1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Places: Overview

It is early morning and still a little cool, although the sky above the surrounding low hills is already pale blue, and flecked with wispy trails of light cloud. We walk along a shallow valley. Stands of box eucalypts, mixed with ironbarks, cover the hillsides and extend down towards a winding creek. An open meadow borders the other side where we walk. The light around us is clear, and the silence — apart from a low harmony of bird calls — is absolute.


The meadow grass, moist with dew, has been cropped short by sheep and kangaroos. In scattered clumps across the meadow, the grey-black branches of ancient almond trees — leafless in the early spring, gnarled, wrinkled, and patch-worked with lichen — are softened by the pink and white shimmer of newly opened blossom. A sprinkle of daffodil yellow surrounds the trees. Here and there among these clusters of spring bulbs and almond trees we notice low mounds of grass and dirt-embedded stone. And now we see block upon block, standing clear of grass and tumbled stone. These are worked surfaces. They form a low wall, partly collapsed, which we suddenly realise defines the brick base of what was once a chimney stack. Embedded in this apparently natural landscape are subtle traces of past human activity. The almond trees, the bulbs, and collapsed walls are all signatures from a past world. People once occupied this valley. Who were they?

The survey map in my hand provides a clue. It bears the title 'Guildford 7723-4-2'. The co-ordinates show that we are standing in a place called Golden Gully. All over the map the phrase 'Old gold workings' recurs to describe the relic landscapes that surround us. Bland indeed does that label appear, when we compare this present-day map with the copied plans from the 1850s and 1860s that my companion pulls from her backpack. They reveal a miscellany of place names, rich in associations, for every hill, gully, flat, and human settlement — Italian Hill for example, German Gully, Adelaide Flat, and Irishtown — that once connected all the parts of this district into one sprawling community. It was called the Mount Alexander Diggings.

News of the discovery of gold at 'The Mount', in central Victoria, during 1851 triggered a mass migration of gold seekers from around the world. The newcomers created a pastiche of translated social worlds in this new place. Their inscriptions upon the landscape overlaid, but did not altogether efface, those of its original custodians, the Djadja Wurrung people. Most of the newcomers came from Britain and from English-speaking settler societies, but the largest non-English speaking minority group came from southern China.

The diggers — ethnic and class differences notwithstanding — shared a common gender. But the communities that dotted the Mount Alexander Diggings contained large numbers of women and children as well as men. As Golden Gully demonstrates, the diggings comprised much more than sluicing beds and poppet heads; mining activity overlapped with home life, neighbourliness, and communalism. Their richly diverse history has barely begun to be told.

Maps — old and new — provide pointers to this forgotten history. But one needs to pull on walking boots to find the traces of this history that are still embedded in the landscapes of gold mining sites right across Australia. These places are potent cultural landscapes because their forms reveal the human interventions that took place within them. Like a palimpsest, or ancient parchment, which has been written upon, erased, and overwritten, these cultural landscapes can also be carefully read for traces of the events that took place there. One needs to stand in places like Golden Gully in order to read the material traces of gold mining in the landscape. These places invite us to adjust our historical emphases and ask fresh questions about the past: about the overlooked people who lived in such locales, and about the rhythms of workplace, home, and neighbourhood life in these vanished communities.

Following nomenclature principles adopted by the Victorian Geographic Place Names Advisory Committee, in instances of place names indicating the possessive case, the apostrophe is deleted but the 's' retained: e.g., Fishermans Bend, Hobsons Bay, Princes Bridge.

Alan Mayne

See also

Anakie, VIC
Andersons Creek, VIC
Ararat, VIC
Avoca, VIC
Ballarat, VIC
Baringhup, VIC
Barkers Creek, VIC
Barossa, SA
Bathurst, NSW
Beaconsfield, TAS
Beechworth, VIC
Bendigo, VIC
Boulder, WA
Braidwood, NSW
Broken Hill, NSW
Buckland River, VIC
Buninyong, VIC
Campbells Creek, VIC
Canoona, QLD
Castlemaine, VIC
Charters Towers, QLD
Chewton, VIC
Chiltern, VIC
Christmastown, VIC
Chute, VIC
Clunes, VIC
Coen Goldfields, Cape York, QLD
Coolgardie, WA
Cornishtown, VIC
Creswick, VIC
Croydon, QLD
Daylesford, VIC
Dry Diggings, VIC
Dunolly, VIC
Durham, VIC
Eaglehawk Flat, VIC
Eaglehawk, VIC
Forbes, NSW
Forest Creek, VIC
Foster, VIC
Fryers Creek, VIC
Fryers Forest, VIC
Fryerstown, VIC
Geelong, VIC
Golden Gully, VIC
Golden Point (Castlemaine), VIC
Golden Point, VIC
Guildford, VIC
Gulgong, NSW
Gympie, QLD
Heathcote, VIC
Hill End, NSW
Home Rule, NSW
Indigo, VIC
Kalgoorlie, WA
Kanowna, WA
Kimberley, WA
Kingston, VIC
Long Gully, VIC
Maldon, VIC
Maryborough, VIC
Moliagul, VIC
Mount Pleasant, SA
Muckleford, VIC
Newstead, VIC
Omeo, VIC
Onkaparinga, SA
Ophir, NSW
Palmer River Goldfield, QLD
Pilbara Goldfield, WA
Pine Creek, NT
Pyrenees, VIC
Ravenswood, QLD
Robe, SA
Rum Jungle, NT
Sebastapol, VIC
Sofala (Turon), NSW
Southern Cross, WA
St Arnaud, VIC
Stawell, VIC
Steiglitz, VIC
Strathloddon, VIC
Swifts Creek, VIC
Tarilta, VIC
Tarnagulla, VIC
Tarrangower, VIC
Teetulpa, SA
Vaughan, VIC
Walhalla, VIC
Walmer, VIC
Wedderburn, VIC
Wellington, NSW
Wesley Hill, VIC
Woods Point, VIC
Yam Creek, NT
Yandoit, VIC
Yapeen, VIC