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Sport on the gold fields

Entertainment on the gold fields took on a true Antipodean nature as diggers looked to sport as a means to release the tension of gold fever.

Under such sporting events as the opossum hunt and kangaroo hunting Australian wildlife fared poorly. But no less poorly did the diggers themselves fare when entertainment was seen to be a good rough fight between two rivals.

Bendigo Mill by S.T. Gill
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

"As we got over the top of the range we found that a considerable number of diggers had already gained the spot, on which a couple of gigantic navigators were preparing to try their strength in a pugilistic encounter. They had already peeled, as the gentlemen of the fancy term stripping, and were just taking their attitudes... it was one of the roughest scenes it has ever been our lot to witness... the fight had been expected to "come off" for some time, whilst a goodly amount of "nuggets" and "dust" had been staked upon its issue."

The "opossum hunt"

Our situation was forgotten in the desire to get the opossum; and we shouted and beat the tree with the butts of our guns to try to frighten him forth; but every means failed until Raikes determined to ascend the trunk and burn or smoke him out with a wisp of lighted grass... the little animal, no doubt frightened by this extraordinary invasion of its territories, sprang from its tenement, and, with the celerity of a rat, ran further up the tree... by this time I had my gun at my shoulder, and, as the animal sat as if paralysed by fear, I fired, and brought him dead to the ground."

The opossum hunt
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

Kangaroo Hunting

"A stray kangaroo once got chased through Iron Bark gully. The poor creature took refuge in one of the holes, but was soon converted into some exquisite soup..."

Kangaroo Hunting: No.3 The death by S.T. Gill
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

"We commenced our sport... by smoking out some those prettily-spotted wild cats which overabound in the Australian bush... and then we had a number of short but sharp courses after the kangaroo rat... then we took a spell at swan and wild-duck shooting on a very large lake... After dinner... we sprang five kangaroos in a cluster... some time before I could see them I heard the quick thump, thump, thump, following their bounds. One came almost straight towards me... I could have shot, or at all events crippled him, but I left him to the dogs, who were closing him... We killed two fine ones, but we contented ourselves with their tails, whose measurements I also refer to the sceptics, from their unbelievable size... as a bit of pastime it was proposed to discharge our guns at hat practice - that is, throwing up our hats in turn to be shot at. I was, from my earliest days, above the average at shooting on the wing, and I made a perfect colander of the one I fired at, to the infinite merriment of the party..."


State Library of Victoria

From the State Library of Victoria’s virtual exhibition Life on the Goldfields.


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