Historical information

This photograph depicts a large group of men in their work clothing situated in front of a large bank of earth. They are identified as miners working in an unidentified location in Australia. This photograph was taken by photographer Walter Thwaites sometime during the period of 1865-1908, likely c.1870. It is unsure where this image was taken since Thwaites travelled a lot over his photography career and the photograph is not annotated with this information. In addition, the identities of the men in the photograph are also unknown. These men are photographed in front of a large bank of earth where they had presumably been mining for gold or other precious metals.

The men, with the exception of four, are wearing wide brimmed hats to protect their faces from the sun. They are also wearing loose fitting white shirts which are often worn beneath a darker coloured vest. They wear pale coloured work pants and boots. The men are mostly clean shaven with the exception of the moustache and a couple of beards. Two of the men have pipes in their mouth. Their clothing is basic and much less dramatic than the outfits worn by the gold diggers of the 1852 gold rush. These men, by wearing similar outfits, are expressing a sense of comradery or equality between them. It is likely that they are from the same, or similar, social status. They have an air of independence and share social equality in their stance and clothing.

Walter William McLean Thwaites (1840-1908) was a professional photographer born in Sydney, Australia. He learnt the craft in his father's Hobart studio, but later embarked on his own solo career and toured every existing Australian colony between 1860 to 1888. The Thwaites family were a long line of photographers and artists with Thwaites' father Walter WIlliam Thwaites Sr working as an artist and photographer in Australia after moving from England in 1834. Walter Thwaites Sr's father, also named Walter Thwaites, was a British miniature portrait artist.


Images, like this one, of Australian gold rush history can reveal important information about the social and environmental impact of this period. This image depicts over 30 diggers standing in front of a bank of earth and therefore, this image has the capacity to reveal or support significant information for researchers studying the fashion and social status of diggers in Australia in approximately 1870. It can also provide information on the landscape of Australia in this period and the impact of mining for gold on both society and the Australian landscape.

The Burke Museum is home to a substantial collection of Australian mining photographs which can be used to gain a deeper understanding into life on the gold fields, technology used in mining, the miners themselves and the impact of the gold digging on the environment.

Physical description

Sepia toned rectangular photograph printed on matte photographic paper and mounted on board.

Inscriptions & markings

1997.208 /


W. Thwaites /
Photography /