Young, Linda: Subversive jewellery

Young, Linda

Subversive jewellery: challenges to conservative power from the Victorian goldfields‘, reCollections, 7, 1, 2012, pp. 1-13

This [beatifully illustrated] paper analyses a small group of pieces of gold jewellery in order to explore the digger challenge to the colonial culture of conservative deference in 1850s gold rush Victoria. In spending on lavish gold ornaments, lucky diggers asserted the value of their hard, manual labour to subvert the hegemonic respectability of the colonial elite. The brooches offer evidence of values that informed the digger population in its transformation from optimistic transnational transients into civilians who originated the modern form of the Australian middle class. (abstract)

Having arrived in Victoria with old world identities [the author concludes], they [the diggers] made a new, middling society in which social status was negotiated primarily with money, as long as it was matched with a more or less civil demeanour. The men who gave their women digger brooches thus stepped beyond the conventions of old world class, and in their jewels they savoured its subversion.

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