On February 12, 1851, a prospector discovered flecks of gold in a waterhole near Bathurst, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Soon, even more gold was discovered in what would become the neighboring state of Victoria. This began the Australian Gold Rush, which had a profound impact on the country’s national identity. Within a year, more than 500,000 people (nicknamed “diggers”) rushed to the gold fields of Australia. Most of these immigrants were British, but many prospectors from the United States, Germany, Poland, and China also settled in NSW and Victoria.
It was thought by many that respectable women would not be able to endure the goldfields lifestyle and that the goldfields were “no place for a lady”. However, while the majority of women stayed back in the towns with their families, it was not long before some began arriving on the goldfields. As early as 1851, there were women who worked side by side with their husbands searching for gold. Some women even worked independently as diggers, but unlike their male counterparts, were not required to purchase a licence.
Unsurprisingly, a group of women who we hear less about were the Wadawurrung women whose lives were turned upside down by the influx of foreigners. They successfully turned their hand to providing goods and services to the European settlers.
Honing your skills is a process – this card witnesses and celebrates that process and all the work that is involved.Little Red Tarot
A European woman who managed a highly successful store on the Ballarat goldfields was Martha Clendinning. Her husband, George, was a doctor who brought his wife to Victoria from England in 1852. He travelled to the goldfields with his brother-in-law to look for gold, leaving Martha with her sister in Melbourne.
However, Martha and her sister decided to follow their husbands and walk the ninety-five miles to Ballarat. They brought with them bedsteads, mattresses, blankets, chairs and cooking utensils on a bullock dray and planned to set up a store on the diggings. This idea was met with ridicule from their husbands as it was not considered normal behaviour for respectable women of the time to operate businesses. Despite the men’s objections, the sisters opened a store in the front of their tent selling tea, coffee, sugar, candles, tobacco, jam, bottled fruit, cheese, dress materials and baby clothes. Margaret and her sister were very proud of their store which, unlike many others on the diggings, did not sell sly grog. They were required to pay £40 ($80) a year for a storekeeper’s licence.
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After her sister returned to Melbourne, Martha continued to run the store on her own until 1855. She then decided to close her small store because it was facing competition from larger businesses and the storekeeper’s licence was becoming too expensive. Also, Martha’s husband could now support the family and social attitudes towards middle class women were quickly changing as Ballarat became a more settled, conservative community. Middle class women were expected to be wives and mothers – not businesswomen. Source: Women on the Goldfields