More Than Damned Whores and God's Police

24 Apr 2018

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

This time last year I did a shoot in front of a replica of this mural (see it here). The other is a slightly different colour and I was keen to come back to this one and try another style. I ended up having a much richer experience because of the history here. The owner of this building told us that the building was built in 1856. In my super brief online research, I couldn’t find any references to it being built but I did find out some stuff about the publican, who was Lucy Harriet Ward. Lucy was the housekeeper for the previous publican who ended up going bankrupt in 1864. The pub was then let to Lucy because no one else would make a better offer than her. Apparently, she looked after it for a year before the publican became Eliza Thurling. 

The thing about that particular time frame is that so many people have a misconception about whether or not there were women in Ballarat on the goldfields for that time period and when they were on the goldfields there are misconceptions about what women actually did.

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Anne Summers’ famed book Damned Whores and God’s Police and Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka both reframe the historical narrative in this regard. I work at a local museum dedicated to the gold rush in Ballarat and Victoria. So many visitors make offhanded comments that assume that women either weren’t present on the goldfields or that they were present mostly as whores. I’ve had visitors ask me why the museum doesn’t have a brothel or the visitors suggest a woman who has no husband or is down on her luck must then sell her body as though women on the goldfields had no other choices. This building’s history, even at a quick-google surface level, contradicts that perspective. Lucy and Eliza are both examples that women worked in non-sex-work roles.

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Other examples? Clara Duval had eloped from high society in England after being presented to Queen Victoria when she came of age. She arrived in Australia in 1853 after her husband, an artist, had left her a widow. In Ballarat, she hooked up with a fiery journalist who was ten years her junior. Clare Wright suggests that Clara may have encouraged her new love, Henry Seekamp, to publish the inflammatory and rallying poetry of Ellen F Young who incited the rebellion of the oppressed diggers. It’s also probable that Clara wrote the seditious articles for which her partner Henry was later jailed. With Henry locked up, Clara stepped into his previous role as editor of The Ballarat Times becoming the first female editor of an Australian Newspaper. They weren’t just editors and poets either. 

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Phoebe Emmerson, my great great great grandmother, set up a shop with her husband George on the Ballarat goldfields. Not long after arrival, George took ill with a lung infection and Phoebe took over the running of their store. Clare Wright says she kept several savage dogs and a loaded gun to ’deter any foolishness near her store’. Storekeeping and gun keeping is a theme you will see pop up. Some women kept guns for when their husbands were away. Some kept guns simply for personal safety. Guns were not the domain of men.

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Aside from other roles as milliners and housekeepers and more, women also worked the goldfields in search of gold. Plenty dressed in men’s attire. Some would wear all their finery on the weekends. Some didn’t dress as women at all and even lived with their own wives. Attire was absolutely not something that restricted women from living according to function. Particularly when the long walk to the goldfields was muddy and dirty. Long skirts and corsets got in the way of doing any and all necessary tasks required to survive or thrive on the goldfields such as chopping wood. Corsets and crinolines that were the fashion of time caused deaths when they would catch fire and women couldn’t strip the clothing off in order to save themselves. In response to this, many women began discarding the clothing that restricted them. 
Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

As for women not being present on the goldfields, when the first wave of people arrived in late 1852, yes there were mostly men. But in early 1853 women arrived en masse. Not only that, there were people here before gold seekers arrived. Clare Wright even points out this it was possible that an indigenous woman was the one who helped gold seekers find the first gold in our region.

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

So if you see something around that suggests that the wild west of the Victorian gold rush was only women dressed as whores or the beaten down wives who stayed at home while their drunkard husbands buried their faces in hickie stamped bosoms, take a moment. Think of the legendary pioneers of this region. The women who carried loaded guns, who kept savage dogs, who wrote seditious poetry, who ran newspapers, who threatened men with whips and had punch ons with them in the street, who sought their own gold, who dressed with gender fluidity and kept their own wives. 

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Scarf: borrowed
Jacket: Sportsgirl
Skirt: ASOS
Shoes: ASOS

Location: Ballarat
Pics: Liv from Scarves and Art




Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural


Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

Liana of @findingfemme wearing ASOS pleated skirt at the site of an historic Ballarat Bitter mural

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