Golden Journeys – a review

Golden Journeys: visits to the Western Goldfields of New South Wales, 1852-1859

Compiled and Edited by Beatrice Brooks and Lorraine Purcell.

Review written by Dr Peter Crabb is a Visiting Fellow in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, Canberra. He is currently writing a biography of Charles de Boos, the great-great-grandfather of his wife, Marilyn.

Trove, the free research service of the National Library of Australia, is a wonderful online research service that is available to everyone.  Of particular value is the access it provides to nearly seven million pages of old Australian newspapers that have been digitised.  It makes possible research that could not have been done just a few years ago.  But beware, as it has a near magnetic attraction!  It had for Beatrice Brooks, and here was the seed for Golden Journeys.

The main part of this excellent publication brings together writings of three journalists about the Western Goldfields of New South Wales in the 1850s.  Two cover the last three months of 1852, Angus Mackay, writing for The Empire, and an unknown person writing for The Sydney Morning Herald.  The third reporter was Charles de Boos, who also wrote for the Herald, and his articles cover the period from December, 1858, to August, 1859.

These reporters were remarkable men.  As these writings indicate, they undertook incredible journeys, much of them on foot and on horse-back.  They were great observers and accurate recorders of the natural environments they travelled through and of the people they met.  Their accounts of the early gold mining industry can be read for the living history they provide.  Many parts can be read as literature, for these early reporters had a wonderful command of the English language (just see how many times you have to reach for the dictionary).

Making these contemporary accounts available in one book was a wonderful idea and a real service; for one thing, they are so much easier to read than on microfilm!  They have been given added value by the work of Beatrice Brookes and Lorraine Purcell.  Their own research provides the geographical and historical context for the first gold discoveries and the links between late 1852 and 1858.  Some of the articles are annotated, explaining terms, expanding on obscure points, and adding further context.  Numerous illustrations, line drawings from newspapers of the time, are included.  A valued addition is the reproduction of two contemporary maps.

Much remains to be discovered about our early reporters.  An introduction is provided here in the biographical material about the three reporters, including an account of the editors’ unsuccessful attempts to identify the anonymous one.  The story of Angus Mackay is well documented.  As for Charles de Boos, nothing could have been more incorrect than the statement in his obituary that “His life story may be told in a few words”.  The series of articles in this volume was just one of a number he wrote as the Herald’s ‘Gold Fields Reporter’.  These are but a small sample of his many writings.  His knowledge of the goldfields in New South Wales and earlier in Victoria (when he worked for The Argus), provided a sound basis for his later work as a Mining Warden (and Police Magistrate) in colonial New South Wales.  There is much more to be written about him

The book is well researched and fully documented.  Unlike so many ‘local history’ publications, the sources can be easily followed up.  Of particular interest are the pages telling us how the compilers went about undertaking their task.

Golden Journey a standard-setting publication of which the compilers and the Hill End Group & Tambaroora Gathering Group can be justly proud.

Order your copy here