In the incredible early years of the Victorian gold rush, people were living and working under truly extraordinary circimstances. Thousands were flocking here in a frenzy with just one thing on their minds – gold! Their only objective was to pry their fortunes from the depths of Victoria’s rich ground.
The early gold rush, with its harsh conditions, considerable adversities, and no small amount of adventure, created a generation of men unlike any other.
The people who made their way to Victoria in the early 1850s experienced something that is not likely to be seen again. The entire state was turned upside down, seemingly endless ounces of gold were being pulled from the earth, and everywhere they turned the air was thick with the excitement of gold fever.
These diggers, regardless of their previous positions in life, suddenly had the opportunity to strike their fortunes through their own labour, and revelled in the freedoms of self-employment.
They abandoned their previous lifestyles and found themselves separated from civilisation and society as they knew it. They drifted from place to place in their search for gold, constantly excited by the very character of their occupation, living in the bush or in tent cities at various rushes, which often popped up overnight.
To try your luck at the diggings was a very appropriate phrase, as it was often a case of luck when it came to the sinking of shafts. Men could spend weeks digging their shaft, only to bottom out and realise they’ve missed the gutter, it having changed its course and deviated away from the line it was formerly taking.
The lucky ones could strike riches beyond the scope of their imaginations! Some were sensible with their new found wealth, but others resorted to a debauchery and extravagance which they’d later regret, supposing at the time that there was plenty more where that came from.
After the gold rush ran its course, many of these adventurous spirits turned to other professions to make ends meet, some making tucker, others accumulating great wealth from their trades.
But there were plenty of diggers who didn’t let it go, who spent the rest of their lives fossicking on the fringes of society, enjoying the independent, free lifestyle they experienced during those incredible early years of the gold rush.
These enduring, pioneering diggers were recalled in the newspapers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where their strong spirits and fierce independence was remarked upon and their quirky characters recalled with fondness.