The Liberator’s Birthday is a story about a group of Irishmen who live around the junction between Redan and Sebastopol to the south of Ballarat. Both districts were centres of intensive goldmining during the second half of the nineteenth century. Mining impacts on all their lives. They have either been involved themselves in raking the riches out of the earth or they have supplied the mines and men with needs. Some mined when every man was his own boss, others had to be content with wages begrudgingly paid by hard nosed managers. The more enterprising formed up into tribute parties and contracted out their services. All were affected by what mining had done to the environment, the muddy roads and paths, the dammed creeks overflowing with all manner of effluent, the flooded back yards and the privies that spilled over to provide a deadly cocktail of diseases which threatened all their lives. In the summer they put up with grit carried from the mining sites by the hot winds and deposited into every crevice, and there wee the flies and mosquitoes which bred on the pools of stagnant water. And there was always the noise as quartz mining replaced alluvial and the city and surrounds were dotted with huge powerful stamper batteries to crush the rock.
These Irishmen gathering in a pub on the corner of Rubicon and Skipton Streets had other concerns too. Prominent among them was the Catholic Church which, unlike the benign and understanding church their ancestors had fought and died for, had become a stern and unbending task master. It had imposed upon them rules and regulations that were hard to understand and even harder to obey.
They had to turn their backs on comrades with whom they had shared the great adventure of gold mining. They could no longer count among their friends men who did not profess the Catholic Church as the one true church, and they could not marry any woman who took their fancy. The children too had to be in schools approved by the church and increasingly these were ones constructed with money that had come from their own pockets.
Some of them were confused, others resentful, but they were also fearful. They knew they could not disobey. To do so would be to place themselves outside the church and dam their souls forever.
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