This Collection is GOLD
Comprising some 350 images, the photos taken in 1872 show in minute detail what is was that made Gulgong different to many of the other Australian goldfields. They were mostly taken by Merlin as quarter plates and they have made possible the reconstruction of the town from its earliest beginnings following the first discovery of payable gold in April 1870.
Merlin’s photographs clearly show Gulgong’s uniqueness and those things which characterised it as a poor-man’s goldfield. Since there were large amounts of gold close enough to the surface to be mined with just a few basic tools, and a pan or sluice, rather than the heavy machinery needed for deep reef gold mining, it was possible for any man, on his own, or in the company of a couple of mates, to join the rush.
The use of the term poor-man’s goldfield, far from being a derogatory one, was used to acknowledge the differences between large rich and usually hard rock mining fields, like Hill end, where fortunes were made and lost, and those fields, like Gulgong, where the returns were low but steady. These differences were not only in the value of the gold to be found but also in the use of capital and technology, in the very nature of the settlements, and indeed the people themselves who were attracted to these diggings.
Merlin’s camera very clearly recorded life on the Gulgong diggings and his photographs show the juxtaposition of the mining activity with the day to day lives of the people. Many women and children lived on Gugong’s poor-man’s diggings and the family group was often critical to the success of mining with the assistance of other form of subsistance labour. (see photos below)