Bal-Maidens and Cousin Jenny: The Paradox of Women in Australia’s Historic Mining Communities

  • Philip PaytonEmail author
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


Among the early migrants to the newly proclaimed colony of South Australia were two female mineworkers from Cornwall—bal-maidens—and shortly after women were observed at work grading ore at Wheal Gawler in the Adelaide Hills, Australia’s first metalliferous mine. However, despite this early visibility, women were subsequently excluded from employment in the Australian mining industry. Nonetheless, women asserted their ‘civilising’ role in frontier mining communities, and on occasion female agency played a decisive part in community action, such as the direct intervention by women in strikes on the Yorke Peninsula and at Broken Hill. Yet despite this prominence, the trade unions that emerged continued to press for women’s confinement to the domestic sphere and to clearly delineated areas of ‘women’s work’ outside the mining industry.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Humanities, Arts and Social ScienceFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Emeritus Professor of Cornish and Australian StudiesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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