Today the town of Steiglitz, near Geelong, Australia, is almost deserted. The remaining colonial buildings, stone foundations and scars from large-scale mining bear testimony that there was once a thriving gold rush town here.
Steiglitz was one of the richest quartz goldfields in Australia. Barely a month after the first reef was discovered in late 1855, 200 miners had staked their claims. By 1856 Steiglitz township had a population of around 1000. Soon there were four hotels, four churches, and five schools instructing 200 children.
On the outskirts of town stand St Thomas Catholic Church and the Steiglitz pioneer cemetery. The cemetery closed in 1861 and only one headstone remains.
The headstone reads, “Lost his life by accident on the Steiglitz Goldfields“.
Flush with cash and fresh from a night’s drinking, miner Robert Duncanson fell into an open shaft. His moans attracted the attention of a passerby the next day and he was retrieved from the shaft, but the accident proved fatal.
“I remember when we used to be coming home from the New Chum school. We used to jump over the shafts … one boy, Jesse Steers, did not quite manage it, and fell back into the 80-foot shaft. He got a terrible cut on the head, but he partially recovered and lived a few years”
“A.O.”, The Age, 25 April 1936
Sandstone gutters and the occasional introduced tree mark the streets and allotments of the town. Residences and businesses stood cheek by jowl.
Harry Ellis’ drapery narrowly escaped disaster in 1895, when fire consumed a block of buildings in Regent Street. The Victoria Coffee Palace, McClellan’s grocery store and Doctor Scott’s residence and surgery were completely destroyed.
The fire had been deliberately lit by Joseph Gill, proprietor of the Coffee Palace, who had conspired with his mother-in-law to obtain the insurance.
The Steiglitz Hotel was the last of the town’s ten hotels to close. The final licensee was widow Christina Scott.
“During the many vicissitudes of a mining centre, she successfully carried on the business here until 1917 when, owing to the gradual decay of the township, she surrendered the license with the intent of living privately”.
Geelong Advertiser, 7 May 1918
Christina Scott died five months after she shut the hotel doors.
James Sugg’s wooden blacksmith cottage has been carefully restored, but nothing remains of the other traders in the street. One by one the carpenter, the plumber, the fishmonger and the barber left as the town declined. By the time Mr Sugg closed his blacksmith forge in 1944, he was the town’s last businessman.
“It may well be that the gold underground will enrich the town again. Meantime the gold of the wattle on the hills recalls happy memories to those who roamed among it in other days”.
Jane was at Andy’s bedside, but she felt helpless. She could only watch as the war separated her from Andy again.
Andy’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Ballarat. Then, five days before Anzac Day 1960, Andy died.
Anzac Day dawned cold and grey that year.
Featured image: ‘Original Anzac Passes On’, Riponshire Advocate,30 April 1960. State Library of Victoria
Jane Duncan (bottom picture, front row, second from right) continued to be actively involved in the Beaufort community in her sixties. By 1950 Jane was one of the few World War One wives on the Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women, Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Featured image: 1950 ‘PROMINENT WOMEN OF BEAUFORT’, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 13 December, p. 27. Newspaper article found in Trove and reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103994632 [Accessed 18 Dec 2016].
The Riponshire Advocate declared the Back to Beaufort Centenary weekend a resounding success. All but one page of the 9 January edition of the newspaper reported the homecoming celebrations and sporting events.
Approximately 200 people visited the town. Some Beaufort residents would have noted that the number was well down on the 1,000 visitors who attended the previous ‘back to’ in 1927. But the Riponshire Advocate was certain that it was quality, not quantity, that was the measure of success.
The consensus of opinion among the visitors was that the whole of the celebrations were really delightful and thoroughly enjoyable, and they were loud in their praises of the excellent work done by the organising committee and its secretary and president.
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
As secretary, Andy Duncan must have felt gratified by the response.
Andy set up a display of old photographs of Beaufort, and also a fine collection of walking sticks made from Mt. Cole forest timber, belonging to local forester Mr Thomas Derham Bailes.
Mr Duncan also displayed a fine inlaid wooden box and tray, made by him while a patient at the Caulfield Military Hospital
Riponshire Advocate 9 January 1937
Andy’s work as honorary secretary had proved his bona fides to his new home town. In the next few years he would be nominated for committee positions at the Beaufort Mechanics’ Institute, the Cemetery Trust and the Thistle Club.
Riponshire Advocate (Beaufort, Vic.: 1874 – 1994) 9 January 1937. State Library of Victoria
My great-great-great grandfather Henry Steward was one of the 37 percent of inked convicts. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land displaying two of the more common tattoos. His convict description notes “Anchor inside rt arm Crucifix inside left arm”.
Henry Steward was sentenced to 14 years transportation for “stealing a velveteen coat and a pair of trousers” in 1834.
Ancestry.com. UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 9. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ancestry.com.au. [Accessed 23 August 2013].
In 1936 the town of Beaufort prepared for a Back to Beaufort Centenary Homecoming. It was the centenary of explorer Major Thomas Mitchell‘s expedition passing through the district, although the township itself was somewhat younger, built after the discovery of gold at nearby Yam Holes Creek in 1854.
Homecoming events came into fashion in Australia at the end of the First World War. By then many towns were old enough that their residents could look back to pioneer days and celebrate how far they had come, but were still young enough that original settlers or their children could attend the festivities.
Despite their retrospective nature, “back to” gatherings were considered innovative and progressive. They could raise a town’s profile, boost the local economy and draw former residents back “from every state in the Commonwealth”, as the Geelong Advertiser put it. Victorian towns embraced the trend with great enthusiasm.
Andy Duncan was a member of the Back to Beaufort committee, and instrumental in organising the event. As honorary secretary he wrote to former residents, inviting them to return for the Christmas weekend. He was in touch with the Beaufort-in-Melbourne Club about arrangements for their 91 members to join the celebrations.
Andy also managed the homecoming budget, which included seeing what might be donated or discounted. It kept him busy:
liaising with the Railways Department on sharing the costs of promotional posters for display in metropolitan and Beaufort district stations;
developing an advertising plan and keeping tabs on revenue generated from advertising in the souvenir booklet;
negotiating truck rental to transport visitors to the picnic ground at Mount Cole;
borrowing flags and decorations from Melbourne using his Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League connections, then seeking council approval to decorate the town.
A letter was read from the Ripon Shire Council, stating that they had no objection to flags and welcome home signs being hung across the main street, but would not allow any sign to be placed on the band rotunda
Riponshire Advocate 5 December 1936
At the start of December preparations gathered momentum. Andy’s wife Jane joined the committee. She helped arrange a social for Christmas night, and hem the welcome signs Andy had organised for each end of town, the main street and the railway station.
1918 ‘Ararat Home-Coming.’, Ararat Chronicle and Willaura and Lake Bolac Districts Recorder (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 10 September, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154295833 [Accessed 17 July 2016].
When the men of the 10th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force waved goodbye, they believed they were sailing for Europe, “To hold secure the fields of France against the German tide”, in the words of their battalion song.
Andy Duncan had read the book, ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’, and so knew how the story ended before he saw the film in 1959.
The 1954 Western Mail book reviewer wrote,
Of course, the climax cannot be revealed here. It is sufficient to say that it is a good one, packed with suspense.
The story of Colonel Nicholson and his bridge across the River Kwai can be recommended as interesting reading.
But for those who were not familiar with the story, the film review published in The Canberra Times in Feburary 1958 gave away a little too much:
The film was made in Ceylon, and the Ceylonese scenery is superb.
The story does condemn the futility of war, but it seemed a pity that most of the leading characters had to die.
Sessue Hayakawa is the commander, Colonel Saito. Throughout the tension and brutality which characterises the beginning of the film, and life in the Japanese prisoner of war camp, he yet compels the sympathy of the audience, especially in his feeling of failure. He, too, is killed in the closing scenes, before he had an opportunity to kill himself.
William Holden is good as the American, Shears, who makes a miraculous escape and yet is forced to return and dies as the bridge crumbles to destruction.
Was the art of the movie review so different in the 1950s? Or was the book so well-known?
Andy was not a movie-goer. His routine was to walk to the Beaufort Mechanics Institute library and borrow a good book, perhaps an Agatha Christie mystery, and bring it home to read in his favourite armchair. This quiet escape into a book had become a habit when he served in India, and had helped sustain him as a Prisoner of War in Germany.
So it was quite unusual when Andy decided to go to the pictures. It was 1959 and he wanted to see ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.
The movie was showing at the Regent Theatre in Ballarat.
Travelling from Beaufort to see the movie took a bit of organising. Andy telephoned his grandson Robert in Ballarat and asked him to make the arrangements. As well as the seat reservations at the Regent, Robert needed to book tickets for the Beaufort-Ballarat train.
Robert took the train to Beaufort, stayed overnight at the Duncan home, then travelled back to Ballarat with his grandfather.
Their seats were in the dress circle, near the front and on the aisle, so that Andy could get up and move about, if need be. The film was over two and a half hours long, and Andy had not been in a cinema for at least twenty years.
It is a gripping war story of outstanding personal courage, and undoubtedly one of the outstanding films of the past year.
It is however, emotionally exhausting, reviving after more than a decade of peace the stark realities of jungle warfare.
Extract from The Canberra Times, 5 February 1958
Andy seemed a little shaken when he left the theatre. Perhaps it was partly because his first Technicolor cinema experience was overwhelming, but the film must have brought his own Prisoner of War memories to the surface.
He did not say much, except to admire Alec Guiness’ portrayal of the British colonel. This character, an officer who refuses to allow his officers to work even though it means solitary confinement and punishment, must have resonated with Andy, who had refused to work for the Germans in 1918.
Featured image: 1959 ‘Advertising’, Western Herald (Bourke, NSW : 1887 – 1970), 3 April, p. 9. Newspaper article found in Trove and reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103994632 [Accessed 5 Jun 2016].