State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 67 Autumn 2001


From the Editorial Chair

The Year 1851 marked the beginning of what Geoffrey Serle calls ‘the Golden Age’ of Victoria. The previous year the Port Phillip District had been separated from New South Wales, and named after the sovereign. By the middle of 1851 the immediate future of the new colony had begun to look bleak, as able-bodied men left for the newly discovered goldfields in New South Wales. However, in mid-July all that had been changed by the discovery of rich fields in Victoria.
At the suggestion of Peter Dowling (who contributed to No. 61 an article on the subject of the representation of Aborigines in colonial newspapers), this number of The La Trobe Journal marks the 150th anniversary of that momentous year with a selection of articles on the theme of gold. Peter Dowling's own article focuses on the way in which the happenings on the Australian goldfields were represented to English readers in the pages of the widely-read Illustrated London News. Articles by Mary Lewis and Christine Downer, which note the recycling of images from that paper, provide unexpected testimony to the power of the black-and-white illustrations in fixing ideas of goldfields life. Especially interesting is the documentation of an image of the the New South Wales Turon field, originally published in the English paper, being appropriated and coloured in a German lithograph (the version reproduced on our back cover), and later reproduced in Boston in a publication intended for the drawing-room.
The work of S. T. Gill will be familiar to many readers, some of whom may possess a copy of his collection of water-colours, The Victorian Gold Fields 1852-3, originally commissioned by the Trustees of the Public Library in 1869 and published as a handsome book in 1982. Jim Badger's ‘reading’ of one of the most famous, ‘The Digger's Wedding in Melbourne’, exemplifies the practice of the historians of today, for whom visual images are an important source in understanding the attitudes of the past.
Christine Downer's article is a reminder that there are many things in the State Library besides books, pictures and manuscripts — and that texts and visual images are printed and preserved on materials other than paper. (On this theme, see ‘Realia in the Picture Collection’ by Kerry Agnew, The La Trobe Journal, No. 62.)
Lurline Stuart draws on her extensive knowledge of colonial times to describe the mystery of the Madagascar, the gold ship that disappeared and the fiction that it inspired. The claim by a minor colonial author — that his fictional account of the fate of the Madagascar suggested to Marcus Clarke some ideas which were used in His Natural Life — makes an interesting and unexpected link between her article and Sandra Burt's profile of that distinguished literary man who was a less-than-distinguished librarian.
Printing in ‘gold’ was a way in which a goldfields community could draw attention to itself, as Brian Hubber outlines in his scholarly survey of printing in gold over the ages, revealing, among other things, the truth of the saying about ‘all that glitters’.
John Barnes