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Black Gold

Black Gold: Aboriginal People on the Goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870 OPEN ACCESS

Fred Cahir
Volume: 25
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Black Gold
    Book Description:

    Fred Cahir tells the story about the magnitude of Aboriginal involvement on the Victorian goldfields in the middle of the nineteenth century. The first history of Aboriginal-white interaction on the Victorian goldfields, Black Gold offers new insights on one of the great epochs in Australian and world history—the gold story. In vivid detail it describes how Aboriginal people often figured significantly in the search for gold and documents the devastating social impact of gold mining on Victorian Aboriginal communities. It reveals the complexity of their involvement from passive presence, to active discovery, to shunning the goldfields. This detailed examination of Aboriginal people on the goldfields of Victoria provides striking evidence which demonstrates that Aboriginal people participated in gold mining and interacted with non-Aboriginal people in a range of hitherto neglected ways. Running through this book are themes of Aboriginal empowerment, identity, integration, resistance, social disruption and communication.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-96-0
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-4)

    By the time that gold was officially discovered in Victoria in 1851 the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate (1838-1850) had been disbanded, Aboriginal people had been dispossessed of their land by squatters and sheep, and they were now facing a second invasion – gold seekers from across the globe. When, by the mid 1850s, it became clear that gold was literally strewn across Victoria, the rush to the diggings by a mass of humanity began.

    This book dispels four common misconceptions surrounding Aboriginal people on the goldfields of Victoria during the nineteenth century: that most Aboriginal people were attached to sheep stations...

  2. It is important to note from the outset that whilst the widespread and bloody inter-racial frontier violence in Victoria had reportedly ceased by 1853, intergenerational violent attitudes had not. In Victoria’s post-massacre times many Aboriginal people sought (or were forced) to adapt to the colonial hegemony by adopting conciliatory attitudes towards the colonists in a bid to either remain on their ancestral estates or country which they had come to see as their own, such as mission or government stations. An unidentified Aboriginal (Woiwurrung) man provides much needed insight into these troubled and changing times:

    Bad white men have nearly...

  3. The first discovery of payable gold in Australia has usually been attributed to Edward Hargraves, but there have been consistent reports that others preceded him. John Calvert claimed that with the consistent assistance of his Aboriginal companions he had found gold in New South Wales several years before Hargraves:

    [He got] good results by ‘simple crushing and rough washing – with the assistance of his native labourers – Naturally the finder did his best to keep his discovery secret and was for years successful in doing so, having no white allies and treating his black fellows so well as to secure their...

  4. 3. Guiding (pp. 35-46)

    For the most part, non-Indigenous miners’ accounts of directly employing Aboriginal people revolve on the profession of guiding. A guide’s role in both the pastoral and gold periods encompassed the most direct and easily traversable route (often along traditional pathways), and locating food, medicine and water to sustain their non-Indigenous companions. John Calvert, ‘veteran gold finder of the southern hemisphere’, was the recipient of Aboriginal guides’ knowledge on many occasions and adamantly avowed that without the aid of his ‘blackfellow’ guides at Turtle Bay, Western Australia in 1847 ‘he could never have returned alive’. Indigenous guides also assisted in fording...

  5. The ability to track or to ‘read’ the landscape, a highly developed knowledge and skill refined by Aboriginal people, was immediately transferable to the needs of the colonists. Tracking had immediate applications which soon were utilised in many non-Indigenous situations, both before and during (and after) the gold rush period. Gary Presland, in his study For God’s Sake Send the Trackers evaluated the relationships between members of the Victorian Police and Aboriginal men from Queensland. The Aboriginal trackers:

    exercised skills which were outside the ambit of most Europeans, and the use of which was the major reason for their association...

  6. The social constructions of Aboriginal people as workers have often represented them as poor or indifferent. A suite of writers has documented the significance of Aboriginal pastoral workers in northern Australia. However, only a handful of scholars have examined the extent and significance of Victorian Aboriginal people as a labour force in the nineteenth century and these have concentrated primarily on Aboriginal peoples’ entry into the frontier economy of the 1830-40s. Yet evidence of Aboriginal entrepreneurship and employment in other less ‘visible’ yet instrumental occupations abounds during the gold rush period. This is important as it marks what historian Henry...

  7. 6. Co-habitation (pp. 85-102)

    Historical records relating to the alluvial gold mining period, predominantly from the 1850s, implicitly convey a degree of co-habitation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people. In his reminiscences, DJ Ross provides a representative example of influential early bush life on a squatting station (the first wave of dispossessors): ‘Born on a sheep station my earliest recollections are in connection with blackfellows, bushrangers and shearers’. All across Victoria’s gold mining districts Aboriginal men, women and children came into contact with non-Indigenous men and a few women and children. The degree of close contact between the races was variable, and differed in nature...

  8. On all appearances the first decade of the gold rush period (1850s) began disastrously for Aboriginal people in Victoria. Following on from the recommendations of the 1849 New South Wales Legislative Council’s inquiry into the state of Aborigines, which called for the abolition of the Aboriginal Protectorate and offered no other coherent policy, the largely pauperised Aboriginal population, which had been shunted from their traditional lands, had little alternative other than dependent relationships with non-Indigenous pastoralists. Historian Ian Clark has pointed out that Victorian Aboriginal people’s acceptance of temporary wage labour was a double edged sword, as while it afforded...

  9. Notwithstanding the evidence of cohabitation documented in chapter seven, the goldfields were an inherently violent and dangerous landscape, especially for Aboriginal people. Acts of violation such as sexual abuse, poisoning and shooting of dogs, desecration of graves and interference in Aboriginal affairs were frequent. Whilst the majority of commentators enthusiastically extolled the Victorian goldfields as relatively free of the violence common on the Californian goldfields, historians such as David Goodman have peered into the historical records and now insist upon an ‘edgier interpretation’ of Victoria’s goldfields.

    An examination of newspaper reports and court records of the early gold rush period...

  10. The 1850s have generally been described as a decade wherein Aboriginal people were overlooked by the new Victorian Government (separation from New South Wales occurred in 1850). Judging from the almost universally negative response about the level of government assistance afforded to Victorian Aboriginal people during the 1850s it is hard not to agree. In answer to the question (asked by the 1858-59 Victorian Select Committee of the Legislative Council on Aborigines) ‘Has assistance in the form of clothing, food or medical attendance, been bestowed on the aborigines of your district by the Government’ the answer was a resounding ‘No...

  11. Conclusion (pp. 127-128)

    The notion that to the non-Indigenous miners of Victoria Aboriginal people were ‘invisible, silent and nameless’ has been shown to be false. Vestiges of their considerable physical connection with the goldfields are to be found in Aboriginal artworks of the period, archaeological sites and place names bestowed upon mining areas, as well as the recollections of numerous non-Indigenous miners and contemporary observers. Core motivations for Aboriginal people to engage or not engage in work on the goldfields of Victoria clearly stemmed from whether their ancestral estates rested on auriferous ground and also the kinship-styled relationships that were forged between themselves...