Worlds Within Worlds
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Chinese quarters in the heyday of the gold rush were bustling, vibrant, interesting places.
Places with large Chinese populations in the 1850s and 1860s such as Guildford, Ballarat, Beechworth and Bendigo had flourishing economic and cultural worlds-within-worlds.
Tents and huts were set closely together. Chinese storekeepers and merchants kept the community fed and provisioned. Restaurants, tea houses, opium tents, gambling tents and tailor shops were established. Temples were prominent features, alongside scribes and calligraphers and a range of specialised artisans providing services. Herbalists, apothecaries and acupuncturists offered medical services to Chinese and European settlers alike. Permanent Chinese theatres were set up in larger towns and entertainers travelled from town to town presenting acrobatics, puppetry and opera to appreciative Chinese audiences.
As the gold rush evolved, the easy shallow gold of the 1850s disappeared and mining techniques moved to deep lead ventures. Many successful Chinese miners returned home or moved into other business ventures. Towards the later 1860s and 1870s Chinese camps slipped into neglect, becoming home to mainly impoverished and increasingly elderly residents.
This watercolour by Horace Burkitt depicts the Government Chinese Camp in its heyday at Black Lead, Creswick, circa 1858.