Mrs. Vanessa McDonald was born in Beechworth in 1917. Christened, Agnes Bertha Collins, Vanessa changed her name in 1960. Mrs. McDonald's family's connection with gold mining in the district reach back to the first of Beechworth's gold rushes, when her great grandfather, a Dutchman who adopted the name Charles Collins, arrived in 1851-1852. Mrs. McDonald spent her childhood in the isolated hamlet of Stanley, in the area known as 'Little Scotland', where she recalls helping her mother to raise younger siblings, picking apples and walnuts on the family farm, and roaming the hills for wildflowers. As a young woman Mrs. McDonald attended religious and social gatherings in the local community. In 1940 she went to Melbourne to work as a mothercraft nurse during the Second World War. She met her husband at a Beechworth football match and was married at the Stanley Methodist Church in 1941.
The gold diggings known as the 'Nine Mile' became the hamlet of Stanley, after the British Prime Minister, Lord Stanley, in 1858. By the late 1850s, Stanley boasted schools, an athenaeum, a church, a weekly newspaper and several hotels and other civic infrastructure to cater for a growing population. The area attracted large numbers of Chinese miners, whose presence was frequently resisted. Like other early Victorian mining settlements, Stanley was a hotbed of political and racial tensions during the gold rush. One side of the Nine Mile Creek was known as 'Little Scotland’, the other, 'Little Ireland'. A number of Christian denominations built congregations and churches in Stanley, including the Church of England, Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, and Presbyterian Church. Stanley became part of the United Shire of Beechworth in 1871. By 1880 timber was being cut and two sawmills were established by 1887. River-dredged gold mining consumed vast amounts of timber from the forests in the area, and in 1931 the first of several softwood plantations began.
This oral history recording was part of a project conducted by Jennifer Williams in the year 2000 to capture the everyday life and struggles in Beechworth during the twentieth century. This project involved recording seventy oral histories on cassette tapes of local Beechworth residents which were then published in a book titled: 'Listen to what they say: voices of twentieth century Beechworth'.
These cassette tapes were digitised in July 2021 with funds made available by the Friends of the Burke.
Following the decline in the mining and associated industries during the early-mid-twentieth century, the Beechworth district experienced a period of general economic decline. On the east side of the Dingle Range, Mrs. McDonald's father, William Henry Collins, felled timber and the family were pioneer apple orchardists. The establishment of apple orchards in Stanley reflects changes to how land was used and contributes to our understanding of the historical development of rural communities following the gold rush. Mrs. McDonald's recollections are significant for understanding family and social life in a small rural town in years leading up to the Great Depression and prior to the Second World War. This oral history recording may be compared with other oral histories and items in the Burke Museum's collection.
This oral history account is socially and historically significant as it is a part of a broader collection of interviews conducted by Jennifer Williams which were published in the book 'Listen to what they say: voices of twentieth-century Beechworth.' While the township of Beechworth is known for its history as a gold rush town, these accounts provide a unique insight into the day-to-day life of the town's residents during the 20th century, many of which will have now been lost if they had not been preserved.
This is a digital copy of a recording that was originally captured on a cassette tape. The cassette tape is black with a horizontal white strip and is currently stored in a clear flat plastic rectangular container. It holds up 40 minutes of recordings on each side.
Mrs Vanessa McDonald /
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