Great lockdown reading 3: Castlemaine’s first environmental conflict

One of the heroes in Marjorie Theobald’s narrative is Gold Commissioner Captain John Bull. The author builds on her previous research on one of the problems he faced:

Decaying puddler, Cobblers Gully: it’s picturesque now, but in its day it was a menace to the health of people and the environment.

‘As concern for the environment as we understand it today did not exist on the goldfields, it comes as a surprise that  in early 1855 Captain Bull took a stand on precisely these grounds. He sent to each puddling machine proprietor an edict that from the 31 March 1855 these machines would be banned from the main creeks in his district. This was necessary, he said, to safeguard the water supply of Castlemaine, the operations of miners using conventional methods, and the health of the creeks and flats generally. The problem was that the end product of the puddling machine process was a murky treacle-like sludge which had begun to pollute the creeks and choke the flats…

‘The reaction of the puddling machine men was swift. They (argued) that they had invested large sums of money in the erection of machinery, that puddling was important to the economy of the goldfields…and that such an edict would effectively shut down all future technological development in the industry…’

In this face off of environmental and community health on the one hand, and the economy on the other, guess who won? Of course, the alleged conflict between the economy and the environment and health is a false one, but it’s tenacious all the same, as we are seeing at this very time…

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