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The Golden Graveyard
by [?]

MOTHER MIDDLETON was an awful woman, an ‘old hand’ (transported convict) some said. The prefix ‘mother’ in Australia mostly means ‘old hag’, and is applied in that sense. In early boyhood we understood, from old diggers, that Mother Middleton—in common with most other ‘old hands’—had been sent out for ‘knocking a donkey off a hen-roost. ’ We had never seen a donkey. She drank like a fish and swore like a trooper when the spirit moved her; she went on periodical sprees, and swore on most occasions. There was a fearsome yarn, which impressed us greatly as boys, to the effect that once, in her best (or worst) days, she had pulled a mounted policeman off his horse, and half-killed him with a heavy pick-handle, which she used for poking down clothes in her boiler. She said that he had insulted her.

She could still knock down a tree and cut a load of firewood with any Bushman; she was square and muscular, with arms like a navvy’s; she had often worked shifts, below and on top, with her husband, when he’d be putting down a prospecting shaft without a mate, as he often had to do—because of her mainly. Old diggers said that it was lovely to see how she’d spin up a heavy green-hide bucket full of clay and ‘tailings’, and land and empty it with a twist of her wrist. Most men were afraid of her, and few diggers’ wives were strong-minded enough to seek a second row with Mother Middleton. Her voice could be heard right across Golden Gully and Specimen Flat, whether raised in argument or in friendly greeting. She came to the old Pipeclay diggings with the ‘rough crowd’ (mostly Irish), and when the old and new Pipeclays were worked out, she went with the rush to Gulgong (about the last of the great alluvial or ‘poor-man’s’ goldfields) and came back to Pipeclay when the Log Paddock goldfield ‘broke out’, adjacent to the old fields, and so helped prove the truth of the old digger’s saying, that no matter how thoroughly ground has been worked, there is always room for a new Ballarat.

Jimmy Middleton died at Log Paddock, and was buried, about the last, in the little old cemetery—appertaining to the old farming town on the river, about four miles away—which adjoined the district racecourse, in the Bush, on the far edge of Specimen Flat. She conducted the funeral. Some said she made the coffin, and there were alleged jokes to the effect that her tongue had provided the corpse; but this, I think, was unfair and cruel, for she loved Jimmy Middleton in her awful way, and was, for all I ever heard to the contrary, a good wife to him. She then lived in a hut in Log Paddock, on a little money in the bank, and did sewing and washing for single diggers.

I remember hearing her one morning in neighbourly conversation, carried on across the gully, with a selector, Peter Olsen, who was hopelessly slaving to farm a dusty patch in the scrub.

‘Why don’t you chuck up that dust-hole and go up country and settle on good land, Peter Olsen?You’re only slaving your stomach out here. ’ (She didn’t say stomach. )

Peter Olsen (mild-whiskered little man, afraid of his wife):‘But then you know my wife is so delicate, Mrs Middleton. I wouldn’t like to take her out in the Bush. ’

Mrs Middleton:‘Delicate, be damned! she’s only shamming!’ (at her loudest. )‘Why don’t you kick her off the bed and the book out of her hand, and make her go to work?She’s as delicate as I am. Are you a man, Peter Olsen, or a——?’