“Golden Diggers” review – Noeline Kyle

A review of :

Golden Diggers: The Hill End & Tambaroora district’s contribution to the First World War

By Helen Wood and Lorraine Purcell

 If the discovery of gold was the raison d’etre for the picturesque historical village of Hill End then it will be the passion and hard work of  family historian Helen Wood and retired librarian Lorraine Purcell that will ensure the lives of their Golden Diggers will be recorded as well as honoured in the future.

Almost 180 young men and women of Hill End, then with a tiny district population of 700, enlisted. Beginning with the names on the First World War Honour Board Helen Wood carried out meticulous research to include servicemen and women who were born, grew up, went to school or lived in Hill End in the decades surrounding the war. One can only marvel at the dedication, persistence and attention to detail that has produced some wonderful portraits of the men and women who faced terrible times on the fields of France and who then often returned to complex and hard circumstances at home.

Anyone who has completed research on personnel from World War 1 will know the many frustrations of painting a fuller portrait of young men and women eager to make their contribution to the war effort.  It is a credit to these two authors that on each page of Golden Diggers there is a story of not just the military achievements but also the family background, the difficulty of returning to civilian life, the sadness that sometimes met the men as they returned to unemployment and broken relationships.

Of course, not every serviceman or woman returned to troubled times.  Many came back to Hill End and picked up life as they had left it, supporting their families, making a contribution to their communities and living their lives fully to the end.  It is a credit to their resilience, stoicism and character that these men, in particular, who had seen such awful scenes of war, did come home and ‘soldiered’ on.

The book also provides information on how the war affected this small mining town. The home front, the work of the Red Cross, soldiers’ letters home and the coming of peace are all covered.  It is a splendid piece of work and the authors are to be congratulated.

As well as the impressive coverage of all aspects of the impact of  the “War to end all Wars” on Hill End, the authors have produced a professional and stunning book. The quality and presentation is flawless.  In addition, it should be noted that the members of the Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group, whose ancestors are the servicemen and women in this book, contributed much to this book, including precious family photographs.  This is a shared family effort from the many, many families who have continued, under the guidance of Lorraine Purcell, to honour and remember their ancestors and the Golden Diggers of their past.

Helen Wood and Lorraine Purcell have produced a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the lives of First World War men and women who  lived in and made their homes in the now historic village of Hill End.

Noeline Kyle,

Honorary Professor, University of Sydney