The Cornish Miner’s Women by Sharon Greenaway.
Having just celebrated International Women’s Day last Tuesday I thought it an appropriate time to share with you this story.
In the library gardens on the Lyttleton Terrace side there is a magnificent bronze statue of a miner, mallet in hand, on the verge of driving a large metal stake into a massive piece of granite which as the dedication signs states is to pay tribute to “…all the underground miners of the Bendigo and District who created the economy from which grew a beautiful city…Cornishmen and their descendants formed the majority of these miners.”
I have passed by this statue many times since living in Bendigo and never really stopped to look at it in great detail. This all stopped after I met the artist Ruth Lyon recently when she was in town to launch an art exhibition (see http://www.ourpatch.com.au/bendigo/users/stlg48/blogs/3054-sadness-of-geography )
Bendigo born sculptor, designer and educator, Ms Lyon, was asked in 1993 by the Cornish community of Bendigo to create a monument dedicated to the Cornish community. “At least 50 percent of the [Cornish miners] died in the process either through injury or respiratory related injuries or infections,” said Ms Lyon. “I said I would take on the project if we could represent the women because the women that were left were unskilled largely and they often had hoards of children to look after. And so there is a panel on that particular base dedicated to what women did to survive the goldfields.
Ruth Lyon on the left at the recent Sadness of Geography opening.
“…Another Ruth, Ruth Ellis, a local historian… wrote a book called ‘What next cousin Jack?’” explained Ms Lyon. “[In the book there is a story] that really struck me… It was about this woman who was left abandoned to look after several children… [she] got this job cleaning the windows of one of the local primary schools. So they [the children] used to carry her on their backs, lift her up to the windows, and so she would clean the windows with them all underneath her…[Also] I do believe down here in High Street there was a red light district where a lot of the women had to resort to peddling their wares to earn enough money to survive and feed their families.”
Other ways the women of the times earned money was from butter churned from goat’s milk. Breeding geese and ducks were also another way of making a living and are featured “running around everywhere” on the monument.
On the monument Ms Lyon has also shown mining collapses and the history of the Old Bendigo Post office, which started off as a tent and ended as a grand Neoclassical Gothic style building. This beautiful building is now the Visitors Information Centre for Bendigo see: http://www.ourpatch.com.au/bendigo/users/stlg48/blogs/2915-old-bendigo-post-office-gallery
The immense detail and the richness of the story, both of the Cornish miners and the Cornish women who played such an important role in the development of Bendigo, is to be commended and worth another detailed look by locals and visitors alike.