A look inside the miner’s cottage

April 14, 2024 BY

Back in time: A former teacher, Doug Bradby is a passionate non-fiction writer of varying series. Photo: FILE

AUTHOR and historian Doug Bradby has released a new building-focused book as part of his Ten Delightful Tales series.

Cottages of Ballarat: Rhubarb and Roses was officially launched at Collins Booksellers in the Bridge Mall last month.

It explores the role humble miners’ cottages have played in the city since the mid-1800s.

“It’s a third result of the gold rush that’s often forgotten,” he said.

“We know miners got the money in their pockets and they got the vote, but they also got access, with their miner’s right, to occupy up to an acre of land on any goldfield.

“It’s next to nothing a year, two and six pence or under $100, and it gave every miner and his family a quarter acre block.

“All they had to do was pay that small amount every year, and they had a substantial suburban block of land.

“Cottages were everywhere in Melbourne, Geelong, and London, but what Ballarat had was cottages on substantial pieces of land, and in 1870 there were 10,000 of them.”

Bradby said when the scheme concluded in 1970, there were still thousands of people in Ballarat holding their land with a miner’s right, not by freehold.

“It was a perfectly good system…that gave them immense opportunity for a different sort of family life,” he said. “It was an absolutely wonderful thing.”

It was “easy” for Bradby to do his research for this book, the 22nd in the series. For starters, he, his cousins, and neighbours had all grown up in miner’s cottages.

In the book is a photo of his great-grandma sitting out the front of the family’s cottage at 503 Talbot Street in 1880, and another shot decades on, shows Bradby at the same home.

“Seventy years later, there’s a photo of the cottage all spick and span with a veranda, a big front garden, rhubarb and roses, and me,” he said.

“There’s never-ending images of grandpa in the garden, playing cricket in the yard, herb gardens, and fixing up the car.

“Though it’s a personal story, so it was for thousands and thousands of people in Soldiers Hill, Ballarat East, Eureka, Redan, and Sebas.

“This is their weatherboard house with land around it to grow your veggies, have your cricket pitch, your lawn, aviary, and chooks.”

A reason why Bradby has written and published this book is because the idea of what size a family home should be is an always-relevant topic.

“It’s about quality of life,” he said. “What is the appropriate size house for a family?

“In the last 100 years we’ve halved the size of the block, doubled the size of the house, and you’re lucky to get a wheelie bin in the back yard.”

Bradby’s Ten Delightful Tales series will continue, and he’s already focused on the next topic.

“I’ve written about the cottages, but what about the community they sit in?” he said. “For everybody with their little house, there was a dignity about it for everyone, and a connecting community.

“These are suburban cottages in a town, connected with the other people, churches, corner stores, and local pub.

“The wider community is the topic I’m pursuing now.”

Cottages of Ballarat: Rhubarb and Roses and the wider Ten Delightful Tales series are available at local Collins Booksellers, the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute, and the Eureka Centre.