5. Additional Suggestion

Edward Dyson, "The Golden Shanty"

The text may be downloaded from: "Ozlit Electronic Library", please ask for permission if you want to make a small number of copies. E-Mail: ozlit@vicnet.net.au

The Author

Edward Dyson, the son of a mining engineer, was born at Morrison near Ballarat, Victoria in 1865, fourteen years after the discovery of gold deposits at Ballarat. By moving with his family about the goldfields and travelling in his childhood he became familiar not only with the life in the bush but also with that of the gold-diggers.

After doing odd jobs at the Victorian mines, working in Tasmania as a miner and as a factory worker in Melbourne during his adolescence, he eventually turned to jounalism and finally became a prolific freelance writer of novels, short stories, and ballads. However, his strong point were the short stories, most of them being humorous in intent, whereas his novels were more or less a series of simply linked events.

The "Fact´ry ´Ands" (1906) stories depict the human misery in the slums, however giving prominence to the comic aspects of slum life. Dyson´s large number of literary publications include three collections of short stories "Below and On Top" (1898) - which includes 'The Golden Shanty ' -, "Benno and some of the Push" (1911), and "Spats´Fact´ry" (1914), and the novels "The Gold-Stealers: A Story of Waddy" (1901) and "In the Roaring Fifties" (1906). Edward Dyson died in 1931.

There is a general agreement that his story "The Golden Shanty" is a classic among Australia´s goldfield tales. It was first published in the Christmas issue of the Bulletin in 1887 under the original title of "A Profitable Pub". Mary Lord rightly says of this classic short story: " 'The Golden Shanty' was at one time a popular choice among anthologists. It deserves resurrection".


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shanty (Austr.) public-house - tramp here: walking excursion - Ballarat city in central Victoria that developed quickly after gold had been discovered in the region in 1851 - destination here: stopping-place - Shamrock Klee; it is Ireland´s national plant - rambling here: unsystematic; with no regular pattern - vinous caused by great consumption of wine - frenzy mental derangement - a lean-to building small building with its roof resting against the side of a larger one - confusedly mingled - to prop up with logs to support s.th. by putting long pieces of wood against or under it - hoop-iron thin flat iron to make rings for holding together a barrel etc. - possum small animal covered with fur living in trees (Kletterbeutler) - to bulge to swell out - on the verge of at the point of; shortly before - bilious tint of an unpleasant colour - to discard throw away; dispose of - apparel clothing - to drape cover; decorate - blinds screen for the window that can be pulled down - mooring here: rope or chain to fix an object . . .

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Early in 1851 the first gold was found at Warandyte, a few miles from Melbourne. This led to an unexpected rush, so that by the end of the year nearly half of the men of Victoria, which had become a separate colony in the same year, were digging for gold. Shortly afterwards other goldfields were discovered of which Ballarat and Bendigo proved to be the most profitable ones. Within the next years droves of migrants came to seek their fortune. Among them Irishmen and about 25,000 Chinese.

The Chinese coolies and 'diggers' were diligent workers and soon were confronted with a violent opposition leading to race riots and a morbid fear of Asian migrants. But the gold rushes were not of long standing and when the short boom, which the colony experienced, subsided in 1854 and Melbourne tried to overcome its severe depression partly by increasing the fee demanded for a mining license, the miners´ discontent culminated in the Eureka rebellion.

It was named for the rebels´ hastily built fortification in the Eureka goldfield near Ballarat. However, the rebellion was soon quelled by military troops. As the finds became more and more unprofitable, the diggers abandoned the goldfields leaving a desert of dug up soil, and a countryside denuded of its trees and covered with hideous heaps.

Yet, the anti-Chinese attitudes persevered for a long time after this short-lived goldrush and Dyson´s "The Golden Shanty" finally became an excellent fictional document of these resentments and hostilities, especially of those between an Irish family (the 'Doyles') and a Chinese clan (the 'Chows') 1) .

After the goldrush has subsided Mr. Michael Doyle, owner of a run down hotel built on sun-dried bricks called the Shamrock 2), is left alone with his large family. Only some "ramshakle huts, compliled of slabs, scraps of matting zinc, and gunny-bag", where "squalid, gibbering Chinese fossickers" live, have remained in this deserted area near Ballarat.

Mickey, a small, scraggy Irishman "with a mop of grizzled hair and a little red, humorous face" fears for the survival of his family, when the Chows swarm over the spot, "tearing open old sores, shovelling old tips, sluicing old tailings, digging, cradling, puddling, [and] ferreting into every nook and cranny". But what is even worse, his hens, sucking-pigs, and many articles of smaller value disappear by and by never to return.

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5. Additional Suggestion


However, when even the Doyles´ favourite 'porker' has left the "precincts of the Shamrock" one day, their patience is exhausted. Making inquiries they find their pig at the Chows´ habitation and after a brawl with the Chinese the matter is settled. After some weeks of waiting for the dust to settle, the Chows change their tactics by beguiling and flattering Mr. Doyle in " seductive pigeon-English".

But each time the Chinese leave the shanty to return home, they fetch one or even more of the sun-dried bricks that are scattered around Mickey´s rambling hotel to carry them home. Mr Doyle is puzzled but does not ask any questions in order not to lose his customers. But when the Chinese start to "abstract one end of his licensed premises" Mickey tries to find out why the Chows show so much interest in his bricks and he does everything to prevent them from ruining his house. Finally, after all their efforts have failed the Doyles decide to have their premises protected by a fierce dog, "almost as big as a pony".

As this weapon turns out to be most effective, the Chows "hold congress" and finally decide to send a deputation suggesting the purchase of the Shamrock at the price of fifty pounds. Mr Doyle, who has been looking for a prospective buyer of the Shamrock for years, hails the offer with secret delight and felicitates "himself on being the shrewdest little man who ever left the 'ould sod' ".

Shortly before the deal is settled for the good, Mickey decides to grant himself and his family a good dinner sacrificing a roasted young sucker. However when he touches up his knife, which is "nearly ground up through to the backbone", on a particular brick the knife snaps. Furious about this misfortune he stabs at the brick with the broken knife. The brick falls to pieces revealing the mystery. . . .

"The Golden Shanty" is a comic travesty of the contemporary prejudice against the Chinese. As they were diligent workers, they aroused jealousy and malevolence among the Anglo-Celtic Australian immigrants who feared a Chinese invasion, for China was known to be teeming with people. And indeed, the Chows´ appearance as a crowd seems a "foreign invasion" or "a pagan influx". "One hot summer´s day he arrived in numbers, like a plague,... and refused to go away again".

The narrator does not generally share this anti-Chinese attitude, for both, the Chinese and the Irish are described as greedy, tight-fisted and deceitful. But there is no doubt that he sides with the Irish, for the nouns he uses to label the Chinese are of sarcastic and sardonic nature, whereas the nomenclature for the Doyles is characterized by good-humoured irony.

Thus the author´s narrative perspective is that of a partial observer acquainting the reader with the fundamental aspects of time, place, and social background against which the events are set and in this way creating the basic atmosphere.

Dyson opens his short story by making use of 'zooming-in', a technique starting with a description of a historical epoch and a particular region and gradually approaching the initial situation of the story, the arrival of the Chows.

Apart from a short description of Mr Doyle´s ouward appearance implicit characterizations prevail. The Chinese are stereotypes projected from common perceptions and contemporary attitudes and not presented as individuals but as a clan with a variety of denigratory labels, e.g. "yellow agony". In the sequence of events, however, they turn out to be cunning, witty, "affable and genial", "suave and civil", and capable of "wheedling obsequiousness".

Although Mr Doyle is presented as a stereotypical beer-drinking Irishman, he possesses a number of individual, but negative traits. He is depicted as a careless, stupid and slow-witted man who is easily outwitted by his opponents.


1) "A deeply rooted fear of...China developed from specifically Australian-grounded experiences. At some goldfields in Victoria in the mid- 1850s, one adult in five was Chinese. Such large concentration of Chinese in Australia contibuted to a fear among the Anglo-Celtic majority, of Chinese invasion, which persisted well into the 1960s. Evidence of anxiety is recurrent in magazines and newspapers throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, and it is against this background that stories such as Edward Dyson´s 'A Golden Shanty' and Henry Lawson´s 'Ah Soon' should be viewed", from: An Australian Compass: Essays on Place and Direction in Australian Literature by Bruce Bennett, South Fremantle, 1991 p.187
2) The shamrock is the national flower of Ireland. Irishmen wear it in their lapels on St. Patrick´s Day. According to a legend St. Patrick, Ireland´s apostle and national saint, explained the concept of the Holy Trinity, three Persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk.



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