The hidden stories in artefacts

Why do historians like artefacts so much? Things like ancient pots, mummified kings, and your great-grandfather’s watch, can make history nerds very excited because artefacts tell stories. Sometimes the story an artefact reveals is obvious, but at other times is takes a lot of careful observation and even extra research to make the story clear. All ‘man-made’ objects can tell us stories about people, and those stories are often pretty interesting when we are looking at objects from the past. Let’s have a look at an example.

‘Look what I found!’potty

This undecorated white bowl is about 25cm across and could probably hold 4L of water. It has a sturdy handle and a small square of cut-up newspaper inside with a date on it 1858. It was discovered underneath an old wardrobe in a miner’s cottage in Eureka Street, Ballarat. What could it be?

To reveal the stories this artefact is hiding, we need to figure out what it was used for in the past. Here are some questions and example answers that help us figure out what it was made to do. Some of these questions are difficult or impossible to answer depending on the artefact you are studying, but it’s important to think about them when you are trying to uncover an artefact’s story.

Questions that help us ‘unpack’ the stories hidden in artefacts

  1. What do you think this artefact was made for/to do?

Maybe it’s a soup serving bowl, but the cut-up newspaper makes me think it’s a toilet from the olden days because you don’t put paper in soup, but you do put it in a toilet bowl. 

  1. When in history might this have been used?

Luckily we found a date alongside the artefact – the cut-up newspaper is dated 1858. This makes our artefact over 150 years old, and back then flushing toilets and toilet paper weren’t really invented, so the date supports the idea, or theory, that this may be an olden day’s toilet.

  1. What is it made of and what does this tell us about it?

This artefact is a ceramic bowl, so it’s probably made out of some kind of clay. It looks like it was made using a mould; it’s not a hand-made artefact. This fits with the time period – if this was made around 1858 it was probably made in a factory in England (the world’s first factories had started to mass-produce household items like this between 1800 and 1900). For a long time in history, the colour white has been associated with cleanliness. Today’s toilets are mostly white, so that also supports the theory that it was used as a toilet.

  1. Where was it discovered and what does that tell us about it?

It was found underneath a wardrobe in a bedroom. The toilets of this time in history, often called chamber pots, were usually stored under beds or bedroom furniture so they were handy in a rush, but certainly weren’t on show for guests to see. Again, the place it was found supports the theory that it’s a 19th century toilet.

  1. Is it a fancy item or a simple artefact? What does this tell us about the people who may have owned/used it?

It is a simple item with no decoration. This makes me think that it was designed to be functional, not pretty, and again supports the theory that it’s a toilet. Just like today, back in the 1850s everyone needed a toilet, so this wasn’t a rare, luxury item. Therefore I think I would be able to find lots of other examples of such toilets if I do some research.

  1. Was it an item for men or women, or both? How can we know? What does this tell us?

We can’t really tell if this item was created for a man or woman, but again the idea that it’s a unisex item (for use by both men and women) makes me think it’s a toilet. While men and women use a modern toilet differently and no doubt used an olden day’s toilet differently, I think both men and women would be able to use this artefact for that purpose.

  1. Does it look like something we have seen before? Have you seen these in movies or museums? What can that extra knowledge tell us about this artefact?

I saw these under beds in the tents, huts and houses when I was at Sovereign Hill. As these buildings didn’t always have a room (usually outside – a ‘dunny’ or outhouse) dedicated to bathroom/toilet ‘business’, it again makes me think that this is an 1850’s toilet.

  1. How is it different to similar items we use today?

If it is indeed a toilet, it’s very different to the kind we use today. The biggest difference between this item and toilets today is its lack of a flush button and sewerage pipe. My guess is that when it was full, you might throw its yucky contents down a hole in the bush/garden, or maybe you could even put it on your garden as plant food.

Let’s summarise the stories this artefact has revealed. If it is indeed a toilet (which it is  :), it tells us stories about 19th century sanitation practices, the impact of the Industrial Revolution (the invention of factories in this case) on people’s everyday lives, and the kinds of technologies and materials that people in the past have developed and found practical uses for.

Further research tips

Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to learn about the world! If you are studying artefacts, here are some great websites that will help deepen your understanding of the stories they tell.

  • Trove is a fantastic tool for history students and their teachers. Simply type in the name of your topic, artefact, historical event, or name, to find books, photographs, digitised newspapers, videos, maps and more to help with your research.trove
  • Simple English Wikipedia is great for younger students and EAL learners when conducting research. It gives simple explanations and great images on a wide range of topics.wiki
  • Google Images is another easy way to find more detail on artefacts.google

Links and References:

A student-friendly article on the power of artefacts: http://study.com/academy/lesson/cultural-artifact-definition-examples-quiz.html

An artefact article for teachers: http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/idealabs/ap/essays/looking.htm

The history of the toilet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet

The history of sanitation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_water_supply_and_sanitation

Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/

Simple English Wikipedia: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Google Images: https://www.google.com.au/imghp?hl=en&tab=wi&ei=RzZNV8ytA8un0ASM0bewCw&ved=0EKouCBQoAQ

Better understanding our history

While some people think Ballarat’s story began with the gold rush, this part of Australia has a human history perhaps as long as 60,000 years. Before the gold rush, there was sheep farming, and before that the Wadawurrung People lived traditional lifestyles just like their ancestors had for thousands and thousands of years before them. The story of Australia begins a long time before the arrival of Captain Cook.

The traditional owners of Ballarat call themselves the Wadawurrung People, named after the language they speak. Their country starts at the coast around Geelong, and ends just north of Ballarat. For tens of thousands of years, Wadawurrung People have studied the plants, animals, climate and natural features (like rivers and mountains) and their knowledge of this environment enabled them to farm it to produce all of the food, clothing and shelter they needed to live comfortable lives.

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A map of central Victoria showing the traditional country of the Wadawurrung People.

The kind of farming the Wadawurrung People undertook before the arrival of Europeans looked very different to the kind of farming we see around Ballarat today. Instead of keeping animals on healthy feeding grounds (like grassy paddocks) through the use of fences, Wadawurrung People promoted the growth of the animals’ favourite foods close to their family campsites, making animals easy to find and kill for food and clothing (they used possum and kangaroo skins to make clothes/blankets). They didn’t need fences, so these animals could enjoy wild, free lives. This kind of farming was also used to provide plant foods and medicine plants.

Wadawurrung People knew their country well, so they knew where certain foods/medicines would thrive and could be easily accessed. By understanding when plants created fruit or grew big yummy tubers (like the sweet, coconutty roots of the murnong daisy which was an important Wadawurrung food) and what soil/rain conditions plants liked, the Wadawurrung People were able to produce a wide variety of foods that were reliable and plentiful. During those early years of colonisation, many Europeans in Australia wrote in their diaries etc. that Aboriginal People appeared very healthy, and most lived long lives.

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Fire was one of the most important farming tools in the Wadawurrung People’s land management system.

Due to this deep understanding of their environment, Wadawurrung People only needed to work for a few hours each day to collect all of the food and clothing/housing resources they needed, which meant they had plenty of time for other activities. Like Australians today, they spent a lot of time teaching skills and knowledge to their children, and enjoyed complex cultural lives. During regular ceremonies like corroborees and tanderrums, they might visit family, friends and trading partners (business friends) all over what we now call Victoria. This leisure time could also be used to improve eel traps and hunting technologies (like spears and boomerangs), or decorate their possum-skin cloaks with stories about their lives and their country.

When the squatters (sheep farmers) arrived after Batman’s “treaty” in 1835, the lives of the Wadawurrung People started to change. Within just a few years the introduced sheep had eaten almost all of the murnong daisies, and the farmers started to push the Victorian Aboriginal People (Koorie People) off their traditional land which resulted in violent conflicts around Victoria, much of which wasn’t recorded in the history books.

By the time the gold rush began in 1851, introduced diseases, despair and violent conflict had caused the deaths of many Koorie People. Those who survived the squatter period had been compelled to learn English and seek work on farms, and could now use these skills to work with the gold miners. Traditional skills like hunting, tracking lost people and making warm possum-skin cloaks were all shared with the Europeans, usually for a price. However, as a result of this destruction of the traditional lifestyles of Koorie People, like others the Wadawurrung People have lost many aspects of their cultural, economic and language knowledge.

Many Wadawurrung People still live “on country” today across Ballarat and Geelong. They are working hard to piece their culture back together based on both oral history and written history to better understand the lives of their ancestors. At Sovereign Hill, we think that learning about the culture, history, language and experiences of the Wadawurrung People, from 60,000 years ago until today is an important part of being a Ballaratian.

What do you know about the Wadawurrung People? If you would like to learn more about their traditional way of life and their experiences of the squatter period and the gold rush, take a look at this website Sovereign Hill created.

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Our free digi-tour Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People helps all Victorians learn about our shared history.

If you are a teacher and want some support in teaching your students about Aboriginal history and culture, we have produced a Teaching Kit to complement our Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People digi-tour which you can access for free here: for primary schools, for secondary schools.

During Reconciliation Week 2016, Sovereign Hill launched its first Aboriginal history festival called ‘Gnarrwirring Ngitj’ (meaning ‘learning together’ in Wadawurrung language and pronounced ‘naworring nitch’). Check out the program of events here.

Links and References:

The Wathaurong Aboriginal Corporation (trading as Wadawurrung) website: http://wathcorp.com.au/

Sovereign Hill’s free digi-tour Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People:  http://sovereignhillhiddenhistories.com.au/

A great Wikipedia page about Possum-skin cloaks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possum-skin_cloak

A Wikipedia page about the frontier conflicts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_frontier_wars

In praise of washing machines

full washing equip

An 1850s ‘washing machine’.

Many historians believe that the invention of electricity was the most important nineteenth century invention because it changed women’s lives dramatically. In the 1850s, there was no electricity and therefore no electric washing machine. What did this mean for those charged with washing the family’s clothes?

Nineteenth century gender roles, meaning the different kinds of jobs men and women were expected to do, were very strict – men worked outside the home in the ‘public’ world, while women worked inside the home in the ‘private’ world. Activities like working in mines or participating in politics were supposed to be performed by men, while taking care of the children and doing the family cooking and cleaning were activities performed by women. Nowadays, it is more common that all jobs, whether it’s mowing the lawn, making money from working in a factory or supermarket, or ironing clothes, are done by both men and women.

soap making

A tallow melting pan and a soap mold from the 1850s.

Washing clothes was a woman’s job in the 1850s. It required some very simple technologies: a large tub (bucket), a washboard, and some soap. Here, on the early diggings, most soap was homemade using tallow (which, in Ballarat, was sheep fat) mixed with some ash. Water had to be collected from creeks and lakes by bucket and was then heated over a fire. When Ballarat became a more established city, wealthier households built laundries in their gardens and installed ‘coppers’ (big copper buckets built over fireplaces) and garden water pumps (utilising underground ‘bore’ water) to make this work easier, but women still spent at least one entire day every week washing the family’s clothes.

copper

A laundry copper.

Have you ever heard the expression ‘She mangled her finger’? This comes from a clothes washing technology called a mangle. At first, these rollers, through which clothes would be squeezed near-dry, were hand-cranked, but when electric mangles were introduced many people (including children!) got their hands and hair caught in these machines with disastrous results. Thankfully, some of the most dangerous designs were outlawed. However, this wasn’t the only hazard to washer women. Irons made of heavy cast-iron were heated on the fireplace and then used to smoothe fabric. Modern irons are very safe in comparison! Women could easily burn themselves with 1850s irons, and getting serious burns (before antibiotics were invented) sometimes resulted in gangrene, blood poisoning and even death!

mangle

A 19th century mangle, also known as a wringer.

Until the electric washing machine became a common household appliance in the 1950s, women dedicated large amounts of their lives to washing, rinsing, wringing-out, drying, and ironing clothes. Some academics, like Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, believe that the electric washing machine was ‘the greatest invention of the Industrial Revolution’ because it suddenly afforded women time for things like education, work outside the home, and politics, once the washing machine was introduced. Can you think of any other inventions which have had a similarly big impact on people’s lives?

Links and references

A brief history of the washing machine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine

A history of laundry: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-of-washing-clothes.aspx

A brief history of the mangle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangle_(machine)

A history of irons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothes_iron

A history of antibiotics and infection: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/Pages/The-History-of-Antibiotics.aspx

A teacher resource on ‘Laundry in the 19th Century’: http://www.ebparks.org/Assets/files/Laundry_19th_Century_06-01-09.pdf

 

The arrival of the train

 

Ballarat West Railway Station

Ballarat West Railway Station c.1889. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat

Trains changed the world; however, nowadays their impact can easily be overlooked. For thousands of years before the invention of the train, people only had the help of horses and simple cart technologies to move themselves and their possessions around on land. When the train first arrived in Ballarat in 1862, the city celebrated in magnificent fashion; local people knew this technology would change our city forever. It confirmed Ballarat’s place on the map and was important in securing the city’s long-term success. As writer John Béchervaise has said ‘they were anticipating a marvellous twentieth century’ (Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977, p52).

STG Main Rd

S. T. Gill’s Arrival of the Geelong Mail, Main Road Ballarat, 1855. Image courtesy of The Gold Museum, Ballarat.

Many people don’t realise that Ballarat’s CBD (central business district) hasn’t always been centred around the train station. Until 1862, the most important part of the city was along Main Road, which is where you can now find Sovereign Hill. Before the train line was built, and trains started delivering passengers and cargo from first Geelong and later Melbourne to Lydiard Street, Main Road was true to its name; it was the centre of town!

There was another reason the Ballarat CBD moved from Main Road to Lydiard Street – fire. Most of the structures built along Main Road were either wooden or canvas, and after a series of fires and the introduction of the train line, Ballaratians started building in stone around the new train station. After all, community leaders wanted to make Ballarat a more permanent, established city, and these beautiful stone buildings from the 1800s are still enjoyed by millions of tourists each year.

The City of Ballarat website has this to say about the city’s historic train station: ‘Located in the heart of Ballarat, the Ballarat Station is a gateway to the city, a CBD landmark and one of the grandest Victorian-era station buildings in the state.’

The fact that one of the first grand train stations in Victoria was built in Ballarat demonstrates the importance of this goldrush city. Ballarat’s closest port is Geelong; therefore, the first railway tracks between the two cities began construction in 1858 and the line was officially opened by Governor Barkly in 1862 to move people and cargo between the goldfields and the tall ships in Corio Bay. Interestingly, on its first journey to Ballarat, the train ran out of wood to fuel its steam engine, so the crew were forced to chop down some trees in Meredith to ensure the train made it to Ballarat. In 1889 the Melbourne-Ballarat line was opened. The station we now call ‘Ballarat’ used to be called ‘Ballarat West’ as Ballarat East had its own station which has now been demolished. The famous clock tower was added in 1891 as train travel by this time was proving extremely popular; however, as the clock itself was very expensive, it wasn’t installed until 1984!

The train’s arrival in Ballarat meant two very important things for the people of this region. It meant that individuals and businesses could receive their goods with a much cheaper delivery fee, and farmers etc. could send their produce to market much more easily. On the day the first train arrived, the train station was decorated with banners that said ‘Advance Ballarat’ and ‘Success to the Geelong-Ballarat Railway’ (Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973, p4). Thousands of people gathered in Lydiard Street to welcome the train, and balls, dinners and parties were held all over the city to celebrate.

phoenix

A history of Ballarat’s famous Phoenix Foundry. Find out more about this foundry and book here.

In addition to bringing the train line to the city to improve people’s lives, in 1873 Ballarat became one of the first Australian cities to manufacture trains. Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry on Armstrong Street was the largest locomotive factory in Victoria until it ceased making engines in 1905. Businesses like the Phoenix Foundry couldn’t have existed without the railway close by.

While the train station gave Ballaratians easier access to Geelong and Melbourne, the Ballarat Train Station also provided people with access to leisure activities, like picnicking in places like Daylesford, and watching horseracing in Lal Lal. All around the station zone, city leaders have encouraged the building of what are now important Ballarat landmarks like:

To this day, the train station gives people access to all of these wonderful places in addition to important shopping areas and the Sturt Street sculpture gardens.

Trains gave Ballarat and its mines, factories and farms access to the big wide world. The locomotives that were manufactured here were a great source of pride for Ballaratians, as trains were a symbol of progress, technological skill, and serious financial investment for the city. Trains, like sailing ships in times past, and the cars and planes of today, changed our lives forever.

Links and References:

A fantastic video on the history of railroads around the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYAk5jCTQ3s

Some great interactive photographs of Ballarat ‘then and now’: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/1865396/ballarat-now-and-then-family-uncovers-historic-images/

The Ballarat train station on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat_railway_station

Horrible Histories on transport (song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLL2Txs8kCg

A short history of trains and stations in Ballarat: http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/heritage-listing/68/ballarat-railway-complex

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

Béchervaise, J. & Hawley, G. Ballarat Sketchbook, Rigby Limited, Melbourne, 1977.

Butrims, R. & Macartney, D. Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat, Australian Railway Historical Society, 2013.

Dooley, N. & King, D. The Golden Steam of Ballarat, Lowden Publishing, 1973.

Our favourite goldrush artist – S. T. Gill

PortraitDuring a visit to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, it’s hard to miss the influence of goldrush artist S. T. Gill. Samuel Thomas Gill was born in England in 1818, and migrated to Australia with his family in 1839 when he was 21. He lived in South Australia where he earnt a living as an artist using his sketching skills.
In 1852 after gold was discovered, he decided to walk to the Mt Alexander diggings (near Castlemaine). Here he tried his luck as a miner, but quickly returned to sketching to make ends meet. He also spent time in both Ballarat and Bendigo, observing and sketching what he saw on the diggings. These sketches of the goldfields have been invaluable in the creation of Sovereign Hill and deepening our understanding of 1850s goldrush life.

When we write history, we can only build a story based on available evidence. Nothing can be made-up, or guessed. While we should always think critically about the history that we read, as sometimes the historian has a bias (meaning they aren’t balanced and fair with the way they present the human story), most of the time historians are trying to be true to what really happened to people in the past. By looking closely at evidence, which can be in the form of a primary source (something that was created by people who lived in the time of study, i.e. a letter from a miner dated 1854) or a secondary source (something that was created after the time by people who didn’t live there/then i.e. these blogposts written by Sovereign Hill Education), historians can construct an accurate story of what has happened in the past.

Sketches by S. T. Gill (primary sources) help us tell an accurate story of life on the Ballarat diggings. Take a look at the images below. Here we can compare one of Gill’s famous sketches with the 1850s-style buildings (secondary sources) you see at Sovereign Hill. While our visitors often get distracted by gold panning and raspberry drops, every detail of our museum, from the buildings and gardens, to costumes and food, tell carefully-researched stories about life during the Ballarat goldrush.

Do you think we have represented 1850s Ballarat accurately? What differences can you see between Gill’s sketches and the reproduced buildings? Why do you think we sometimes choose to make our buildings slightly differently from those you see in Gill’s sketches?

You can see more of Gill’s sketches and the way we have used them to create Sovereign Hill through a visit to the Gold Museum.

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Compare S. T. Gill’s “Ballarat Post Office & Township from Government Enclosure”, created in 1857, to Sovereign Hill’s Post Office in Main Street. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Butch

Compare S. T. Gill’s “Butchers Shamble”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s Butcher’s Shamble on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Hut

Compare S. T. Gill’s “Bushman’s Hut”, created in 1864, to Sovereign Hill’s slab hut near the Post Office Lake. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Alloo

Compare S. T. Gill’s “John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant, Main Road, Ballaarat”, created in 1853, to Sovereign Hill’s John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Grog

Compare S. T. Gill’s “Coffee tent and sly grog shop, diggers breakfast”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s sly grog tent on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.

Links and references

A student-friendly biography of S. T. Gill’s life: http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00290b.htm

Our very own Gold Museum on their collection of sketches by S. T. Gill: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/s-t-gill-the-artist-of-the-goldfields/

A video on S. T. Gill’s “beautiful, original lithographs”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21PZTJm2_XQ

Wikipedia on S. T. Gill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._T._Gill

The Australian Dictionary of Biography on S. T. Gill: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-samuel-thomas-2096

A video of a lecture on S. T. Gill’s life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ6-IaVlePE

 

Fire in the 19th Century

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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.

“Why do I have to learn about the Goldrush?”

Naturally, at Sovereign Hill we think everyone should learn about the Ballarat Goldrush. Why is it such an important period in Australian history you ask? Well, in essence it changed our country in profound ways which continue to impact on the way we live today. If gold hadn’t been found in this region, Australia may have developed a very different system of government, economy and population. And without gold, Ballarat itself probably wouldn’t even be on the map! Let’s examine some of the most important legacies of the Goldrush, including some aspects that perhaps we are not so proud of…

The impact of the Goldrush on our government

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In the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion, those involved held public meetings to discuss their ideas for making Victoria’s democracy better. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

Due in large part to the tragic loss of life at Ballarat’s Eureka Rebellion, Victoria had the most advanced democracy in the world by 1855 (Littlejohn, Marion. Eureka Stockade, Black Dog Books, Victoria 2013, p. 29). This historic event, which occurred on Sunday 3rd December, 1854, saw at least 30 people killed. It continues to be an event that historians argue about; some say it had to happen to force the government to change the taxation and democratic systems, while others say it was an utter waste of life. Historians sometimes argue that it’s a story of pesky troublemakers, or a kind of Irish uprising against the English for the long history of conflict between those two nations. Some people claim it was the start of the union movement, and the birthplace of Australian left-wing politics, while others think it was an act of terror committed by a group of extremists.

All of this debate about its significance makes it all the more interesting and important to study – and regardless of your opinion, at the time it did push the Victorian government to improve the taxation and democratic voting systems. As a result of the Eureka Rebellion, Victoria introduced the secret ballot (secret voting), salaries for members of parliament, and for the first time, most men of European descent over the age of 21 could vote. Learn more about the Eureka Rebellion here.

The impact of the Goldrush on the economy

Approximately $100 billion of gold (in today’s dollar value) was discovered in Victoria during the Goldrush (Bradby, Doug. Don’t go to the Goldfields, 2015, Waller & Chester, Victoria, p.126) making Melbourne one of the richest cities in the world! This wealth enabled Victorians to make huge investments in industrial technologies such as foundries, factories and ports, and bought us important public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges. The foundation stones for both The University of Melbourne and the State Library were laid on the same day in 1854; such huge building projects were only made possible as a result of the Goldrush.

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Most of the world’s largest gold nuggets were found in the Ballarat region, like this 68kg monster – the famous ‘Welcome Nugget”. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum.

Gold also transformed the structure of Victoria’s economy. Before gold, our economy was based on producing wool (sheep farming) to be exported to the factories of industrial England thus making all involved very rich. If we go back even further, the (pre-European) Aboriginal economy in this region was based on the trade of things like precious greenstone axes and possum-skin cloaks.

Many historians argue that the Ballarat Goldrush finished when World War 1 began, as by that time Ballarat’s economy had turned to manufacturing – the city’s foundries and factories were used to make trains, shoes, woollen blankets etc. This is one of the reasons Ballarat continued to grow and thrive after the Goldrush finished. And what is our local economy based on now? It’s based on a combination of things like healthcare, tourism and manufacturing to name just a few. Learn more about Ballarat’s 21st century economy here.

The impact of the Goldrush on Victoria’s population

Without the Goldrush, many Victorians wouldn’t be here today. The reason many of you were born here is because your great-great-great-great grandparents immigrated to Australia in search of gold during the 19th century.

The goldfields were a true melting pot of cultures, languages and ideas. Things were harmonious at times while at others, sadly, there was racially-fueled violence in the streets. Regardless of such details, Victoria’s population exploded from about 80,000 people before gold in 1851, to more than 550,000 only ten years later (Serle, Geoffrey. The Golden Age: A history of the colony of Victoria 1851-1861, 1977, Melbourne University Press, p.382). Ask your parents and grandparents some questions about your family history – was your family in Australia at the time of the Goldrush or did they come later as a result of it?

Some negative impacts of the Goldrush

History must not be “sugar-coated”. There are important aspects of the Goldrush that should also be studied which don’t fill us with pride about the development of modern Australia. The first of the negative consequences of the Goldrush involves the disruption it caused to Ballarat’s ecosystems. 160 years later there is still lots of evidence of this region being turned upside-down in pursuit of gold. Forests, animal populations and waterways are still recovering today.

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Learn more about the Aboriginal side of Sovereign Hill’s Goldrush story by exploring our new digital tour – Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People.

This relates to the second negative consequence of the Goldrush – this region has been the country of the Wadawurrung People for 2,000 generations. Although there were already Europeans in Victoria (mostly farming sheep) before the Goldrush, the huge population increase the Goldrush brought had a devastating impact on the traditional lifestyles of the Wadawurrung People. All of the new arrivals needed food, water, and wood for houses and mineshafts, which meant that natural resources in this region were in unparalleled demand. This meant that traditional hunting grounds were turned into private farms with fences, and forests that Wadawurrung People had looked after for thousands of years to ensure they produced all of the food, shelter and fibre their population needed to live comfortably, were chopped down to be built with, or burnt in the boiler houses of the goldfields (learn more about this here). In one generation, the lives of Victorian Aboriginal People were radically transformed. As a result, the Wadawurrung People will never be able to truly practice their traditional culture, as their ancestors have done for perhaps as long as 60,000 years. These aspects of the Goldrush story are just as important to learn about as all of the wealth and prosperity it brought to this country. Sovereign Hill recently launched a new digital tour focusing on the Goldrush experiences of the Wadawurrung People called Hidden Histories.

So, do you think the Goldrush is an important part of the Australian story? Does studying it help us better understand who we are now? What other periods in Australian history do you think people should learn about?

Links and references

Here’s a great Lego movie about the Eureka Rebellion made by some Victorian Grade 5 students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSySV9xoHzg

A brief history of Ballarat: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat,_Victoria

Information about all of the Australian gold rushes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_gold_rushes

A wonderful interactive map of Australia’s gold rushes: http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/GOLD_MAP.html

Some fascinating places to visit where you can learn more about the gold rushes: http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Goldfields/Things-to-do/History-and-heritage/Gold-rush-history

A video on the history of democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7dTDjRnBqU&index=30&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtNjasccl-WajpONGX3zoY4M

Littlejohn, Marion. Eureka Stockade, 2013, Black Dog Books, Victoria.

Bradby, Doug. Don’t go to the Goldfields, 2015, Waller & Chester, Victoria.

Serle, Geoffrey. The Golden Age: A history of the colony of Victoria 1851-1861, 1977, Melbourne University Press.