Impressions of Ballarat 1883
IMPRESSIONS OF BALLARAT.
The subjoined extracts are from an article by 'The Vagabond,' of which the complete article appeared in The Argus 17 March 1883 The article below I translated/transcribed from an article in the The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873-1889) 11 April 1883: —
I have seen goldmines and goldfields in various parts of the world, in Wales, in the Old Dominion, in Central America, and in Queensland, but it was only the other day that I paid my first visit to Ballarat and Bendigo. I presume that because it is so easy to take the cars from Melbourne to these places I had never been specially tempted to go there. There is seldom anything particularly attractive in the accessible. An upland plateau, with a fringe of bills all around, some of these now denuded of their timber and glittering white, cold, and bare in the sun the earth pitted with holes and gullies scarified as if by some gigantic rooster, 'mullock heaps' 'poppet heads and engine-stacks everywhere.
This is one's first impression of Ballarat.
Goldfields are very much like each other all over the world. Substitute pines for eucalypti, and I could imagine this to be California. But when one first drives from the station and sees the magnificent width of Sturt-street, with the avenue of trees planted along the centre, the public buildings, banks, and churches you are possessed with astonishment that this is a mining town. The whole order has indeed changed, and the new is totally unlike what I imagined. Ballarat is indeed a great inland capital, the only real provincial centre which I have seen in Australia.
The difference between this and Sandhurst is that at the latter the mines obtrude themselves everywhere. One cannot go half a block but one has mullock heaps and poppet-heads in view. There is a mine in every back yard. At Sandhurst it is gold — nothing but gold. Small nuggets are occasionally, so say the truthful inhabitants, picked up by sharp-visioned pedestrians in the public streets. There is gold or evidences of it all round, even in the very bricks of the houses in which we live, for the old men tell that the first brick building ever erected in Sandhurst was pulled down and crushed, yielding 3oz. to the ton !
In Ballarat it is all different. Walk up Sturt street, or along Lydiard street, and one sees nothing but substantial buildings and avenues of trees. The mines are in the suburbs and do not deface the town as at Sandhurst. There is a perceptible difference in the people here too. On Bendigo there is still a great deal of the rough and ready social democracy of the early days. Under the verandahs on Pall Mall there is, night and day a busy surging throng of eager speculators baying and selling in small quantities. Many of these speculators are very 'rats' of the share market.
On 'the Corner,' at Ballarat, which is not a corner except to those who get done there, the brokers appears to have a slightly higher tone, there does not appear to be so much business done, but larger 'parcels' are worked off. There are not so many 'punters' as at Sandhurst. One sees here that there are different elements introduced into the mining community. I stand at the Corner and watch the passing show. Ballarat is famous for its foundries and aerated water manufacturers, and at noon and night the mechanic is easily recognised — a different type from the miner. Here, too, one finds young squatters, the jeunesse doree of Victoria, dandified to look at, but as hard as nails, and fit for any amount of work in the saddle. These are talking horse to a tall active-looking man, one who I am told was a working miner, but is now with £300,000, who amuses himself by coming here daily and speculating a few thousands, just as others would have a game at nap with sixpenny points. I admire him in that he is plainly dressed, and does not wear diamonds. He is the sort of man I know in California ; Mackay, Sharon, Flood, Fair, and O'Brien are of this type. Then there is the fashionable broker who divides his time between Ballarat and Melbourne; another, brother of a most popular barrister, once an able pressman in Melbourne, is making that fortune here which journalism in the colonies could never assure him, The CHEERYBLE Brothers, who pass, have grown grey, but are still active in the public service. They are connecting links with the early days of official life on the gold-fields. English aristocracy is represented by His Honour, a true gentleman of the old school, who sits in his carriage as erect as at twenty, although in his eighth decade.
Here, moving unnoticed in the throng, is a hero, one who saved many lives and caused the breakup of the infamous KELLY gang. I had often heard of Mr.Curnow's gallant deed, and I am more pleased to meet him than any man in Ballarat. A slight, small man, weak and lame, he is not one whom the popular idea would fix on as being possessed of the courage he showed at Glenrowan, but when you look at his head you see there the true moral power which, in moments of real danger, is so superior to mere brute force. In days of old, brother CURNOW would have been knighted, ennobled perhaps. Now-a-days, many wearers of the Victoria cross have earned their decorations very cheaply compared to the act of this schoolmaster. State education is represented by him, and the church by this young parson, who walks quickly through the throng. He is not an ordinary man, either like the hero in 'The New Magdalen' he is 'the most nonclerical of clergymen. He smokes, goes to the play, and, withal, does better parish work than Any 'snuffle' buster' in the colony.
In Ballarat I certainly find more interesting types than in Sandhurst.
'Saint Scripts', however, still powerful here. Both on Bendigo and Ballarat every man, woman, and child appears to hold stock don't know if it is true that babies in their cradles lisp out dividends. If the stranger here escapes buying shares, he must certainly go down a mine. In Sandhurst it is a popular form of hospitality. Everyone wants to give or obtain an order for you to go down the Garden Gully or the Shenandoah. It costs nothing and is a cheap way of showing kindness to strangers. The managers do not present you with any specimens or nuggets as in Queensland. If you want any they are valued, and you have to buy them. I don't think I would have gone down a mine in Ballarat but for the presence of my Queensland friend. I was bound to see him through. We drove towards the Band and Albion, along streets in which English and native trees are planted alternately, the former seemed sickly enough in this hot weather, and the effect altogether is not equal to that caused by the elm trees at Sandhurst, which, however, are kept verdant by continual application of the hose, water appearing more plentiful there than at Ballarat.
Our Jehu wanted to sell me some shares. Finding he could not do that, and in expectation of a good fare, he became communicative. He did pretty well occasionally; the other day bought 100 at 6d. each, sold them to a 'flat' from Geelong, whom he was driving, for 4s 6d. each. Now he had 1.000, which he bought for 5d. he had sold 100 of these for £1. It wasn't a bad game, altogether. Thus Jehu, whom I expect some day to see an opulent share broker or bookmaker, the same qualities being necessary for success in both cases.
A description of the Band and Albion, of the crushing plant and all the various appliances where the precious metal is extracted from its matrix, has been lately written by abler hands than mine. To the unprofessional eye one quartz-mill is very like another, and there is little difference in mullock heaps, poppet-heads, or shafts. When we changed our clothes in the engine-house, my friend just before the pink of fashion, if he retained his mould of form, looked as rough a miner as one would wish to see. I dare say I appeared more so. Escorted by an underground manager, we went down in a damp uncomfortable cage, halted at a level, and our candles being lighted trudged along the drives, screwing ourselves every now and then against the sides to let loaded trollies pass, bumping our heads, knocking our shins, and being generally hot and uncomfortable. I had reminiscences of Greta Colliery in New South Wales, and of the Balade copper mine in New Caledonia. I think a goldmine is just as bad as either. Every now and then our cicerone stopped and drew attention to some particular vein of stone, in which I pretended to be very much interested. Once only we saw the colour. This was a specimen which, I believe, was kept to show visitors, I knocked it off and carried it away in triumph. We crawled on hands and knees up a ladder into a little 'cockloft' where a dozen men are working. It was in some such place as this that the Creswick sufferers met their end. It was frightfully close, and although I had a talk with an American miner, who sadly lamented the old days on tee Pacific Slope, I did not enjoy myself. 1 was glad to ascend to mother earth, vowing that never again would I be tempted down a mine. To all amateur a wishing to explore the bowels of the earth I give advice gratis 'Don't' The game isn't worth the Apollos you burn. The old days in Ballarat, and the strange episodes of life which passed here then, are of the highest interest to me but the record of these is fully set out In Mr. Withers' admirable history. It is of the present alone that I can speak without plagiarism. To me this city is a perfect Arcadia. Embowered in trees, the homes of the people are surrounded with gardens. There is verdure and vegetation in every street. One mentally associates an amount of roughness and coarseness with a mining town. Here it is quite other than so. There is everything to bring light and culture and sweetness home to the people. Sandhurst is superior in one respect— that its public gardens are right in the centre of the town, running by the side of old Bendigo Creek. The fernery there is certainly a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, a transplanted corner of Gippsland but there is nothing in the colonies to surpass Wendouree Lake, the walks around it and the adjacent reserves and Botanical gardens. An easy walk from the town and we embark on one of the fleet of elegant little steamer's — perfect yachts— furnished with luxurious cushions and rugs as protection from the spray. Here everything is calm and peaceful. There is no dust, no noise, no smells. Sailing boats and rowing boats are plentiful in little punts fishermen are bobbing for perch. This is a lung which gives health and happiness to the inhabitants of Ballarat. And when, after crossing the lake, we land under the shade of English oak trees, and the air is perfumed with the scent of new mown hay, we feel that in no other mining community in the world have the people such privileges as here. The Botanical gardens are always beautiful, and are a model to other establishments of the same kind in much larger communities. The fernery, with its choicer and rarer plants, is greatly to be admired, and Mr. LANGLEY is much to be congratulated that he has done so much with the small means at his command.
On a plantation many miles up the Rewa River in Fiji an old Australian colonist once said to me, "You havn't been to Ballarat? then you don't know Victoria". I fully recognise this fact now. When I look at this beautiful city with its grand streets and boulevards lined with trees, the lake, gardens, water reserves, its churches and schools, and remember what it was 30 years ago, I am more than ever filled with admiration for the great men who first founded Ballarat and the colony of Victoria. The world sent its best and bravest in that mad struggle for gold, a mere individual fight for riches. So it seemed then, but the early pioneers built wiser than they knew. Many perished in that strife, but those whom the doctrine of selection left were indeed giants, and Ballarat remains a living proof of their energy and enterprise.
The photograph below is Sturt Street Ballarat 1880. on the left is the post office and the Rocks Head hotel in the background.