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Wenona go for gold in Bathurst

The gold rush and the diggers who worked in the goldfields are etched into Australian folklore, as our Year 5 students discovered on their recent 3-day camp at Bathurst.

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As our Year 5 students learnt, it was in 1851 - a time when Australia was not yet a nation - that a man named Hargraves first found gold near Bathurst. Within a week of that first discovery, more than 400 people had travelled to Bathurst to seek their fortune, and by the end of June, this had grown to more than 2,000 people. The gold rush had begun!

The students learnt that during the gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s, thousands of people from all over Australia and around the world flocked to towns like Bathurst, bringing the biggest wave of immigration Australia had ever seen. Among the hopefuls were Chinese, Americans, Italians, Poles, Germans and Dutch. They headed to the goldfields, toiling away with shovels, picks, wash pans and bare hands. The students had an opportunity to try gold panning for themselves.

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Chloe said, “My experience this year at Bathurst has really helped me understand what life was like in the goldfields. On a 3-day excursion with my class, I think I’ve learnt lots of different things that the people did back then. Gold panning, it was hard, but everyone was so supportive and kind.”

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“Damper making, that was my favourite activity since I’m not the best baker, but it was really amazing because making damper was so easy! I had such an amazing time and I would love to come back again!”

The government feared that convicts and settlers would abandon the settlements to seek their fortunes at the goldfields, leading to a labour shortage, which would destabilise the economy. There was also a concern that there would be lawlessness and violence at the goldfields. In fact, it was reported in The Herald newspaper at the time that ''the colony is to be cursed with a gold-digging mania''. Because the goldfields were often far away from big towns or cities, transporting gold could be dangerous, as the students found out. Bushrangers roamed the countryside looking to rob gold transports. This led to the formation of colonial police forces, who protected the rural areas and brought law and order to the goldfields.

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Greta said, “At our first stop at Hartley, we had recess and learnt about the town. We saw the convict cells and learnt about the punishments they got. Then we saw the court where people could be witnesses, judges, lawyers, police and family and friends. When we stopped there, we did many fun things like going to cells, churches, courthouses and fun activities.”

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Nicole said, “We had a wonderful time at Carcoar Court House. The staff were very friendly and were full of interesting facts. I learnt that people watched court cases as entertainment, as they did not have much to do. I had a lot of fun being in the shoes of a clerk, while acting. I had to be firm and formal, so the accused would listen to my orders. Thank you to Sarah and Cathy! You were amazing at helping us all.”

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Nora said, “My time at Bathurst was a great experience. I enjoyed learning and experiencing about life in the goldfields. I also enjoyed learning how technology has been advancing throughout the 1900’s till this very day. I appreciate the opportunity I had to go to Bathurst.”

Lulu said, “When we went to Carcoar hospital, we learnt about the conditions and small spaces. This photo is a private ward. And this is what the nurses would wear.”

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“Here we went to the Stoke Stabel Museum where we looked at irons and household items. When we looked at irons, we learnt that they weren’t electric and had to be put on the fire to warm up. It sounded really annoying and while we were learning about that, we learnt that there were no inputs on the walls. They also had to make almost all of their food because there were almost no shops to get food from.”

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As our students found out, the gold rush of the 19th century made Australia one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, establishing it as a multicultural nation. Despite the cold conditions, all our students had a fantastic time, cementing friendships, playing outdoors and learning lots of fantastic things about Australian history. A huge thank you to all the Year 5 teachers and members of staff who accompanied them on their adventures!

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