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    Eliza Perrin's day dress, c. 1860, courtesy of Sovereign Hill Gold Museum.


While wealthy and newly rich women may have done their best to give the goldfields a taste of the sophisticated fashions and manners of town, contemporaries were struck more by the distinctive bearing and dress adopted by men on the goldfields. A uniform look blurred social and class distinctions on the diggings. Seweryn Korzelinski wrote that colonels became indistinguishable from sailors or chinamen when ‘hirsute [hairy], dusty and muddy, so that their own mothers would not be able to recognize them.’ Beards were part of the digger uniform: ‘all have turned “beardies”, ’ reported the Geelong Advertiser, ‘and a ferocious crop of mustachios are coming on.’

Hairiness was one component of an outfit that typically included a long red or blue flannel shirt (the better to hide the dust and mud), nondescript moleskin pants, lace-up boots, a handkerchief worn tied around the neck, and a cabbage tree hat. Historian Robyn Annear has observed that this look was not simply a practical response to working conditions but involved the conscious cultivation of a particular sartorial style. Although all ‘new chums’ attempted to blend in by adopting something of the look as soon as possible, some diggers were more avid cultivators of style than others. Parisian photographer Antoine Fauchery dismissed the ‘out-and-out miner’ whose dress concerns were purely utilitarian as looking like ‘a badly dressed navvy.’ Other diggers distinguished themselves with their gaudy-coloured handkerchiefs – maybe a blue silk ‘watersman’ or a scarlet ‘flashman’ – or by adopting Californian style, wearing silver trimmed boots, large belt buckles, and sporting riding whips.

While some diggers dressed more flashly than others, clothing that signified class distinctions was discouraged. It was generally understood, for instance, that anyone flaunting gentleman status by wearing a top hat on the diggings would be mercilessly ridiculed. Annear noted that Lord Robert Cecil, who journeyed to the goldfields in 1852, seemed quite disappointed when his white top hat provoked just one jibe.

Caitlin Mahar

Annear, Robyn, Nothing but gold: the diggers of 1852, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1999. Details
Korzelinski, Seweryn, Memoirs of gold-digging in Australia, Stanley Robe (ed. and trans.), University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1979. Details