The Victorian Goldfields - Slim pickings for Women
In this video, academic Clare Wright discusses women on the Victorian goldfields: their presence, their opportunities and their roles.
Clare Wright: In the first couple of years in the gold rush it was slim pickings for women. There just weren't that many around.
But very soon, by 1853, there was an exodus of women from Melbourne and from Europe and from America to the goldfields. And commentators at the time noted this, that there was so many women on the goldfields, particularly in contrast to the Californian gold rushes, where there were so few women.
Women were playing a variety of roles. They were actually digging for gold, both in family groups, so helping out their husbands, but also on their own.
There is evidence that there were women who just came there to mine. There were also women who were running shops, they were running restaurants, boarding houses, theatres.
There were dancers, actresses, there were prostitutes, of course, but there were really women who were engaged in a whole range of commercial activities that were servicing this large, moveable, prosperous, and often not so prosperous digging community.
And women were supplementing family incomes.
So for all of those times where men weren't finding gold, and for most of the time they weren't, women were the ones who were actually supplementing the income.
And that's a really important historical detail that has been left out.
Because I think that that really becomes one of the reasons why men are so frustrated on the goldfields and why there's so much tension and anger and disappointment, is because the men felt that they were going to be able to provide for their families and provide this whole new independent life, whereas actually it was the women who had developed this independence, who had come to this point of self-reliance, because they now were economic beings.
And they also had a lot of power in their family economy because they were the ones who were the providers.
Copyright Sovereign Hill Museums Association