This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
Jim and his wife moved over to the cottage in Specimen Gully; the miners went back to their work, and there was no more talk or bother about the matter. Something always happened every day at the Turon which wiped the last thing clean out of people's mind. Either it was a big nugget, or a new reef, or a tent robbery, a gold-buyer stuck up and robbed in the Ironbarks, a horse-stealing match, a fight at a dance-house, or a big law case. Accidents and offences happened every day, and any of them was enough to take up the whole attention of every digger on the field till something else turned up.
Not that we troubled our heads over much about things of this sort. We had set our minds to go on until our claims were worked out, or close up; then to sell out, and with the lot we'd already banked to get down to Melbourne and clear out. Should we ever be able to manage that? It seemed getting nearer, nearer, like a star that a man fixes his eyes on as he rides through a lonely bit of forest at night. We had all got our eyes fixed on it, Lord knows, and were working double tides, doing our very best to make up a pile worth while leaving the country with. As for Jim, he and his little wife seemed that happy that he grudged every minute he spent away from her. He worked as well as ever -- better, indeed, for he never took his mind from his piece of work, whatever it was, for a second. But the very minute his shift was over Jim was away along the road to Specimen Gully, like a cow going back to find her calf. He hardly stopped to light his pipe now, and we'd only seen him once up town, and that was on a Saturday night with Jeanie on his arm.
Well, the weeks passed over, and at long last we got on as far in the year as the first week in December. We'd given out that we might go somewhere to spend our Christmas. We were known to be pretty well in, and to have worked steady all these months since the early part of the year. We had paid our way all the time, and could leave at a minute's notice without asking any man's leave.
If we were digging up gold like potatoes we weren't the only ones. No, not by a lot. There never was a richer patch of alluvial, I believe, in any of the fields, and the quantity that was sent down in one year was a caution. Wasn't the cash scattered about then? Talk of money, it was like the dirt under your feet -- in one way, certainly -- as the dirt was more often than not full of gold.
We could see things getting worse on the field after a bit. We didn't set up to be any great shakes ourselves, Jim and I; but we didn't want the field to be overrun by a set of scoundrels that were the very scum of the earth, let alone the other colonies. We were afraid they'd go in for some big foolish row, and we should get dragged in for it. That was exactly what we didn't want.
With the overflowing of the gold, as it were, came such a town and such a people to fill it, as no part of Australia had ever seen before. When it got known by newspapers, and letters from the miners themselves to their friends at home, what an enormous yield of gold was being dug out of the ground in such a simple fashion, all the world seemed to be moving over. At that time nobody could tell a lie hardly about the tremendous quantity that was being got and sent away every week. This was easy to know, because the escort returns were printed in all the newspapers every week; so everybody could see for themselves what pounds and hundredweights and tons -- yes, tons of gold -- were being got by men who very often, as like as not, hadn't to dig above twenty or thirty feet for it, and had never handled a pick or a shovel in their lives before they came to the Turon.
There were plenty of good men at the diggings. I will say this for the regular miners, that a more manly, straightgoing lot of fellows no man ever lived among. I wish we'd never known any worse. We were not what might be called highly respectable people ourselves -- still, men like us are only half-and-half bad, like a good many more in this world. They're partly tempted into doing wrong by opportunity, and kept back by circumstances from getting into the straight track afterwards. But on every goldfield there's scores and scores of men that always hurry off there like crows and eagles to a carcass to see what they can rend and tear and fatten upon. They ain't very particular whether it's the living or the dead, so as they can gorge their fill. There was a good many of this lot at the Turon, and though the diggers gave them a wide berth, and helped to run them down when they'd committed any crime, they couldn't be kept out of sight and society altogether.
We used to go up sometimes to see the gold escort start. It was one of the regular sights of the field, and the miners that were off shift and people that hadn't much to do generally turned up on escort day. The gold was taken down to Sydney once a week in a strong express waggon -- something like a Yankee coach, with leather springs and a high driving seat; so that four horses could be harnessed. One of the police sergeants generally drove, a trooper fully armed with rifle and revolver on the box beside him. In the back seat sat two more troopers with their Sniders ready for action; two rode a hundred yards ahead, and another couple about the same distance behind.
We always noticed that a good many of the sort of men that never seemed to do any digging and yet always had good clothes and money to spend used to hang about when the escort was starting. People in the crowd 'most always knew whether it was a 'big' escort or a 'light' one. It generally leaked out how many ounces had been sent by this bank and how much by that; how much had come from the camp, for the diggers who did not choose to sell to the banks were allowed to deposit their gold with an officer at the camp, where it was carefully weighed, and a receipt given to them stating the number of ounces, pennyweights, and grains. Then it was forwarded by the escort, deducting a small percentage for the carriage and safe keeping. Government did not take all the risk upon itself. The miner must run his chance if he did not sell. But the chance was thought good enough; the other thing was hardly worth talking about. Who was to be game to stick up the Government escort, with eight police troopers, all well armed and ready to make a fight to the death before they gave up the treasure committed to their charge? The police couldn't catch all the horse-stealers and bush-rangers in a country that contained so many millions of acres of waste land; but no one doubted that they would make a first-rate fight, on their own ground as it were, and before they'd let anything be taken away from them that had been counted out, box by box, and given into their charge.