Life on the Gold fields


When the gold rush began, many people left their jobs to find a fortune on the gold fields. As a result, shops closed down for there was no one in the towns to work in them, nor any people to buy the products sold, schools had to close down because there were no one to teach the children and ships in the harbours lay empty as the crew and passengers were on their way to the gold fields.

The sale of alcohol was banned on the gold field to help control bad behaviour. As this was impossible to enforce, the sale of illegal liquor became common practice behind the backs of the authorities. “Sly grog shanties” were built and would sell spirits such as whisky, gin etc rather than beer because it was cheaper to transport. This resulted in an intoxication problem with the people living and working on the gold fiMiners_house_1.jpgelds.

Living conditions

When miners first came to the gold fields they lived in calico tents. The miner’s would sleep on makeshift mattresses which were stuffed with leaves. Outside their tent they would have a cooking fire, a bucket of water and something specific to the miners to help them identify which tent was their own, such as a flag. As time went on, bark huts and stone buildings were built to replace tents. The government built camps which consisted of a timber barracks for the soldiers as well as a log jail.



The miner’s diet was very simple; it consisted of Mutton, damper (made from floor and water) and tea. The mutton was sold by a butcher, who would have a tent set up in the camp; it was easy to find the butcher’s tent as it was always surrounded by flies which were swarming the mutton carcasses hanging outside. Fresh food, such as fruit and vegetables, were rare because it was not available or would spoil before it could be delivered to the gold fields. Clean water was also hard to come by.


There were barely any qualified doctors, surgeons, pharmacists or dentists on the gold fields so treatment for the sick or injured was unreliable. The seasons were hard on the miners; summer was hot and with clean drinkable water being scares miners would succumb to dehydration and like sickness, in winter the miners would be working out in the rain and cold which resulted in hypothermia and dysentery, trachoma, typhoid etc. Injures such as broken bones and deep cuts would often not heal properly because they were not treated properly when they were received.

Women and children

In the first few years, women and children were scarcely seen on the gold fields as conditions were harsh and it was not considered a place for a lady or children. They stayed in Melbourne with little money with promises from their husband’s that they would send money when they found gold. When the conditions improved, women and children joined the men on the fields; in January 1853 there were 5,000 women and children and by June there were approximately 10,000.

Nicholson, J. (1994). Gold! – The fascinating story of Gold in Australia. St Leonards NSW: A Little Ark Book

Suggested Impressions and Visual Resource. [n.d.]. Retrieved October 2010, from: