Goldfields Stories: Lola Montez, Star Attraction
When gold fever gripped central Victoria in the 1850s, hundreds of thousands of people arrived from all over the world, including Africa, the Americas, China, Europe and India.
The tent cities that appeared overnight brought people together regardless of whether they were rich or poor, aristocrat or convict, man or woman, lucky or unlucky. Everyone co-existed side by side, creating a society in a state of flux. With roles less fixed, it was a relatively liberal time.
But by 1856 the teeming, transgressive society began to settle. Ballarat was becoming an established town where men were comfortable to bring their wives and families. The process of social stratification, and the rise of associated moral agendas, began to take hold.
It was into this atmosphere that international sensation, Lola Montez, arrived.
Montez was born Maria Eliza Dolores Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1818. Self-made, creative and charismatic, she mixed with notable figures of her day, including George Sand and Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. She was politically influential, and the consort to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. Her other lovers included composer Franz Liszt and writer Alexandre Dumas.
Montez was hugely popular and controversial, just as pop star, Madonna, was a century later. Crowds descended on the Victoria Theatre in the Goldfields to witness her notorious Spider Dance, a titillating version of a tarantella.
Through Montez and her Spider Dance (as represented by the interpretive theatre presented at the Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum), this story explores the broader social forces at play on the goldfields at the time she visited.
The story also includes several moving postcards, giving snapshots of life on the goldfields in the nineteenth century.