Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 28, 2012

Nothing but Gold, the Diggers of 1852 (1999), by Robyn Annear

Nothing But GoldLike the other histories I have read by Melbourne author Robyn Annear, Nothing but Gold, the Diggers of 1852 makes history palatable and fun.  This one would be an excellent resource for any teacher of history whose topic is the Victorian Gold Rush but it’s also genuinely interesting for a general reader.

Annear’s impeccable research and forensic attention to fascinating detail is what brings this sometimes hackneyed topic alive.  She unpacks the realities of life on the goldfields, for instance, with a wry chapter on ‘tent-keeping’, which explains how the predominantly male population managed housekeeping under canvas; how they made palatable the monotonous diet of mutton, damper and ‘plum’ for pudding; how they kept that mutton edible in the days before refrigeration; and how they did the washing in an environment where the dust from the diggings coated everything.  She shows how ambitious gold-seekers arrived in Melbourne only to discover that they had been ripped off even before they left England with totally inappropriate clothing and equipment lugged all the way from London.  And it only got worse, they were over-charged by profiteers every step of the way, from the hoteliers at the port to the carters who carried their usually useless goods to the goldfields to the butchers who charged like wounded bulls (sorry, irresistible pun) for meat which had been a rarity in their diet and now was ubiquitous in their tent cities.

What is clearest of all is the delineation of the gold-digger as a self-employed man.  Nearly all the emigrants had been employees, and now they were not.  They no longer were subject to any master, they were free to work for themselves and even though many of them never made the money they’d dreamed of, their independent spirit was what transformed Australian society.  That’s what created the rebellion at Eureka, and that’s why Australia was one of the earliest democracies in the world.

This is a beaut book, not least because it shows that the grubby gold-diggers were at least as heroic as any pioneer.

Author: Robyn Annear
Title: Nothing but Gold, the Diggers of  1852
Publisher: Text Publishing, 1999
ISBN: 9781876485078
Source: Kingston Library Service

Fishpond: Nothing but Gold : the Diggers of 1852 They say they’re out of stock (which is a mystery to me, how could this book be out-of-print when every history teacher needs a copy??) Text Publishing seems not to have any either but try Fishpond because maybe you’ll be lucky and someone will have a second-hand copy for sale. Or you could try Brotherhood Books, use the link in my blogroll.  If all else fails, use ZPortal to find one on inter-library loan.

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