Posted in Central Victoria Goldfields History, It is ALL about US and Our Life in Castlemaine, Pennyweight Cemetery

Suffer the Children

Life on the goldfields was particularly harsh on children. They were often used as a source of labour and could earn small amounts of money for errands. Their young immune systems were still developing and children were highly susceptible to diseases that sometimes ran through mining communities. However, even the young were drawn to the lure of gold and could also be found panning along the rivers.

Aside with the associated danger of children wandering off and getting lost, the poor and inadequate drainage of the early settlements caused much discomfort not only for everyone’s olfactory nerves but on the community’s health problems.

We take for granted the way in which we can now store perishable foods, having a clean water supply, a well operating sewerage system and the many other conveniences at the press of a button or flick of a switch.

When we really think about it, how would we cope under the circumstances that the early diggers and their families faced when they first arrived here? There were a number of diseases which were fatal to the goldfield’s population, and the health officer of the local council in co-operation with the police had to be extremely vigilant. Police and health officials were a partnership which we rarely consider at the present, but at the time  this was almost a symbiotic relationship.

An example of this is that it was an appointed police officer who made inspections regarding sanitation or the lack thereof, and made demands that certain activities had to cease or be curbed, such as slaughtering and butchering animals in one’s own back yard. Another instance which was recognised as undesirable was to allow cesspools to sit and stagnate on private land.

If the drains which had been commissioned and dug by the council on the sides of roads had insufficient fall, these too were a problem as animal waste accumulated in these low spots, along with road runoff from the horses and bullocks used in transport. Effluvia was a frequently used word to describe the gaseous smells emanating from the decaying organic material lying in the street gutters. Another word, now not in regular use, to describe the horrific gaseous smells was miasma.

Many people thought that the smell alone would be the transmitter of disease, however it was not generally understood that water and milk were, in the 1850s, the cause of many of the health afflictions which beset the community. Diphtheria is a disease which is rare today, yet it was very troublesome in early Bendigo. Diphtheria is highly contagious, its symptoms are a very high fever and difficulty in breathing and swallowing as it produces a false membrane in the throat.

In the mid 1870s diphtheria created great alarm as it had caused the deaths of a significant number of infants, with older members of the community not being spared either. Those who were treated in hospital for diphtheria were few and far between, as frequently by the time the disease was diagnosed it was already too late. Source: Bendigo Weekly.

In these conditions it was the children who suffered and the Pennyweight Cemetery is a testimony to the number of children who perished on the Forest Creek Diggings.

A Child’s Life on the Goldfields

What life was like on the Goldfields

Life for Children on the Goldfields

Posted in Archie, Neeks and Me, Finnish Lapphunds, It is ALL about US, It is ALL about US and Our Life in Castlemaine, Pennyweight Cemetery, Winter Frost in Castlemaine

Memories of the Old Country

My car is white and glistening
the frost is on the ground
the only thing thats missing
is the beautiful chirping sound,
Irene Neville

Frost bathing brings back genetic memories of the old country! There is nothing to compare with rolling joyfully and frolicking in the heavy frost.

Posted in Djadjawurrung People, Pennyweight Cemetery

Conversations Trees Have Overheard

Scar trees like the one shown here are precious remnants of the past practices of the Djadjawurrung a people whose land we now live upon. While Arch and Neeks potter I may stop to have a conversation with these trees and learn a little of what they have overheard – the grief they have felt, the losses they have witnessed, right back to the time when the Djadjawurrung people flourished here.

Posted in Archie, Neeks and Me, It is ALL about US, It is ALL about US and Our Life in Castlemaine, Pennyweight Cemetery, Sniff Mapping

Gold Fever Grief

I like the diggings very well I have washed myself about a pennyweight [2 grams] of gold besides a match box full of specimens [gold in quartz]. The other day I went with Mamma and Papa over to the quarry reef. There we saw a gentleman of the name of B Farrell he has one of the richest claimes in the reef He has made thousands of pounds […] You will laugh when I tell you what I have been doing today, making a kennel for a puppy I have not yet got it is a very nice one made of latice. Mr Sundy is going to give me the puppy this week We began school today.

– Lucy Birchall

In 1852, on a barren piece of land that was of no use to gold miners or fossickers, a cemetery for the deceased children of the Castlemaine goldfields was set aside. Located within the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park is Pennyweight Flat Children’s Cemetery. A pennyweight is a very small measure of gold.

Surrounded by grey box gums in a tranquil setting, the Children’s Cemetery tells a silent story about some realities of the goldfields during the 1850s. Many families travelled to the Castlemaine diggings in the early 1850s as word spread about alluvial (surface) gold to be found. Babies and young children were particularly vulnerable to disease and harsh conditions such as a serious lack of clean drinking water, and many died.

 

The children stir from their slumber! We come here often! I am confident that those children who lie here are happy to have some dogs come to visit them!

“During 1852, as the Victorian gold rushes began, children started dying from typhoid and dysentery after drinking tainted creek water during their first goldfields summer. So a cemetery was established on a rocky hill overlooking the area. They were buried on what must have been a sad and exposed hilltop below which locust swarms of new arrivals jostled, blinded to the truth on the hill above them.

In that gold hunting clamour parents would have sat beside those tiny graves mourning a child and wondering whether their decision to come out to this dusty outpost was wise. They, being poor, had placed their children in shallow graves, then piled rocks up to mark the place. Now, one hundred and fifty years later the scene is different and very quiet. The gravestones are scattered and most of the graves are hard to discern, mere mounds, barely visible under the leaf litter. Just a few weathered headstones, fallen or falling suggest the place is a cemetery.

In the eighteenth century Thomas Grey, the English poet, wrote his famous Elegy. Written in a Country Church-yard, a meditation on the life and death of poor people whose graves are forgotten over time. It is also a reminder that death gets everyone and that although the rich may have grander tombs we’re all equal in the end. ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave,’ he says.

The Pennyweight Flat Children’s cemetery, in a corner of Castlemaine, is plain, very Australian, hard to discern, at risk of vanishing, and valuable. Like most things that ask for quiet and patience, it rewards. (Source: Inside a Dog).”

More about Pennyweight Cemetery

Pennyweight Cemetery

Pennyweight Flat

The Lost Children of Pennyweight