Gold digger’s stories are the best: adventure, (mostly shattered) dreams, incredible hardship, and putting your faith to the test in the most extreme of ways.
That’s probably why we like Sovereign Hill so much. And why we visited this re-created gold digger’s settlement from Australia’s 1850’s gold rush for the second time.
This time it was even better than in 2009, when all Matthijs was doing was just sit in the stroller and watch the re-enacted 1850’s lives of the settlers and founders of Ballarat town pass by idly.
At his current almost-5-years of age, he wouldn’t come off so lightly: it was participation time! So we headed straight to the pan-for-gold-yourself area. Now Matt doesn’t need much persuasion to play somewhere where there’s ample stacks of dirt and water around, so it was kind of a safe bet.
First, this perfect for his role rough-faced, dressed into gold digger’s slacks Ozzie showed us how the job should be done. Basically, you take a huge shovel, scoop a heap of sand, dirt and rubble from the supossedly gold-rich little stream, scoop it into a gold pan (‘take a nice old, rusty, dented one, they’re much better than the brand new ones’, our gold-Ozzie assured us), and squat down at the banks of the stream. Now the real work starts: because gold is heavier than the rubble in your pan, with the aid of lots of water and a gentle swirl, you should be able to wash down the gold to the bottom of the pan. Doing that, you should tilt the pan slightly, so the rubble and the sand washes out, but the gold stays in. When, following this method, you narrowed down the contents of the pan to roughly a spoonful of sand, and hopefully some specks of gold, it’s time to swirl and tilt again, and in the swirl have the gold seperated from the rubble.
This all may sound very, very fiddly and much-trouble-for-little-reward, and frankly it is. Matthijs thought so too.
So, thus, his method: have Daddy whack a splosh of rubble into a pan, squat, fill up the rest of the pan with water, wash out all the rubble in two swirls and three seconds and… conclude you haven’t found any gold.
Meanwhile, Kim decided to ignore every kind of instruction and 150 years of experience, and dug away in her own little, just as little succesful, but just as dirtying and fun as her brother’s method. And for all Mummy and Daddy’s fine techniques, they brought them just as little as the rough ways of the kids…
One and a half hour later we realised that it was a lost battle even before it had started, when both Matthijs and Kim got the opportunity to hold a real bar of purified gold worth AUS$160.000. Matt crawled away behind Mum’s back, afraid the bar wouldn’t quite have cooled down enough from the 1200 ˚C it was just moments before it was thrown into ice cold water, and Kim just sniffed highly indignantly, looking at the bar as if it was a heap of Brussel’s sprouts, and infinitely more happy with the dry bikkie she got offered instead by Mummy.
The kids were very impressed with the visit to the real underground gold mine, though – especially with the huge drill they used in the 1950’s to hack away the gold-containing quartz.
And Mum and Dad were smitten with their freshly acquired Ozzie version of Mrs. Beeton’s instruction book of how to produce a decent meal for your husband presenting himself after a hard day of panning – and the instruction that it’s quite normal to travel half a day for a tea party over at the next door neighbour – but that you’ve outstayed your welcome after 20 minutes of sipping at the strong brew you were likely to be presented. We’ll keep that in mind…
Location:Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia