“So let us fill our glasses
And toast the days of gold
Where finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the land ablaze
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaming days”
HSIN CHIN SHAN
(to the new gold mountain)
All the discoveries of the region close on each other. The district population peaked in the 1870s. The 1871 census then showed the following:
Braidwood Approx. 1200
Jembaicumbene Approx. 840
Majors Creek Approx. 1100
Araluen Approx. 3240
Rest Of County About 3000
In many ways the history of Araluen parallels that of Majors Creek (or the other way ‘round depending upon where your allegiances lie). Araluen was bigger – and had more of everything, both good and trouble. There was a higher population of Irish than in Majors Creek (which was more – in religious terms – Anglican and Presbyterian. So the history of Churches and worship differed). Dredging was a major feature of the diggings in Araluen (and Jembaicumbene) whereas Majors Creek wasn’t suitable. The Irish and Chinese mix – and The Valley’s remoteness gave it its own distinctive feel.
Historians tend to write about Europeans first and Asians second. We’re reversing that custom, except to note that the Irish (having mainly been convicts) and Chinese (because they were living in an alien land) had a lot in common in that they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Perhaps this 'unconscious' bond helps explain why Araluen (in contrast to other gold fields of the time) had little or no racial violence. Hence the names 'Peaceful Valley' and 'Happy Valley' often used to describe Araluen.
By 1870 Araluen was big and a bee-hive of activity.
When you drive down to the Araluen valley these days it’s almost impossible to believe there was a 5km stretch of 'business' along the valley floor. Indeed, there were six districts or mini-suburbs ...
… each with at least one general store, baker, shoemaker, blacksmith and bank. There were around 20 butchers and 26 hotels.
Most people relaxed by playing sport and/or pursuing night-time entertainment.
"Dancing was permitted on five nights a week and the indescribable saturnalias on Saturday night equalled at least the Greek and Romans.”
The proprietor of The Great Eastern Hotel at Newton brought by 'special coach' six attractive barmaids from Sydney. Competition between hotels was fierce and young ladies of the night came and went with great regularity.
The Irish in Araluen worked hard, drank hard – and went to Mass. Religion was one of the major 'glues' that kept this mainly ex-convict proletariat together both personally and collectively. Most of these men worked a full, six day week so their day off was precious. Religion obviously mattered if it was positioned as the first commitment on a Sunday.
Fathers Kavanagh and O’Brien supervised the building of the first church in Araluen of timber slabs with a shingle roof. On Sunday half those attending Mass were on the inside of The Church (they’re the ones who received communion), half on the outside. Pious Catholics arrived early. All seemed to generously contribute to the Priest’s Hat (the 'plate'). That generosity was a major contribution to building the large granite church (St Bede’s) that still serves Braidwood.
Not all Irish were Catholic (another story) and not all Catholics were peaceful and law-abiding. Theirs is the story of bushranging.