Playing Dress-Up

The Background:

Part of my reason for being in Australia is to research a new children’s book regarding what it was like to grow up in Australia during three different times:

  1. The gold rush era around 1850 – Australia had gold rushes in several areas of the country that brought a large number of immigrants – of the non-convict type – to Australia.
  2. World War I – This is shortly after Australia federated into one country after existing for many years as independent colonies under the control of England.  The war build united the country against a common foe.
  3. Current Day – This allows visitors from overseas to know what to look for that are special to Australia vs. the effects of globalization that have McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks a common sight everywhere.

The perfect place to know what it was like in the gold fields of the 1850s is the “living history” museum of Sovereign Hill ( in Ballarat, Victoria – about 100 km northwest of Melbourne.  This museum is a combination of Williamsburg in Virginia and Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts .  As you enter the museum, you encounter the main street of Ballarat in 1854. 

Many miners lived in tents or in wooden, canvas-covered huts with earthen floors and crude fireplaces.  The well-to-do had more substantial houses that featured parlors and bedrooms. 

Animals often shared space with people and could be found in the most unusual places.


Getting Dressed-Up:

The best part for me was being part of the immersive school experience provided to grade 4 and 5 students from classrooms around the state of Victoria.  For two days the students get dressed in 1850s garb and are taught exactly as they would have been during that time.

The girls and boys are separated and must stand and say “sir” or “mum” when addressing the teacher.  Only right hands can be used to write, draw or sew.  Students do arithmetic on slate boards and write with pens dipped in ink wells.  They are threatened with the switch or the strap – although it is clear these would never be used today.  The girls understand that their job besides learning to read and write is to learn how to sew and keep house for their husband and children.  Cross-stitch lessons take up much of the day.

I got to dress-up and play the part of an immigrant businessman from the US who installed and serviced the steam-powered machinery in the town. 

Much of the machinery in the recreated town, such as in the wheel works (where they make wagon wheels), actually came from Ohio in the 1860s. 

My role was to look for an apprentice.  I got to identify and give a certificate of apprenticeship to my choice – a boy who knew much about friction and force.  He also knew much about plate tectonics, which we of course dismissed as a preposterous idea.

It was a great experience for me — and the students — to understand what it was like going to school in the gold fields in the 1850s.

Follow up on license plates:  I received several questions regarding why I only covered the license plates of three states.  It’s because they are the only states I’ve visited on this trip to Oz.  But I did happen to be at the outdoor market at “The Rocks” – right under the Harbor Bridge and the site of the earliest Sydney settlement.  One artisan had old license plates that he would turn into photo album covers.  Hard to imagine why someone would want a photo album made out of pieces of cut-up metal, but it gave me a chance to look at the other states and territories.  So for those people who feel a need for completeness:

South Australia – The Festival State (I am told this is because they have so many festivals)

Northern Territory– Outback Australia

ACT (Australian Capital Territory – Oz’s equivalent of Washington, DC) – The Nation’s Capital

Western Australia – No saying, but a setting Sun to indicate that the Sun sets last on this state.  In the past plates said The State of excitement and The Golden State

Tasmania – Your Natural State — which makes one wonder which is the unnatural state?

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1 Response to Playing Dress-Up

  1. Karen says:

    I am shocked to see that silly plate tectonics idea is beginning to fester even in Australia. Do what you can to keep a lid on that, Dennis.


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