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Discontent at Buninyong

The Geelong Advertiser reported that diggers held several unhappy meetings after the Government released ‘Proclamation No.2, imposing the Licence Fees.’

29 August 1851
Published Source
Australian National Dictionary Centre, The Gold Rushes and Australian English: a resource for researchers, teachers and students, Australian National University, 2005, http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/res/aus_words/gold/index.php. Details
This material is provided by the Australian National Dictionary Centre, a joint project of the Australian National University and Oxford University Press Australia.


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[from A.C., the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer correspondent at Buninyong]: I was at the "Diggins" listening to the many complaints as I went round from cradle to cradle. The Intelligencer had furnished the diggers with the Government Proclamation No. 2, imposing the License Fees. The subject had been warmly discussed, and it was resolved to hold a public meeting that very night. It was a novel and exciting scene. At the entrance of every tent was a blazing fire, which every now and then shot up a lurid flame, disclosing for a moment the the [sic] dark figures hovering round it; then sinking it would leave the bush in darker obscurity than ever. About eight o’clock there was an unusual stillness, when from one of the central tents came a voice convening all the gold diggers together. From tent to tent the cry was taken up until it went the whole round of the encampment. A gun was then fired, and within a few minutes from forty to fifty as picturesque-looking individuals as ever ornamented canvas, assembled round a large watchfire, kindled beneath the gloomy stringy-bark trees. The Proclamation of His Excellency was then read from the Intelligencer by fire-light, and was listened to with the profoundest attention. One by one it was commented upon, calmly and dispassionately, but with strong earnestness; under the canopy of heaven in the dead silence of the bush, with the pale stars looking down upon them, did these men weigh and ponder upon the act of the Government. One man said that he was a free man, and a hard-working man, willing to pay his fair share to the Government, but he could not and would not pay thirty shillings a month for a LICENSE TO GET A HONEST LIVELIHOOD by his labor. He was much applauded, and several said that he spoke their feelings, and they would act in the same way. Another said that he worked very hard, and he could not get his rations by gold digging, "and how," said he, "can it be expected that I can pay a shilling a day to the Commissioner? It’s a burning shame to expect it." "It’s more than the squatter pays for twenty square miles," said a third. "But you are a poor man," retorted a fourth. "They’ll drive us to Bathurst [in New South Wales]," said another, "and then let Port Phillip look out for laborers. I spent every halfpenny I had in fitting myself out for the diggings, and now I am to be taxed before I have been here a week, or had an opportunity of getting any of it back again." "You should have gone to California, Jim; the Yankees don’t do it in this here fashion." "This is Port Phillip, d’ye see?" rejoined another. "What’s the use of Separation?" said another. "Here is a specimen of independent government! I should like to know what right the Government has to tax us eighteen pounds a-year before the Council sits? What’s the use of voting in members if the Government can do as they like; they’ll make it six-and-thirty pounds next; of course they will, if they see their advantage in it; there’s no two ways about that; I’ll ding my cradle first!" "That’ll only be serving yourself out," replied another. "I propose that we get up a memorial to Mr. La Trobe, and that we all sign it." "That’s my opinion," said a stout man, pushing forward; "a gentleman advised to do that to-day, and to get some respectable inhabitants to put their names to it, and a magistrate to sanction it." "That’s no use at all," said another; "we meet here to-night round our own fire; we are honest men, and we want our rights and nothing more. Let us act for ourselves, and pass resolutions, and not waste our time in sending memorials that’ll just be laid aside, and there’s an end of ’em. I propose, first, that we elect a chairman, and then let any man propose his resolution, and put it to the meeting; that’s the way to do business. (Bravo! that’s the way to do business, and no mistake.) We don’t want to fly in the face of the Government, but if the Government don’t act honestly, let us show them up through the Press to the people, who, he was sure, would see them righted." And so one after another delivered his sentiments. I never was more struck with a scene in my life, and something whispers to me that it will be an important one. It is a solemn protest of labor against oppression—an outburst of light, reason, and right, against the infliction of an effete objectionable royal claim, brought forward to crush a new branch of industry, whose birth was heralded by large rewards, and whose death will be laid at the door of the Government. The first effect of the manifesto has been to disperse the diggers from the Buninyong gold-field. They were willing to work at a present loss for a prospective gain; but they have expressed an unanimous resolution not to persevere with works requiring a great outlay of labour, to make them profitable for a government, before the worker and toiler could receive one farthing of compensation for his time and trouble. Let the "blue shirts" and "cabbage-trees" have fair play. They are the "pioneers" of the day—the advanced guards of enterprise, working in the damp and chill, and exposed to every hardship: they have sacrificed their "household gods," and given up all for a life of toil in the wilderness: their mission is for the development of the mineral resources of the colony, to which they were instigated by the Press and the People: they interfere with no rights, clash with no interests, impede no progress, injure none, great or small;—but, on the contrary, they stand out in bold relief in the front of society, and proclaim abroad that they won a harvest from barrenness, and riches from poverty! that they wrenched gold, by labor, from rocks—a wealth which but for them would never have been heard of; for it is to hard working, not to scientific men that the gold discovery is attributable; and their reward is " PROHIBITION " and PROSCRIPTION , and a trampling underfoot of the rights of labor. It is "taxation without representation"—an imperial edict to raise an indefinite sum, by an absolute and unexplained levy, to be applied, Heaven only knows how or where. What is a five per cent. taxed burgess compared to one of these men, paying £18 per annum? In this edict is a gross innovation: a principle is involved here, and the sooner it is nipped in the bud the better will it be for all classes. Another meeting of the diggers was held last night, when the following resolutions were submitted, and carried nem. con.:— 1. That it is the opinion of this meeting that the determination on the part of the Executive Council to impose a fee of 30s. per month per man for a license to search or dig for gold, at the present time, is both impolitic and illiberal, and is calculated to check, if not altogether to stop, the research which is now being made to open up the mineral resources of the colony. 2. That the individuals composing this meeting have been led, by highly coloured representations, to expend a considerable sum of money in order to furnish a proper outfit to enable them to pursue their researches for gold in the neighbourhood of Buninyong; that they have prosecuted for several consecutive days such research, but that though gold has been discovered in the locality, it is found to be distributed in such minute particles that it will not pay for the labour in working it. 3. That it is the opinion of this meeting, under the circumstances of the case, that an indulgence of some little time should be granted by the Executive Council to the searchers for gold in and around Buninyong, before they be called upon to pay so exorbitant a fee. 4. That it is the resolve of this meeting, should the Government persist in imposing the fee, to vacate their present ground, and proceed at once to Bathurst, or to some other place in the adjoining colony, where the mines are much more remunerative than is the one in Buninyong. A desire was then expressed that the resolutions should be inserted in the Geelong papers; three tremendous cheers were given for the Press, which were re-echoed from the surrounding forest; the men retired to their tents, and I mounted horse, and rode slowly through the deep gloom to Buninyong, pondering on the way, the strange scene I had witnessed, and the stranger vicissitudes to which human life is subjected. Here, a month ago, was but bush and forest; and to night, for the first time since Australia rose from the bosom of the ocean, were men strong in their sense of right, lifting up a protest against an impending wrong, and protesting against the government. Human progress in Port Phillip—like her vegetation is rapid—let the government beware, lest like her timber, it prove rotten at the core, whilst it carries a healthy exterior. Geelong Advertiser, 29 August 1851