Because of the transient nature of life on the diggings, newspapers were crucial in conveying information and knowledge. With advertisements for local businesses, and articles on topical issues relating both to events at the diggings and also those at Melbourne and further afield (interspersed with poetry, lists of unclaimed letters, and items for sale), newspapers allowed people to familiarise themselves with their new surrounds, whilst also keeping abreast of what was happening nationally and internationally. As the diggings became increasingly political, newspapers became important means of communicating diggers’ grievances, and the concerns of burgeoning communities. In establishing the Mount Alexander Mail in 1854, the editor explained the newspaper’s stance as ‘advocating the just claims of the digging community, and in protecting the digger from oppression and injustice.’ Consequently, important issues – like national schools, licences, government power, and the question of land – were discussed within its pages. Newspapers also served to alleviate the monotony of daily life by presenting new stories, and promoting fresh thoughts and topics of conversation. In musing on his time at the diggings, Seweryn Korzelinski recalled: ‘as soon as we heard the hoarse voice calling “Latest English News” we used to run out of the tents and pay 2/6 for a slim newspaper, because any news at all would break the monotonous life of the miner, especially news from Europe and the theatre of war.’
Like the communities it served, the newspaper business was initially one of transience; a newspaper proprietor was in a precarious position, as his readership was likely to leave at any point for more prosperous diggings. As a consequence of this, and constrained by inexperienced proprietors, competition, and poor management, many papers folded. The Castlemaine Leader, the Advertiser, the Representative, Our Daily News, the Miners’ Rights, the Castlemaine Yarner and Diggings Gazette, and the Mount Alexander Mail, were all briefly produced in Castlemaine, with only the latter lasting beyond a decade or so. First published in May 1854, the Mail was so successful that it increased in size from a four-page spread to an eight-page layout after only six weeks, thereby allowing the publication of more newsworthy articles.
The Ballarat Times was established in 1854, and maintained a long association with the town. Whilst the newspaper flourished, its association with neighbouring towns illustrates the ever-changing nature of the press. In September 1854 the newspaper was officially called the Ballarat Times and Buninyong and Creswick’s Creek Advertiser, but a year later it became the Ballarat Times and Southern Cross.
Other newspapers, like Melbourne’s Argus, sent correspondents to the diggings with the Argus’ Alfred Clarke one of the first to visit the goldfields. Rather than glamorising the diggings, he portrayed a more realistic existence, that of a lifestyle comprising arduous and unyielding work:
A gold-digger must be a Jack-of-all-trades: He must be able to strip bark, fall a tree and saw it, dig sods, make embankments, put up a hut, mend clothes, draw firewood, after chopping it, bake, boil and roast, use a pick and spade, delve, dig and quarry, load and unload, draw a sledge and drive a barrow, cut paths, make roadways, puddle in mud and splash ankle deep in water, with occasional slushings from head to foot, bear sleet and rain without flinching during the day and sleep in damp blankets during the night, thankful that they were not entirely saturated; if you can do all this, and have spirit enough to attempt it and endurance enough to carry it on for three months, then there is gold and rheumatism in store for you.