Join Dr Linda Young as she examines a unique type of jewellery invented in the 1850s, likely in Ballarat, to assert that the hard manual labour of digging for gold was a glorious achievement. This goldfields jewellery depicts the tools of the digger, and sometimes the digger himself, in miniature, worked into a large brooch for a lucky digger’s wife - or any other woman he admired.
Many women might have preferred something pretty and fashionable. But to the diggers, the iconography of the pick and shovel represented the colonial goldfields culture of digger equality and hard work: “One gives her a great digger brooch, with a cradle, tub and things / And others, lockets, pencil cases, big colonial rings” (From ‘The flash colonial barmaid’ in Coxon’s Comic Songster, Ballaarat, 1859)
Dr Linda Young is a cultural historian of the British World in the 19th century, specially drawing on material objects as historical sources. She first encountered digger jewels working in Sydney and Perth museums in the 1980s. Later she became an academic in museum and heritage studies, focusing on historic houses and house museums. But she kept an eye on digger brooches and pieced together the international story over the next 30 years. This culminated in providing a world-wide history that framed the wonderful exhibition “Bling! 19th century goldfields jewellery” at the Eureka Centre in 2016.
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Image: Brooch (goldfields), gold, maker unknown, Australia, 1853-55. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Purchased with funds donated by the Patrons of the Powerhouse, 1985. Photographer Penelope Clay.