Sharing the Load, Helping Others
S.T. Gill, Bendigo from Road to Eagle Hawk, 1857, J Tingle, engraver, Victoria Illustrated, Sand & Kenny. State Library of Victoria.
Text source: Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Chinese Fortunes, Cash Brown, 2017.Contributors
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Chinese walkers dug wells, planted gardens and marked the route for others to follow.
The treks were long and dangerous. Muddy in winter and baking hot in summer with no clear directions, walkers could die of exhaustion or exposure, especially if undernourished by team leaders skimping on rations or if led astray by unscrupulous guides who took their money and abandoned them in the bush.
Large, organised parties were able to share resources and their sheer numbers provided protection from bushrangers. Along the way they built sophisticated wells ensuring fresh water not only for those who followed, but also for market gardeners, who began to coax a living from the earth to feed future travellers and settlers in the area.
The Chinese generally avoided towns once over the border to escape detection by the Victorian authorities. They stopped at inns and homesteads along the way, sometimes purchasing sheep for food. Penola was a rare town stop where the fortune seekers would rest with their guides for a couple of days. Some Chinese stayed and established market gardens.
Some Chinese groups later followed the paths without guides.
In fine weather these remarkable travellers could cover 35 km in a single day.
Anecdotally, trekkers chanted “Ballaalat, Ballaalat” (meaning Ballarat, a known goldfields town) to keep in step. Other accounts say they chanted “Dai Gum San, Dai Gum San” (the Cantonese name, 'New Gold Mountain', for Bendigo). Paths were littered with discarded belongings, too heavy to carry despite their usefulness.
Text by Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka ‘Chinese Fortunes’ curator Cash Brown.