discovered in Ballarat (funnily enough at a place called Poverty Point, near to Sovereign Hill today). This new state, or ‘colony’ as it was known until Federation in 1901, would soon become the richest place in the world thanks to a few tonnes of shiny golden rock. That sudden wealth attracted another 500,000 people to the Colony of Victoria in just the first 10 years of the gold rushes (1851-61), which resulted in the speedy development of towns and trade.

The 19th century Victorian gold rushes changed this part of the world in dramatic ways and, to this day, Victoria is still benefitting from its rich gold rush history (and, of course, the echoes of the Eureka Rebellion). Once all of the easy-to-collect surface gold had been taken, mines were dug deep underground. And when they stopped producing ‘payable’ gold, towns and cities created by the Victorian gold rushes either turned their wealth to manufacturing or disappeared.

Today, Victoria has a population of a little over 6 million people (and more than 30,000 of these people identify as being of Aboriginal descent). While it is no longer the richest place in the world, it is still very wealthy, comfortable and safe because of its goldrush history. In the 21st century, Victoria’s most important industries are manufacturing, education, hospitality, tourism and construction, among others. Gold mining continues in Ballarat, although only one gold mine still operates.

Links and References

The European exploration of Australia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_exploration_of_Australia

The adventures of Major Thomas Mitchell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mitchell_(explorer)

Victorian Aboriginal massacre map: http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-map/

The history of Ballarat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat

The history of Victoria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Victoria

A history of Victoria (1700s-1851) timeline: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/Victoriasearlyhistory/timeline

The history of Melbourne: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne

The history of Tasmania: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tasmania

A video explaining the territorial history of post-colonial Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pjB8UrHwO4

A video on William Strutt’s famous painting Black Thursday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKaOtzFBR3Y

1850s Hair Dos and Don’ts

While you may think that hairdos in history aren’t really worth studying, they can actually tell us a lot about what life was like in the past. A hairdo can tell us about technology, through the kinds of products historical ‘dos’ required, or about fashion and making a statement, or about social class (whether you were rich or poor, powerful or powerless … ), and it can even be handy for dating historical paintings and photographs!

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A collection of unknown Ballarat women from the Gold Museum collection sporting a range of 19th century hairdos. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

For thousands of years, people have enjoyed using hair from their heads to decorate their bodies. Hair can be a very important part of someone’s identity; it can relate to religion, law (yes, there have been laws in history that have controlled hairdos!) or simply fashion, and, of course, hairdos are closely linked with humanity’s various and ever-changing ideas around beauty.

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Self-portrait of Queen Victoria, 1835. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the 19th century, hairdos for women in the British Empire (which included Australia) tended to follow the style of Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years. This powerful woman had a huge influence over all things fashion, and is even thought to be the bride who popularised the white wedding dress, which many women still wear today. Before her time, British women simply wore their best dress on their wedding day, whatever the colour. Fashions in both hair and clothes changed a great deal during her time as queen, as you can see here.

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The first known photograph of Queen Victoria, pictured here with her eldest daughter, c.1845. An image from Wikipedia Commons.

By the 1850s, Queen Victoria tended to wear her hair parted in the middle. It was either pulled back behind the ears (which would then be covered by a day cap/bonnet), or would be used to cover the ears when a head covering wasn’t necessary (at a ball, for example). Otherwise, she, like the millions of women in her empire during this time in history, covered their heads out of Christian politeness, and always when outside (providing they could afford it!). Not only did wearing head coverings out of doors keep your hair clean before the invention of the shower and hair dryer, they tended to protect you from sunburn. And back then, fancy ladies wanted the whitest skin possible – ‘Only peasants and natives have tans!’. Beauty ideals like these demonstrate how acceptable racism (and classism) was in the 19th century.

For men, the beginning of the 1800s saw the end of elaborate powdered wigs and a return to natural hairstyles and colours. A few decades later and beards and moustaches also came into fashion. A male fashionista of the time, Beau Brummell, led the way with these new, relaxed, natural hairdos, which got shorter and more controlled as the century rolled on. Hair styling products such as hair oil became popular with men during this time; however, they didn’t have the means to wash it out like we do today (with shampoo) until the 1890s. The first shampoos were powders, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw the invention of liquid shampoos.

Most people’s washing habits in 1850s Ballarat mirrored those practiced in England; however, clean water (that which wasn’t polluted by goldmining or human waste near it … ) on the diggings was often hard to come by. Miners and their wives would pay a lot of money – particularly during dry summers – for buckets of fresh water taken from what was then called Yuille’s Swamp (now Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree). Bathing usually only happened once a week (typically on Saturday nights so the family was clean for church on Sunday), but that bath wasn’t for washing hair, and besides, you had to share the water with your entire family because it was so scarce!

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Photograph of an unknown man dubbed the “Chinese Giant”, 1870. Notice his long queue. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum. 

Of course there were many nationalities present on the Ballarat goldfields, which meant yet more hair styles could be seen around 1850s Ballarat. One of the most striking hairstyles common during this era was the ‘queue’ worn by Ballarat’s many Chinese miners. Back in China, it was compulsory for men to sport this ‘do’, which involved shaving the front of the head, and growing the back very long and wearing it in a plait. The Aboriginal people of this region – the Wadawurrung people – may have worn their hair differently to the Europeans and the Chinese; however, from the limited photographic evidence we have, many appear to have adopted European hairstyles by this time.

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Marcel curlers, also known as hot curling irons or hot curling tongs. 

An exploration of 19th century hair in Australia wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fashion for hair artworks and even hair jewellery, which was commonly something a lady would give to her lover, or someone would make from the hair of a recently deceased loved one. You can see lots of examples of this curious practice here. Another weird habit of European women in the 1800s was the collecting of hair from a hairbrush to use as padding to create certain hairdos. Hair was collected in a ‘hair receiver’ and then moulded as required into a ‘rat’ to place inside a bun or to give hair volume. Lastly, the rather terrifying ‘Marcel Wave’ hair curler became popular towards the end of the century, even though it was very easy to burn your hair off while using it – it was heated in the fire before being applied to hair!

Links and References

A pictorial overview of Victorian hair styles: http://www.whizzpast.com/victorian-hairstyles-a-short-history-in-photos/

A series of videos on this history of women’s hairdos (Eurocentric): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGc2ylEgfQ&list=PLWpk-1VZu_yM5ms7Mm1wBirhm5G1UPOwZ

A brief visual history of men and women’s hairdos through history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVr8W6HME4A

A video on the history of shampoo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEjeTYzZjzg

Horrible Histories on Incan shampoo…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqWoWscljQs

A great history of hair from the Chertsey Museum: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

A great BBC article on the history of the wedding dress: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-how-wedding-dresses-evolved

A woman’s life on the Ballarat goldfield: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/SovHill-women-notes-ss1.pdf