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The diggings were rich pickings for writers. While visiting the burgeoning communities, and trying their hand at mining, writers recorded their experiences and observations in a myriad of styles – from diaries and journals to books and letters. With each writer offering a unique perspective and agenda, literature allowed people from around the globe to glean an understanding of the diggings. In time authors became more reflective, and the publication of memoirs, such as J.F. Andrew’s Reminiscences of the gold fields of Victoria, New Zealand and New South Wales in the 50s and 60s, became popular.

Some literature was like the writing found in manuals, describing to prospective miners what they could expect in their new life, and how to prepare for the experience. In London, in 1852, George Butler Earp published The gold colonies of Australia: comprising their history, territorial division, produce and capabilities; also ample notice of the gold mines, and how to get to them; with every advice to emigrants. In explaining the religious, cultural and political characteristics of the diggings, and the best methods of getting there, Earp sometimes portrayed the goldfields in a less than favourable light. Perhaps to deter the faint hearted from emigrating, Earp wrote in his opening chapter that ‘drunkenness, debauchery, crime and immorality in every shape, are the characteristics of such a society as is now gathering in the goldfields.’

Other writings were for a European audience that would never visit the diggings. Arriving as a forty-two year old native Pole, Seweryn Korzelinski travelled to the goldfields of Forest Creek, Ovens, and Bendigo, and wrote an account of his experiences. He returned to Europe in 1856, and two years later published – in Polish – two volumes of his diaries and musings. In the memoirs, he not only reflected upon daily life on the fields – including contemplation of the polyglot of immigrants, the environment, and Aboriginal peoples – but also made comparisons between Victoria and Europe. In describing how friendships were quickly formed, Korzelinski wrote that if ‘one enters into a closer acquaintance with . . . a person, one is rewarded by erudition and culture where the appearance of the person would not indicate such gifts in Europe’ especially as it was possible that ‘this uncombed and sweaty forehead was once adorned by a doctor’s biretta, a church mitre, or a coronet.’

William Howitt was another who wrote about the diggings from an outsider’s perspective. Arriving in Victoria when in his sixties, the respected journalist and novelist wrote forty-three lengthy letters about the diggings, describing daily life, the surrounding ravished landscape, politics, the land question, Aboriginal people, and an array of other subject matters. In 1855, Howitt published the letters as Land, Labour and Gold.

Other accounts of the goldfields were written to stand as a record of political righteousness and remembrance. A year after the Eureka uprising, Raffaelo Carboni published the only eyewitness account of the rebellion, and the events that precipitated it. Arriving in Ballarat in 1853, the Italian became caught up in the struggle for miners’ rights and, as a consequence of his involvement with the uprising, was tried for treason but subsequently acquitted. In The Eureka Stockade, Carboni, ever sympathetic to the plight of the miners, offered a reliable account of the events as he attempted to pay tribute to fellow diggers who had lost their lives in the struggle:

Brave comrades in arms who fell on that disgraced Sabbath morning, December 3rd, worthy of a better fate, and most certainly of a longer remembrance, it is in my power to drag your names from an ignoble oblivion, and vindicate the unrewarded bravery of one of yourselves!

Laura Donati