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At the periphery of the British Empire, the newly discovered goldfields in the Australian colony of Victoria sparked global interest. Migrants hopeful of striking it rich poured into the colony from 1851, and while men such as laborers were considered the ideal diggers they were not the only seekers of gold. Those who might have preferred a white collar willingly accepted manual labor for the prospect of instant wealth. This paper explores the confused state of diggers’ dress on the goldfields, where gentlemen worked alongside men of all classes, occupations and backgrounds, and practical and sturdy garments were commonplace. With markers of class thus muted, it investigates the resulting consequences for identity. Tracing the factors that enabled men to fashion their goldfields identity, it considers material consumption in the colony alongside a less-acknowledged source of men’s clothing—women making it in the home. For women were also present on the diggings and their domestic sewing practices—impacted by isolation, access to goods and services, and goldfields failure, more common than success—were valuable material strategies for providing appropriate, well-maintained clothing.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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