Mingling on the Main Street
H Burkitt, Albert Street, Creswick, watercolour, ca. 1859Contributors
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In the goldrush heydey, Chinese were an established and familiar part of goldfields communities, contributing to the economic, industrial, social and cultural life of the towns.
Far from being isolated in segregated protectorates, Chinese people, Aboriginal people, and people of many nations mingled on the main street, often as neighbours.
For instance, Joe Byrne, the doomed associate of Bushranger Ned Kelly, was said to have learnt Cantonese by mixing with Chinese friends growing up in the Victorian town of Beechworth in the 1850s and 1860s. Byrne and Kelly had Irish-born parents.
At its peak in 1859 the Chinese population in Victoria is estimated to have been around 46,000. In some gold digging villages Chinese people made up the majority of the population.
Beechworth, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Ballarat, Ararat, Maryborough, Daylesford, Blackwood, Avoca and a number of smaller satellite settlements and townships surrounding these larger areas, were home to significant Chinese communities. From the mid 1860s Chinese miners would also move to Gippsland.
This watercolour by Horace Burkitt depicts two Chinese shops in the centre of the town of Creswick's main shopping precinct, circa 1859. Creswick, in central Victoria, 20 kilometres north of Ballarat, had a high proportion of Chinese people living in the town, plus a designated government-endorsed Chinese camp at Black Lead.