Is your family name Duck, Whitbread, Buttfield, Doig, or Fels. Or is it Baker, Frost, Gleeson, Helling, Herbig, Cotter or Whatever? It doesn't really matter. Nor does it matter how often your family has moved or changed their name. It is possible to find out much about your family after they settled in South Australia.
The early South Australian migrants, particularly those men and women who worked and lived at Angepena, Blinman, or Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges, proved to be a very interesting and remarkable group of people. Naturally they had much in common with people in other parts of South Australia such as Hahndorf or Innamincka, or indeed with the rest of Australia during that time. They also had much in common with the people who today work and live in isolated mining towns such as Mount Isa, in Queensland, or in Leigh Creek, Roxby Downs or Woomera in South Australia, all of which are just as arid and isolated.
Needless to say, they did not all follow the same religion, have the same level of education or ethnic background. They also varied in the number of times they changed their occupation. However if there was one attribute which made them stand out, it was that of their mobility. This applied in particular to those men and women involved in, or connected with, the labour-intensive and volatile mining industry. Their mobility was not restricted to geographical mobility alone. They were very often economically mobile. Those people involved in the pastoral and other industries in the Northern Flinders Ranges also showed a high degree of mobility.
Numerically though, there was only a very slow change in population numbers over time. This often gave the impression of great stability or even stagnation. This stability however masked an intense social and geographic mobility on the part of numerous individuals who worked in the Flinders Ranges, be they miners, captains, smelters, teachers, hawkers, farmers, carpenters, troopers, pencillers, bullock drivers, brewers or doctors. All of them, and their families, were very mobile.
The stability also tended to hide the frequent movement of people into and
out of the area during a particular period. Moreover it failed to show the impact that many of these itinerant and mobile people made on the area before they moved on again. Many of the people in the Flinders Ranges regularly shifted from station to mine to town or railway siding before moving back again to where they had started. All of them were naturally very responsive to the vagaries of employment opportunities offered in the mines and the towns of the north. They were also responsive to fluctuations in their incomes, caused by a rise or fall in the price of a mineral or worse still the closure of a mine. For them itinerancy was a habit born of necessity.
A large number of these itinerant workers and even some of the self-
employed regularly shifted location without the incentives of job security and/or income. When giving evidence at a parliamentary inquiry in 1869, R.A. Fiveash said 'There is no great difficulty in getting miners up, they are a shifting population...They may be two or three months at Blinman and then they get tired, and go somewhere else, or come to town for a spree...Many recently left for Peak Downs, but some have come back, and are glad to accept employment here at reduced rates, rather than go back again...They are always shifting. Last week, in coming from the mine, eight of them came down with me...These men each earned $6 a week, yet nothing could induce them to stay. They had had their turn, and were coming down for a spurt...'.
Many of these nomadic miners, and those in other occupations often stayed long enough in one location to "gather moss" or settle into normal domesticity. Not all mobility, especially social and economic mobility was in an upward direction. Many people experienced a definite downward mobility, either temporarily or permanently. These kinds of downward trends of mobility have not often been recorded in South Australia's history. One reason for this has been the temptation to present its history "as a mere celebration of the achievement of the successful and the strong". Unfortunately the confusion, sickness, humiliation, unemployment, destitution and devastation that many migrants had known in England, Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland, Latvia, Poland, Italy or Germany were often experienced by them again in South
Australia. Sometimes misfortune struck upon arrival in the colony, or even before, at sea. At other times it struck as the result of a drought, closure of a mine, sickness or worse still after the death of a wife during child birth or the death of the bread winner.