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Goldfields and Grand Pianos

by
May 2001, no. 230

Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia edited by Iain McCalman, Alexander Cook and Andrew Reeves

CUP, $49.95 hb, 344 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Gold and Civilisation

Art Exhibitions and the National Museum of Australia, $39.95 pb, 220 pp

Goldfields and Grand Pianos

by
May 2001, no. 230

Forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia: this is a five-star title for a three-star book of essays. Several of the essays are slight and pedestrian, and overall the subject of gold gets a patchy treatment; the contributors write about their specialties and we are not given much help to reach a new understanding of the whole phenomenon. But there is much that is interesting here; and some of the material is arresting. The editors have fulfilled their modest intention – ‘to illustrate, amplify, complicate or update’ well-traversed themes.

Only one essay, the first, deals broadly with the history of gold in Australia. Among several stimulating suggestions, David Goodman points out how quickly social order was re-established after the initial turmoil of the first rushes. Conservatives were worried about the collapse of deference and the hierarchy of ranks, but the capitalist market soon reimposed its discipline. The gold-miners, too, looked on mining as a means to an end, in particular the acquisition of land, not as a permanent life. ‘It was only in late nineteenth-century nostalgia for the “roaring days” that the passing of gold-rush conditions became a matter for lament.’

John Hirst reviews 'Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia' and 'Gold and Civilisation'

Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia

edited by Iain McCalman, Alexander Cook and Andrew Reeves

CUP, $49.95 hb, 344 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Gold and Civilisation

Art Exhibitions and the National Museum of Australia, $39.95 pb, 220 pp

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