Aspects of the Victorian Gold Fields

While the bushrangers were giving authorities a headache, the gold fields were continuing to grow. The discovery of the Eureka, Gravel Pits, and Canadian Leads, made Ballarat once more the favourite ; and in 1853 there were about 40,000 diggers at work on the Yarrowee. Hotels began to be built, theatres were erected and here and there a little church rose among the long line of tents which occupied the slopes above the creek.

Diggers at Work

Below, on the flats, the scene was a busy one. Thousands upon thousands of holes covered the earth, where men emerged and disappeared like ants, each bearing a bag of sand, which they either threw on a wheelbarrow or slung over their shoulder, and then carried forward, running nimbly along the thin paths among a multitude of holes till they reached the little creek, where they delivered the sand to one of the men, who stood shoulder to shoulder, in long rows, for miles on either bank, all washing the sand and clay into the little creek, whose water were turned to a yellow stream of mud.

Diggers at Play

Such was the scene which presented itself by day; but at sunset a gun fired from the Commissioner's tent, and all work ceased; then, against the evening sky, 10,000 fires send up their wreaths of thin blue smoke and the diggers prepared their evening meals. Everything is hushed for a time, except that a dull murmur rose from the little crowds chatting over their pannikins of tea. But, as darkness drew closer around, the noises began to assume a merrier tone, and, mingling pleasantly in the evening air, there rose the loud notes of a sailor's song, the merry jingle of a French political chant or the rich strains of a German chorus.

Drinking, Gambling and Theatre

In some tents the miners sat around boxes or stools, while, by the light of flaming oil cans, they gambled for match boxes filled with gold dust ; in others they gathered to drink the liquors illicitly sold by the "sly grog shops". Many of the diggers took themselves to the brilliantly lit theatres and made the fragile walls tremble with their rough and hearty roars of applause; everywhere the sounds of laughter and good humour could be heard. Then at midnight, all retired to bed, except those foolish revellers who had stayed too late at the "grog shop".

At dawn, again, they were all astir; for the day's supply of water had to be drawn from the stream before the current assumed the appearance of a clay stained gutter. Making the allowances proper to the occassion, the community was both ordered and law abiding , and the digger, in the midst of all his toil, enjoyed a very agreeable existence.

 

History of Australia