History Lives: Focus returns to gold

In 1932, Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment. This was a higher figure than Germany, which turned in that time to dictator Adolf Hitler. 

According to reports in the Bendigo Advertiser, the unemployment figure for Bendigo was also high, though the gold mining revival did assist the local economy. 

Two years later, more than 2000 men were working on the goldfield and Bendigo mines were producing nearly half the state’s gold production. 

The price of gold rose and, as Frank Cusack wrote, “The Age of Gold has come again”, with more than 40 mines operating. 

Quartz mining accounted for nearly half the mines workforce, with alluvial mining and cyaniding adding to employment figures. This was a similar situation to the 1890s depression, when gold mining acted as a cushioning effect on the local economy.

The year 1932 saw the death of two of Bendigo’s most prominent citizens, James Curnow and Sir John Quick. Both men were born in Cornwall and each made their mark in different spheres. 

After schooling, Curnow entered the firm of Connelly, Tatchell and Co. 

He was a member of the Australian Natives Association, where he became Secretary of the Bendigo branch. 

He founded the real estate and auctioneer firm of Curnow and Son, a business which is still operating. 

A member of the Bendigo Council for 30 years, Curnow was mayor on many occasions – 1902-3, 1903-4, 1912-13, 1919-20 and 1927-28.  He was chairman of the Bendigo Sewerage Authority. 

He was also elected to represent the cities, boroughs and towns of Victoria on the Board of Health. 

Curnow was a life member of the Bendigo Hospital and Benevolent Asylum. 

As well, he was managing director of Bendigo Pottery and a director of the Bendigo Gas Company and the Bendigo and Eaglehawk Star Building Society. 

He was also the representative of the municipalities on the Victorian Country Fire Brigades Board.

Images of Sir John Quick as a barrister may be seen by visiting the new exhibition Crime & Punishment at the Post Office Gallery, Pall Mall, between 9am and 5pm daily.

Another who died in this year was Charles Handschin. Born in Switzerland, he came to Bendigo in 1926 to establish a factory. 

He was so impressed with the city that he set up the famous Hanro factory, after negotiations with the directors of the Bendigo Knitting Mills. He returned to his native country, but in his short stay, he associated himself with many organisations.

It was not unusual in the depression years and long after to see the figure of a swaggie in country areas as men left the cities in search of a job or even just to survive. 

One of the images with this article shows the typical dress of a swagman. I well remember many men dressed in this fashion when I was a lad in a country town in the 1940s.

Bendigo Historical Society September Meeting

Tomorrow at Bendigo TAFE Theatrette at 2pm. There will be short talks from members on their recent research: Family History (Carolyn Ball); A Bendigo Soldier (Tom & Libby Luke); German World War I Helmet (Ted Hocking); and Specimen Cottage (Barb Poustie). All are welcome; gold coin donation.

Heathcote and Costerfield all-day bus excursion

Saturday, September 13. Cost $20, includes visit to Heathcote Historical Museum and Costerfield Gold and Antimony Mine (not underground).

Bring your own lunch, or buy at Heathcote. Bus leaves from All Seasons at 9am and returns at 4pm. Payment can be made at Specimen Cottage (178 Hargreaves Street), open Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 4pm. Phone 5441 3443.

Bendigo Historical Society tours

Shamrock Hotel every Sunday at 2pm. Cost $10 includes cake and coffee. Book at the Shamrock on 5443 0333.

Specimen Cottage (178-80 Hargreaves Street) every Tuesday at 11am. Cost $5 includes morning tea. 

Visit the Bendigo Historical Society website at www.bendigohistory.com

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