Dogs on the Goldfields


DOGS ON THE GOLDFIELDS

© Warren Fahey 2008

There were many dogs on the goldfields too. Mostly nasty buggers used to scare off would-be thieves. British bulldogs and mastiffs were chained to the stumps of miner’s tents as a brutal warning.

The gold townships also had plenty of dogs sniffing around. They lived off scraps, fought in the muddy streets and generally behaved badly. They were tolerated because everyone was so consumed by the rush for gold that they simply ignored most things around them.

The police, particularly on the Victorian gold settlements, carried out their duties, especially in checking gold licenses, with dogs. One can picture the image of the petrified diggers avoiding the license by hiding down their mineshaft, or even up a tree, with the hunting dogs barking, scratching and howling, to alert their masters of the find. It is probably no coincidence that one of the most popular tunes of the day was called ‘Bow Bow Bow’.

There were also arranged dogfights on the goldfields reflecting the male-dominated society, general desperation, and, of course, the desire for entertainment and gasmbling.

Miners often relied on watchdogs to guard them on their travels and to stop robbers stealing gold or belongings from their huts or tents:

“Many a time the barking of a dog chases thieves and bushrangers away, wakes up the miner and warns him about approaching danger. Everyone in Australia knows that he is not allowed to enter a tent without first calling out to the owner and that the owner can shoot at anyone approaching too closely or entering a tent at night without announcing himself beforehand. Without the dog many a crime would have been committed, because a miner sleeps soundly after heavy work. Yes, a good dog is a priceless treasure on the goldfields. A criminal approaching a tent and confronted with loud barking turns back, convinced that the prospective victim, already aroused, may give him a very warm reception … Dogs are a great treasure in Australia. They saved the life of many a miner and prevented many mishaps, due to their warnings. The average price for a pup was one pound more for a grown dog. Good dogs fetched even ten pounds” (Korlinski’s Life on the Goldfields, Memoirs of a Polish Migrant, )