Word of mouth was certainly important. Anyone recently returned from the diggings with news of the latest rush was questioned closely. Newspapers were scanned in minute detail to glean any information about which field had the greatest returns and what was the best route to get there. Weather reports were no doubt also taken into account when considering which road to take and the means of travel could also affect choice of route. For those wealthy enough to afford it, travelling by coach determined which road was used, but for those on foot - as many were - the shortest route may have held the most appeal. For the array of horses, carts, drays and wagons however, it was not so easy to skirt around a bad section of track - as described by Henry Mundy in his account of his time spent on the goldfields - so the shortest route may not always have been the quickest. Misjudging a creek-crossing or becoming mired in a swamp could be a very costly and even dangerous occurrence.
One source of information which purported to help the would be diggers avoid the traps and pitfalls of their newly-chosen career was guidebooks. The Digger's Hand-book, the Gold Digger's Guide, the Gold Seeker's Guide and a plethora of other helpful publications were guaranteed to provide all the information an aspiring digger needed; a list of what clothes and equipment to take, what rations to carry and what could be found along the way. Most importantly perhaps, the digger's guides also included maps, a description of the route, details of what conditions to expect during the journey and potentially also a list of places to stay or camp and the distances involved.
|An example of a gold digger's guide, image from the National Maritime Collection|
Sources of information such as these whilst useful, were not however to be entirely trusted. Newspapers then as now had their own agendas which often reflected the interests of the towns and people they represented. With the outbreak of the gold rush in 1851, many of those towns were keen to profit from the flurry of activity it generated. Of course, those who were situated closest to the goldfields stood to benefit most and it wasn't long before a slanging match developed between Geelong and Melbourne with The Argus and the Geelong Advertiser championing the causes of their respective towns.
Not surprisingly, one of the chief topics of interest was the proximity - or lack there of - of each town to the Ballarat goldfields. Within weeks of the discovery of gold in Victoria, claims, counter claims, allegations and insinuations were flying. Also up for debate was the estimated cost of buying equipment for the goldfields from either town and the state of the respective roads between each and the diggings.
Nor was the battle confined to the pages of the local newspapers. In 1854 a map was published which purported to show the "true" distances between Melbourne, Geelong and the various goldfields but which placed Geelong at twice the distance from Ballarat as it did Melbourne. Not surprisingly, there was outrage amongst the Geelong fraternity at such a fraud being perpetuated upon their town.
|The "false" map of the goldfields (Turnbull, 1989)|
Whilst this map is a blatant example of the intercity rivalry, other maps were more accurate but could still prove misleading. At the outbreak of the gold rush, there were a number of maps which were considered reliable such as government surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845 "Map of the district of Geelong", engraved by Thomas Ham of Melbourne and published by James Harrison of the Geelong Advertiser.
|The relevant portion of Skene's 1845 map of the Geelong region, showing the main tracks between|
towns at that time. Image held by the National Library of Australia
|A portion of Ham's 1849 map of the Melbourne and Geelong regions.|
Image held by the National Library of Australia
|Ham's 1852 map of the routes to the Mt. Alexander & Ballarat gold diggings.|
Image held by the National Library of Australia
Other less official maps also claimed to provide accurate information, but were similarly vague. The "Notes of a Gold Digger and Gold Digger's Guide" shown above, contained a map "compiled & engraved by Samuel Clavert" dated 1852. Whilst the distances shown are reasonably accurate, once again, the track is a general line with few landmarks to use as a guide. Whilst Geelong is shown on this map, distances are marked from Melbourne to each of the goldfields listed but no distance is given for the road from Geelong to Ballarat, nor is the Geelong-Melbourne Rd marked on the map.
|Map of the goldfields from "Notes of a Gold Digger and Gold|
Digger's Guide" 1852.
|The digger's road guide, to the gold mines of Victoria and the country extending|
210 miles, round Melbourne. Image held by the National Library of Australia