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The Great Depression of the 1930s, and its accompanying wave of unemployment, drove many workers away from the towns and cities in search of a subsistence livelihood in the country. George Davies, along with his mates Curly and Big Mac, travelled to the Howard goldfield in the Upper Buller, in part attracted by the government’s gold subsidy scheme. The Gold Subsidy Scheme paid married men 30 shillings a week and single men 15 shillings to search for gold.

Goldfield pan
(photos courtesy National Library)

The romantic image of the prospector swirling his pan in a creek and discovering a fortune had no reality on the Howard. It was, instead, heavy labour which involved clearing timber and large boulders from the claim, constructing head and tail races to bring water to sluice the faces – only then could gold recovery begin – if, indeed, gold were present.

George Davies’ personal account of life on the Howard goldfields is both humorous and moving. He and his mates served a hard apprenticeship. They never made a fortune but found physical and mental skills previously unknown to them and became proud practitioners of a craft. (Produced by Laurie Swindell and first broadcast in May 1972)