Working the Claim
Mining Model - Surfacing & Puddling, Shallow Alluvial Workings, Victoria, ca. 1857.Contributors
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The Chinese were both admired and resented for their efficient, collaborative gold mining techniques.
Chinese miners commonly worked together in large groups. Many Chinese miners who arrived in Australia owed money to a merchant or organisation for their fare to Australia. As part of their contract they would work as part of big organised teams under the command of a boss or head man until the debt was repaid. Some very large Chinese-owned mining companies operated on the Victorian goldfields who could employ hundreds of Chinese labourers.
After they had repaid their debt, Chinese miners were free to found their own ventures and would often form small egalitarian partnerships. Teams of two to ten people made up of family members or village members would work claims together, dividing the group's domestic chores between them. These small cooperatives often combined forces with other like-minded groups to share resources and labour such that over a hundred Chinese miners could be seen working together turning over a gully.
Business partnerships between Chinese miners and European miners also took place.
Myths about Chinese mining techniques are often wrong. One myth is that Chinese miners sunk round holes when they dug for gold. Archaeological evidence shows both round and square/rectangular holes in gold fields known to be used by Chinese, and round holes in areas known to be used predominantly by European miners.
It was common for Chinese mining groups to work over the surface 'tailings' or dumped soil from old claims no longer being mined. They worked methodically and found gold that had been overlooked by the previous miners. This caused resentment amongst European miners as they argued the Chinese were working claims that had been set aside by Europeans to be worked over again when times got tough.
Yet Chinese miners did more than work on the surface picking over previously-worked mines. Chinese groups also independently fossicked to find gold leads, establishing entire camps (and in the case of Ararat in 1857, a future city) that European miners would learn about and follow. In these practices Chinese miners were often very successful, which also raised the ire of some Europeans.
Chinese leaders worked hard to avoid confrontation and to meet European expectations. For instance, some European miners complained that Chinese miners were profligate with water and that they sullied the clean water supplies.The Ballarat See Yup Association rules for Chinese members of 1868 has a specific stipulation that water holes should not be damaged.
Pictured here is a three dimensional model made by Carl Nordstrom at Ballarat in 1858-59. It shows a typical scene of mining activities and equipment associated with working shallow surface alluvial gold deposits, including puddling machines and other common modes of hand washing for gold. The techniques depicted are typical of those practised by the first wave of miners on most Victorian goldfields during the 1850s. Model scale 1:32. Part of the Nordstrom Mining Models Collection at Museum Victoria.
Two Chinese miners are depicted as part of the mining community.
For more information on the Nordstrom Mining Model visit https://museumvictoria.com.au/learning-federation/nordstrom-mining-models/mining-model---surfacing--puddling/ .