Housing: Living conditions on the Australian gold fields were very harsh. When the miners first arrived at the goldfields they were forced to live in calico tents, some even in open bark shelters. Some of the miners who were staying for a long time built larger slab huts however they were still quite basic. The beds weren’t much better; they were makeshift mattresses that were stuffed with leaves. Located outside of the tents were buckets of water, a cooking fire, and something specific to the miners to help them identify which tent was theirs. Eventually bark huts and stone buildings started to replace the tents. The Chinese always slept in tents but never slept near the other cultures since they had their own little area surrounded by fences. The dwellings of any kind were all located high up above the rivers or creeks to avoid being flooded when it rained.
A popular style of housing was the ‘wattle and daub’ house. It was made of dried mud slapped set around a framework of logs, branches and twigs to form the walls with a roof of bark or galvanized iron. For the more house proud ones, walls would be whitewashed, sometimes yearly as part of an annual ‘spring cleaning’. A fireplace would be built, using either local stones or galvanized iron and was used for cooking as well as heating. Usually the floor was just dirt but rough timber flooring was used in many of the more permanent cottages. Many shops, hotels and schools were also built in this fashion.
Unfortunately the fields were extremely crowded; miners had between one and three square meters of ‘claim’ to live and work off of. On top of that it was a very unhygienic place to live due to the open toilet trenches. The inevitable issues of having open fires led to the led to the kitchen detached from the main house, it sounds quite odd but in actual fact it was an ideal solution. The lighting for use both at home and at the deep shafts and tunnels came from candles, oil, or kerosene lamps.
Health and Safety: Staying healthy on the goldfields was extremely challenging due to a variety of reasons. There was very little medical help on the Goldfields, the doctors that were present charged a large amount of money for a consultation. That in its self wouldn’t be a big problem if the Diggers had good health standards. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly this was not the case. In fact the diggers rarely showered or bathed, especially in the summer because the water was very dirty and in short supply. Many diseases were present in the Goldfields including dysentery, typhus and other contagious diseases. The digger’s diet of mutton and damper did not help the health of diggers, many people were lacking in the essential nutrients and vitamins. Due to the absence of sanitation and a healthy diet miners lacked the needed antibodies to fight off disease. Due to the shortage of good, or in some cases any medical care many patients died of sickness. The elderly and young were most at risk and giving birth was extremely risky.
Excessive consumption of alcohol was also a major problem on the goldfields. It was often thought of and used as a way to combat loneliness and other psychological afflictions. This excessive drinking could cause the hardening of liver and eventually lead to strokes or fatal collapses. The diggers had to work extremely hard on the Goldfields in order to have any hope of finding Gold. It was an unsafe task with no real form of safety precautions involved. Most diggers worked from dawn to dusk, six days a week. Often they found little despite all their efforts and came home exhausted.
Recreation: Although life on the Goldfields was undeniably very difficult recreation still played a part in the miners’ lives. After the working day was over and the opportunity to relax and have fun was happily embraced. After the miners had a bit of a break and recovered from their working day they enjoyed sitting around a campfire with tea, a pipe to tell a story, in fact…