Life on the goldfields was very rough and difficult. There were many hardships that had to be endured, such as disease, mining accidents, overcrowding and rough living conditions. However, there were some pleasurable times as well. People had rest days and entertainers often found their way to the goldfields. Some diggers made a fortune in gold, and this made enduring the hardships of the goldfields much easier.
The simple act of getting to the goldfields was in itself, a very difficult task. There was a lack of roads, and so walking was the main form of transportation. The routes to the goldfields became very packed, and this large number of people travelling along the same route led to serious erosion, making the route much more difficult for the following diggers. As Mark Hammond said, ‘The whole journey, or almost the whole journey was done on foot. It was seldom that anyone rode in the dray, the roads being in a terrible condition and the horses having enough to do to drag along.’ Many people walked where other transportation was unavailable, or they used this transport to carry their belongings, such as food, tent and mining tools. The journey to the goldfields was long and arduous, and by the time people got to the goldfields, they were exhausted, dirty and eager to find gold.
With more and more people leaving for the goldfields, everything was becoming overcrowded, and accommodation varied greatly between the diggers. A description of a goldfield from the 1850’s says it quite clearly; ‘Here there was a frail bark hut…there a new white tent…In marked contrast would be the next tent door – a piece of tattered canvas so old and ragged and brown that it is surprising it held together at all’(textbook). People often had to improvise their accommodation, as with the ‘frail bark hut’. However, many people came prepared, as with the ‘new white tent’. Some people couldn’t afford such commodities, and had to make do with less, such as the ‘piece of tattered canvas so old…’ They chose instead to spend their money on mining tools, leaving them with little money to buy provisions such as food. They often ate the same thing every day, and this left them with very little nutrition, making it much more difficult to dig for gold. This lack of nutrition and poor living conditions enabled disease to spread very quickly. Three of the most common diseases that miners experienced were scurvy (a vitamin c deficiency), typhoid fever (an infection that causes diarrhoea and rash) and dysentery (an infectious bowel disease that causes diarrhoea). Miners very rarely had medicine, and so the treatment of these diseases was incredibly difficult.
The working conditions of the goldfields were disastrous. Mining accidents were incredibly common, as were mutilation and murder at the hands of other diggers. Mining shafts were unstable and could collapse at any given time, burying diggers under large amounts of dirt and rock. There was very little law and order on the goldfields, and most diggers took justice into their own hands. An extreme example of this was described in Australia’s Heritage; the Making of a Nation (textbook); ‘On one occasion, a storekeeper saw a man’s hand stealthily slide through a crack in the wall to pull back the door-bolt from the inside. The storekeeper promptly cut off the man’s hand. Next morning for all the world to see the hand was nailed to the storekeeper’s counter.’ Diggers had to be wary of other diggers, in order to avoid being mutilated, or even murdered. The Chinese had to be especially wary, as racism riots were not uncommon. Their differences to the Europeans made them easy targets of racism, fear, hate and suspicion. One example of a racism riot can be seen in the ‘Illustrated Sydney News’ (on 5th of August, 1880 – textbook); ‘All these preparations and precautions were considered necessary by thousands of brave men in order to successfully attack a few hundred defenceless Chinese.’ The constant build-up of racism, hate and anger made living on the goldfields quite unpredictable. Diggers were forced to resort to violence and often brutality in order to stay alive, and to ‘protect’ their mining land and gold from other diggers that might’ve been scrounging around for lost gold or mining land they could then mine themselves.
In conclusion, diggers faced a very hard life, but they also had times of pleasure and entertainment, and the prospect of finding a fortune in gold often made up for the hardships that diggers experienced.
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