Life On The Goldfields

By Celeste H

Life On The Goldfields

Life on the goldfields was NOT easy and the conditions were hard to live in.

When the goldrush began, many people left their jobs in order find a fortune on the goldfields. As a result, shops were forced to close up as their was no one left to work there, nor anyone to buy their products. Schools also were forced to close as there was no one left to work there. Also, public transportation services, mainly ships were no longer being used because the crew and passengers were going off to the goldfields

On the goldfields, many problems were occurring, mainly because of people getting drunk, the sale of alcohol was banned on the goldfields in order to stop these problems from occurring. As this was not possible to ban completely, people started setting up shops behind authorities backs, selling things like whiskey, jin etc, but not beer because it was more expensive to transport. This resulted in an intoxication problem for the people living and working on the goldfields.

Living Conditions:

Most miners arriving at the goldfields would sleep in calico tents, and on makeshift mattresses, which were stuffed with leaves. Outside the tent they'd have set up a cooking fire and a bucket of water. They'd also place down something they'd use to identify which tent was theirs, as so many people were populating the goldfields it was hard to remember your tents whereabouts. Also, the government started to build camps for the soldiers as well as a log jail. There were also many thieves on the goldfields, so it was hard to hide gold. One of the main places people hid their gold was in their mattresses. As many people did this, it wasn't the most efficient hiding place as thieves would generally think to look their first, making it even harder to live on the goldfields with success.


A miners diet was very simple and consisted mainly of damper (which was made from flour and water cooked over a fire). Sometimes miners would eat mutton, purchased from a butchers tent. These tents were easy to locate as they were always surrounded by flies swarming the mutton carcasses hanging outside. It was very rare to find fresh fruit and vegetables as most of them would spoil whilst being transported to the goldfields. Clean water was very hard to come by, so miners mainly drunk tea because you had to boil the water before it was safe to drink.


It was rare to come by a qualified doctor, dentist, pharmacist or surgeon, so treatment and medication was unreliable. In summer it was very hot, that combined with fresh water being scarce, many people suffered from dehydration, and in winter, there were many miners out in the rain mining, resulting in many getting sick from hypothermia and typhoid, etc. If injuries were obtained from the rough conditions such as broken bones, they were never really treated properly because of the unreliable medical service.

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A Miners Permit

Before you could mine legally, you needed a permit, that would cost 5 shillings. It would last for a year before it needed to be replaced, so you can mine legally again.

Women On The Goldfields

In the first few years of the gold rush, women and children were very rarely seen roaming the goldfields, mainly because they weren't necessarily needed, and it was considered not to be a place for a women. Most women would stay in Melbourne with little money, living on the promise money would be sent when their husbands found gold. When the conditions improved on the goldfields, they would soon join their husbands with their children, if they had any. And in January 1853 there were 5,000 women and children on the goldfields, turning into 10,000 in June.

Most women would generally get a small job, or run errands to keep their family going.

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The Chinese On The Goldfields

The main reason Chinese prospectors came to the goldfields was because in China, any gold that was found had to be delivered to their government, but in Australia, you get to keep your finds, and choose what to do with it.

The exact number of Chinese men who arrived on the goldfields is unknown but it is believed that over 7000 Chinese prospectors arrived on the goldfields. Along with different tools, the Chinese prospectors brought along different mining techniques, that were considered dumb at the time, but turned out to be just as rewarding as the techniques used by the Aussie prospectors. There was also a lot of racism on the goldfields as many of the Australian prospectors were jealous of the Chinese prospectors finds, because they worked in teams, they found more gold than the majority of the Aussie miners would.
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Types Of Mining: Alluvial

One of the two main types of gold mining at the time was ALLUVIAL mining.

Alluvial is the safer and easier type of mining. The only downside is that you don't end up with as much gold that you would receive by shaft mining. Alluvial mining will get you gold that has chipped off rocks and fallen into creeks or rivers. You receive the gold by panning for it in creeks or rivers. You only get a couple of small chunks or nuggets at a time so it takes longer to get good deals of gold. You need, a pan, a sieve, a cradle and a shovel. It was also a lot cheaper to use this method of mining as it required less expensive tools.

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Types Of Mining: Shaft

The other type of mining used on the goldfields is SHAFT mining.

When surface gold was starting to run out, because more prospectors were coming to the goldfields, people had to start finding new ways to collect the gold they knew was lying around. Eventually, people started to use a method called SHAFT MINING.

Shaft mining is a lot harder than alluvial mining as it requires team work. The gold you receive from shaft mining is from the veins of gold that are found under the ground. The prospectors dig a shaft 50 metres or less, and using a windlass, the miners/miners are lowered into the ground, into the shaft that they are confident, contains gold. It was a long and tiring task, as most of them were only equipped with a pick and a shovel to find gold. However, it was all worth it if you found gold because you obtain much more gold than you would if you were ALLUVIAL mining. You need a windlass, pick, shovel, a bucket and a cradle.

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