Original classification rating: PG.
This clip chosen to be PG
Bill Peach tells the story of the diggers’ frustrations that led eventually to the Eureka Stockade. The police, called Traps, would harry the hard-working miners, demanding to sight their mining licences and menacing them at every opportunity.
Using the cleverly reconstructed gold diggings and surrounding miners’ tents at Ballarat, the program re-creates the scene of a licence check by police, showing the sort of behaviour that built up amongst the diggers a massive resentment against the Traps.
Bill Peach fills in the social and political detail to explain the low boiling point of the miners as the alluvial gold began to peter out and the miners were unable to earn even a labourer’s wage for their back-breaking work. The program uses some of the music from the era to illustrate the mood of the times, such as the songs of the famous music hall artist, Charles Thatcher, that poked fun at the Traps (the police) on the diggings.
This clip shows the level of resentment of Victorian gold miners in the early 1850s towards police and gold licences through the use of re-enactments, a dramatised reading and song. In the first re-enactment, diggers without their licences are pursued, arrested and chained to logs as a reading from a contemporary source describes such events. The second re-enactment is of singer Charles Thatcher satirising the police in a music hall performance. The presenter, Bill Peach, comments that no-one expressed the diggers’ feelings better than Thatcher.
Educational value points
- The system of gold licences introduced in September 1851 became increasingly hated by diggers as gold became more difficult to find and police harassed them more frequently to try to catch defaulters. The licence cost 30 shillings, equal to the average weekly wage, and entitled the digger to mine an area of about 6 sq m for a month and was payable in advance regardless of whether any gold was found. The fine for not having a licence was up to £5 (100 shillings).
- The first re-enactment, reading and song in the clip depict licence hunts quite accurately. Most of the time miners without licences did scatter in all directions but some hid down mine shafts. If located, they often taunted police with the chorus from Thatcher’s song 'Where’s your licence?’ inviting the police to come down and get them. Licence checks were meant to be held monthly but police had an incentive to hold them more often – half the fine went to the arresting officer.
- The police, referred to as 'troopers’ or 'traps’, were widely despised by the diggers for being corrupt and ineffectual. Almost all had been recruited after the gold rushes began when 38 of Melbourne’s 40 police had abandoned their posts. Vic’s colonial governor, Charles La Trobe (1801–75), had been forced to more than double police wages and to accept anyone willing to join, including military pensioners, young inexperienced recruits and ex-convicts.
- Charles Thatcher (1831–78), the 'colonial minstrel’, was a huge success on the Vic and NZ gold fields from late 1852, using the winning formula of setting catchy local words to well-known tunes of the day. Some of his most popular songs such as 'Where’s your licence?’ and 'Song of the trap’ ridiculed the police and the licence system. His voice was pleasant but other singers were vocally superior. None could match him, however, for entertaining topical lyrics.
- The clip presents the diggers’ point of view only and there is little doubt that the gold licence system was a major cause of the Eureka Rebellion in December 1854, particularly the governor’s plan to hold licence hunts twice weekly. Historians also generally agree that Vic’s colonial administration was overwhelmed by the gold rushes and that licence revenue was needed to provide services and maintain law and order, such as they were, on the gold fields.
- The clip is from the type of expository documentary that uses a celebrity narrator to maximise its appeal – in this case Bill Peach (1935–), who at the time was known throughout Australia as the former host of the current affairs program This Day Tonight. The Peach’s Gold series established his reputation for authoritative research and down-to-earth historical explanation. Here he appears briefly as the modern-day narrator in an 1850s music hall.
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