On my first trip to Australia, I stopped only briefly in Maldon, but long enough to know I wanted to get back. Fortunately, I did get back a few years later, and had the opportunity to thoroughly explore this delightfully well-preserved historic town.
In the early 1800s, the area around Maldon had begun to attract those in search of land for raising sheep and cattle, but the town’s history is anchored in the discovery of gold in 1853. With stunning speed, the population exploded from a handful to 20,000. As was usual, a town sprang up to supply provisions and services for the miners.
There are, of course, lots of towns in Australia with gold-rush histories, but the thing that makes Maldon special is that it hasn’t changed much since those days. Sure, the shops that line the streets are now selling artisan chocolates and hand-crafted gifts, rather than hardtack and shovels, but the appearance of the town remains unchanged. In 2006 The National Trust award Maldon the title of “Most Intact Historic Streetscape.” However, Maldon had already been honored by The National Trust 40 years earlier, when it was declared Australia’s “First Notable Town: a town worthy of preservation.”
The photo below shows a bit of the main street of notable Maldon.
Maldon's main street
The Shrine of Remembrance is among the most widely recognized of Melbourne’s landmarks. Built to honor citizens of Victoria who served and died in World War I, it is the largest and most visited war memorial in the state. The inscription on the side refers to “the Great War,” because when it was constructed, no one could imagine that there would be another war on such a scale.
Australians entered WWI when Britain did, in 1914. (The U.S. didn’t enter the war until 1917.) Australians were almost always at the forefront of the worst fighting in the war, from Gallipoli to Beersheba to France, and they sustained tremendous casualties. Despite being in the middle of a major economic depression after the war, the people of Victoria felt it was so important to honor those who served that the money needed to build the monument was raised in six months.
The design of the memorial was partly based on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Interesting choice, really, because Halicarnassus, while the site of one of history’s most famous monuments, was in Turkey, and so many Australians died in Turkey during WWI.)
The monument has been modified over the years, with the addition of a forecourt to honor those who served in World War II, and a Remembrance Garden for wars since 1945. The Shrine of Remembrance is where Victorians hold their annual observances for ANZAC Day (April 25—the date that the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli in 1915) and Remembrance Day (November 11, like Memorial Day in the U.S.).
When my dad was fighting in North Africa during World War II, he met a lot of Australians, and it was in fact some of the friends he’d made, and the stories of them he told, that were the early foundation of my interest in Australia. The connection with my father made me feel acutely my debt to those honored by the memorial, though in all truth, I am moved by the sacrifices of any who fought, and fight, to keep the world free.
Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance
Bendigo was important during the Gold Rush, but Ballarat was to become positively iconic. Ballarat was not just a booming gold town, it became the site of the Eureka Stockade, a place and event that stands in Australian history in a position similar to that of the Alamo in Texas. While not everyone at the Eureka Stockade was killed, it was, like the Alamo, a murderously one-sided battle that became a rallying point for national sentiment.
However, there were lots of things drawing me to Ballarat besides just the site of the iconic skirmish. Among those things was Sovereign Hill, a recreation of Ballarat during the days of the Gold Rush, a bustling frontier town populated with re-enactors who take you back to a rough but vivid era. I love history and re-enactments—have gone so far as to have spent a year as re-enactor myself (American Revolution)—so I was overjoyed with Sovereign Hill. I wandered happily through hotels and miner’s camps, school rooms and stores, the newspaper office and theater, and the wagonwright’s and blacksmith’s shops. The “townsfolk” were delightful and eager to share what they knew about the area’s history and the life of the people they portrayed. Splendid place. If you fancy a bit of Aussie history, I recommend a visit.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 15, I’ll be the guest on Lynn Serafinn’s “Create-A-Life” radio show. Lynn is a personal transformation coach based in England, though her on-line radio show is heard everywhere.
The interview will be at noon Central Daylight Time in the US, and at 6pm in England, where Lynn lives. Of course, as is the case with most Blog Talk Radio interviews, it will also be available for listening after the interview ends, but call-in Q&A will only occur during the actual broadcast.
As an FYI for those of you who are in the UK, I’ve just learned from my publisher that the UK distributor, BookSurgeUK, will stop operating after July 30. So if you want the book, you might want to get it now. It will still be available in the UK after July 30, but will ship from the US, which nearly doubles the price. So if you’re considering buying, and you normally order books through AmazonUK, you have two weeks to save money.
The discovery of gold in Australia had, in many ways, a similar effect to the discovery of gold in the United States—a stampede of hopeful fortune seekers. Victoria is not the only place where gold was discovered, but it most closely parallels the explosive growth and ostentatious wealth of California’s great Gold Rush. In fact, many of those who did not strike it rich in California headed for Australia after Aussie gold turned up in 1851.
However, the experience of the gold fields in Australia is more deeply ingrained in the national identity of Australians than California’s is in Americans. That is probably because the United States had a fair bit of history and national identity in place when gold was first struck, while Australia was still quite new. So it was life in the gold fields—the adventure, the “mateship,” the irreverence—that grew into both the legend and the reality of how Australians view themselves. It was, in a way, the experience of the gold fields that gave birth to Australia’s national identity.
This excerpt from the poem The Roaring Days, by iconic Australian poet Henry Lawson, sums up the sentiment.
The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days.
Ah, then their hearts were bolder,
And if Dame Fortune frowned
Their swags they’d lightly shoulder
And tramp to other ground.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Stout sons, of stoutest fathers born,
From all the lands on earth!
Bendigo was one of the centers of the Victorian gold rush. Mines there went deep, and many survived into the 20th century. I visited the Central Deborah Gold Mine, which was started in 1851 and continued in operation until 1954. The life at this city mine might seem rugged, but was luxurious compared to life in the tented campgrounds of the rural gold fields. There’s a lot more info about the Central Deborah Gold Mine in the book, if you’re interested, but the photo of it is below.