We have been on the Gold Trail in NSW now for several weeks and it has been a wonderful experience. I have written about it in a number of my posts but today, as we contemplate leaving the gold trail I want to tell you about something about which we know very little, and acknowledge even less.
I love research, and when I go into an area to explore I love to delve into the history related to where I am. It is one of my passions, but with moving into the gold fields I found it hard to discover the older history of these places, that which related to Australia’s unwritten history. It was difficult to find out information about the Aboriginal tribes of the area’s we visited, as with others.
Acknowledging that people of Aboriginal heritage actively participated in colonial history and particularly in the gold discoveries of the mid 1800’s is a reality that is rarely recounted.
In my research however I came across a wonderful resource that is available to download for free. It is an epub or archival book from 1852 called Black Gold by Fred Cahir and well worth a read. It is as entertaining as it is informative and you can download it here from the NSW Archive
The people who have lived in Aus. since the Dreamtime were a integral part of the golden era in Australia. Their experience was as multi-dimensional as with the experience of others. There were those who shunned gold mining, those who participated for the enjoyment of what it bought to their country and those who actually mined along with many other nations of people.
What is unique about the Aboriginal experience in this endeavour is that in our biased English & European accounted of our history they are invisible, silent and nameless. Our history account is crap!
The first discovery of gold is credited to Edward Hargraves but there has been consistent reports that others, such as John Calvert preceded him in this discovery of gold by several years. It was however in Calvert’s interest to keep his finds secret. This was a similar action to the governments reaction in the 1820’s when the news of gold discoveries came through and the then Governor of the day supressed this, fearing an insurgence by the young penal colony. He was justified in this as it would have caused insurrection but it does not change the true history of gold discovery in Australia.
Aboriginal people played pivotal roles in gold discoveries in the colony, such as discoveries at some of the most prominent gold fields. Amongst these fields are Murchison, the Kimberley, Bathurst, Mount Magnet, White Feather and Tennant Creek. Least of all is Ballarat and it is noted that the son of the Protector of Aborigines at the time, Joseph Parker, recounted how in the region “the first gold was discovered in 1849 by an aboriginal boy picking up a stone to throw at a wounded parrot, but it turned out to be a nugget of gold.” A European shepherd secured this nugget and kept it secret for two years.
It is often recounted how European miners viewed the success of the Aboriginal miners, such as a short story published in Maldon in 1864. (Excerpt From: Fred Cahir. “Black Gold.” iBooks.”) It is about a European miner who tried to ply an Aboriginal miner with liquor to discover his source of gold. The final chapter of the conversation recounted here”
“You a very fine fellow Jackie.” Jackie agreed with a wide grin. “You sell em plenty gold?”
“Now you tell me where you get the gold and l like you very much.”
Jackie unabashed and apparently not a bit stupid with liquor, immediately replied: “Boss, blackfellow no b_____ fool!”
It is a popular belief that the Aboriginal nation stood aside during the early gold discoveries and it s a ridiculous perception. The things that influenced the Aboriginal people were the same that influenced so many others.
Some Aboriginal people were disinterested because of their experience. They were treated poorly in mining endeavours and were disinterested because there generally was plenty of local traditional foods available in the new fields, this being the primary reason that they would need money. Many also dislike the environmental destruction of their Country which mining bought.
Others found attractions in the gold mining settlements, such as new wealth, new sights, new sounds and new alliances to be made. Alliances played a very large part in the survival of cultural relationships or kinships and were a commonly sort out and encouraged.
Many aboriginal people were also escaping the violence of the frontiers and the gold fields offered many traditional activities as well as social activities in which they could participate as a group. Also important for alliances and ceremonial matters so many Aboriginal people gravitated towards these fluid communities often being of considerable help to miners and their families in exchange for goods.
When it comes to historical account our history has largely short changed Aboriginal people and this is perpetuated even in today account which is a hideous reality in our education system. On the whole Australian History is disinterested in reality and primarily about promoting the arguable fantasy about the might of all things English, as discussed in a pervious post.
As can be found in the history of Kerr’s Nugget, a 106lb nugget fond near Turon in NSW often accredited to others, is an illustration of how aboriginal people have been excised from our history on the gold finds of the 1800’s. There are other incidents such as the Watchem Nugget, found in Maryborough in 1904 and the Bunyip Nugget found at Bridgewater east of Bendigo and many others.
There is no evidence that Aboriginal people valued gold as an item of barter but they were not slow to learn that it was indeed valued by others either. Once they grasped the concept of trade currency being related to what they considered of little worth, such as gold, they did not look back.
As quoted on Oct 3rd 1866 in the Argus. “They say, ‘whitefellow dig for gold, and blackfellow pick it up.’ Their eyes seem more serviceable than many men’s picks and shovels.”
This is the most valuable thing I have learnt during my time on the gold fields of NSW. I will be back for sure … gotta pay off that damn detector but in the meantime I can appreciate the toil of the old gold miner, sifting through the scree of a river looking for that ever valued nugget of gold. And I can marvel at the ignorance of our current historic account in the building of a nation.
For other posts on travelling around Australia with Jan, see ‘Oldies at Large’