Life in the Hill End goldfields 1872 and a mystery to solve

Life in the Hill End goldfields 1872 and a mystery to solve
12 October 2010

The Library recently digitised the Album of photographs of gold mining, buildings, residents and views at Hill End and environs, New South Wales, 1872-1873. This album is part of the B.O. Holtermann archive of Merlin and Bayliss photographic prints of New South Wales and Victoria. The album contains 550 albumin sepia toned photographs. As the album is delicate and the Library received it in a damaged condition, the photographs could not be captured using a flat bed scanner. The Library’s Sinar P3 camera with a Sinar eVolution 75H medium format capture back was used instead.  Capturing this album was particularly challenging for the digitisation officer, Chris Brothers. Many of the pages were water damaged and warped. To obtain the best focus the pages had to be as flat as possible so solid chocks were used to manoeuvre or build up the page as required. It took Chris an hour and a half to prepare each page of the album and photograph fifteen or so images on the page. However, the capture was only part of the process. The images then had to be then processed, which included cropping and quality assurance, making them ready for viewing through the Library’s catalogue. You can now see all the images at http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn4707257. My part in the process was quality assuring the images and it was during this activity that I became intrigued. The images offered a glimpse into a different way of life than I imagined people lived in the goldfields. When I think of how people lived in Australia’s goldfields in the 19th century I think of dirt, tailings, pubs and shanty towns. I imagine that people, mostly male, lived a rough life, together with the heat and dust.  Yet the photographs depict a thriving, ordered, clean and productive town. Churches, schools, families and community are featured heavily in the photographs. There are many examples of houseproud residents in front of their cottages, picket fences and front gardens. There is one photograph in the album that puzzled me and perhaps someone has a plausible answer. The photograph below contains a large dead tree trunk in the middle of a main street. Surrounding the trunk is a series of pigeon or dovecotes. Why were these birds kept? Were the birds message couriers, a food source, or were they trying to encourage the doves to supplant the indigenous birds of the nearby bush, their reassuring coo reminding residents of home in larger cities and towns, or perhaps back in England?

Dead tree trunk with pigeoncotes suspended by local storekeepers, and the horse-drawn mobile photographic studio of Beaufoy Merlin to the left, Mudgee Road, Tambaroora, New South Wales, ca.1872.