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CHAPTER XII.
    Life on the Gold Diggings.

And now I will endeavour to picture my impression of the gold diggings as they appeared on that same evening.

After passing through one of the most beautiful of the Lindis gorges we found ourselves at the entrance of a wide tract of open and undulating country, almost bare of anything beyond short yellow grass, encompassed on all sides by hills which stretched away westward to the snow-crowned mountains. The extent of the open was from one to two miles square, and through its centre—or nearly so—the Lindis flowed in a rocky bed. Along the river and far up the downs on either side were sprinkled hundreds of little tents with their hundreds of fires and rising eddies of smoke. The banks of the river were crowded with men at work, some in the water, some out, others pitching tents or tending horses, some constructing rough furniture, cradles and long Toms for washing gold, hundreds of horses tethered among the tents or upon the open, and above all the suppressed hum of a busy multitude.

On all new gold diggings it was usual to establish a self-constituted form of government among the diggers themselves, which in the absence of any regular police force or law of the land was responsible for the protection and good conduct of the entire community. Some capable man was elected as president and chief, before whom all cases of misdemeanour were heard, and whose decisions and powers to inflict punishment were final. Under such rule, crude as it was, the utmost good conduct usually prevailed, and any glaring instances of robbery or crime were not only rare, but severely dealt with.

To this man we reported our arrival, and a camping ground was pointed out to us. It was too late to do anything towards preparing a permanent camp that night, but at daybreak the following morning we were hard at work, and by evening had made ourselves a comfortable hut.

We marked out a rectangle of 12 ft. by 10 ft., the size of our largest tent, around which we raised a sod wall two feet high, which we plastered inside with mud. Over the[Pg 65] walls we rigged up our tent, securing it by stays and poles set in triangles at each extremity. At one end we built a capacious fireplace and chimney eight feet wide, leaving two feet for a doorway. The chimney was built of green sods, also plastered within, and our door was a piece of old sacking weighted and let fall over the opening. Around the hut we cut a good drain to convey away rain water. At the upper end of the hut we raised a rough framework of green timber cut from the neighbouring scrub, one foot high and six wide, thus taking up exactly half of our house. Upon this we spread a plentiful supply of dry grass to form our common bed. Our working tools and other gear found place underneath, and with a few roughly made stools and the empty "Old Tom" case for a table, our mansion was complete.

It was not yet night when our work was done, and some of us strolled about to obtain any information available. This was not as satisfactory as we could have desired. Very many had been disappointed, gold was not found in sufficient quantities to pay, and prospectors were out in every direction. It was early yet, however, to condemn the diggings, and the grumblers and the disappointed are always present in every undertaking, so we comforted ourselves, and sought dinner and the night\'s sleep we were so much in need of.

The usual requisites for a digger are, a spade, pick, shovel, long Tom or cradle, and a wide lipped flat iron dish (not unlike an ordinary wash-hand basin) for final washing.

The long Tom consists of a wooden trough or race, twelve to fifteen feet long and two feet wide; its lower end is fitted into an iron screen or grating, fixed immediately above a box or tray of the same size. To work the machine it is set so that a stream of water obtained by damming up a little of the river is allowed to pass quickly and constantly down the race, and through the grating into the box at the other end.

The "stuff" in which the gold is supposed to be is thrown into the race, where, by the action of the current of water, the earth, stones, rubbish and light matter are washed away and the heavy sand, etc., falls through the grating into the box. As frequently as necessary this box is removed and another substituted, when the contents are washed carefully by means of the basin. By degrees all the sand and foreign matter is washed away, leaving only the gold.[Pg 66]

The cradle is very similar to what it is named after, a child\'s swing cot. It is simply a suspended wooden box, fitted with an iron grating and tray beneath into which the "stuff" is cradled or washed by rocking it by hand.

It takes considerable experience of the art of finding gold to enable a man to fix on a good site for commencing operations. There are of course instances of wonderful luck and unexpected success, but they are very much the exception, and form but a diminutive proportion of the fortune of any gold diggings. We hear of the man who has found a big nugget and made a fortune, but nothing of the thousands who don\'t find any big nuggets, and earn but bare wages or often less.

On most diggings a large proportion of the men are working for wages only, and it not infrequently depends on the fortune of th............
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