Currency Lads and the Native Youth: mapping early white identity in Queensland

Through examining the spatial data shown on historical maps associated with the Native Mounted Police (NMP), in conjunction with archaeological evidence, many aspects of the early Qld frontier can be examined. Race relations, Aboriginal displacement, early white settlement, and even the politics of colonial identity can be investigated.

During archival cartographic research into the NMP one particular phrase used on a map that came to my attention was “Native Youth”; specifically, what exactly did this term meant in the context of the time. An 1892 Cooktown District Mining Map from the Qld State Archives (QSA) was particularly intriguing as it demarcated two sections as the “Native Youth Mine” and the “Native Youth Tin Mine” (you can see these on the copies of the map included below). The names of these two mining areas conjured many questions, amongst which included: Who were the Native Youth? Was this a registered company? What were they mining? How did this, if at all, relate to the NMP? And even when it was learned that the answer to the latter question was “Not directly”, the research proved interesting.

1892 Cooktown District Mining Map (courtesy of the QSA).
Closer view of the “Native youth Mine” from 1892 Cooktown District Mining Map (courtesy of the QSA).
Closer view of the “Native youth Tin Mine” from 1892 Cooktown District Mining Map (courtesy of the QSA).

After investigating, it was found that the “Native Youth Tin Mine” related to a registered company from Tasmania that had expanded its interests into Qld in the late 1800s, as revealed by a faded scrip certificate (a certificate of ownership of shares) issued to an unknown party (see below for the certificate). Further, the question of what they were mining, at least in this instance, appears to have been answered: tin.

Faded Scrip certificate of unknown date issuing shares from the Native Youth Tin Mining Company.

Further research using Trove and in the QSA provided more answers concerning what was being mined by the Native Youth Mining Company. References to accidents and occurrences at the Native Youth Mine and Native Youth Tin Mine can be found in various Qld newspapers in the late nineteenth century. An example of this is an 1898 article from the Northern Miner, a local newspaper based in Charters Towers, detailing the accidental loss of an expensive piece of mining machinery – a dredger. As shown below, this article also explains that the Native Youth Tin Mining Company was originally an English operation.

Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), Monday 4 April 1898, page 2.

The identity of the Native Youth was also ascertained from other sources in Trove. The first born generation of white free settlers to Australia were referred to as Native Youth, and were also known as Currency Lads. This generation of white, middle-class offspring referred to themselves with some pride as “native-born”, which they felt distinguished themselves from those born in the mother country (England), and those of “lower” classes. On the other hand, we see some mocking rhetoric directed at the Native Youth, who were seen as somewhat spoilt in their privilege compared to other members of early Australian society (such as convicts, squatters and the like). A satirical example of the supposed nationalism expressed by the Native Youth can be seen in a mocking article from the Melbourne Punch (Thursday 21 September 1871, page 3):

THE NATIVE YOUTH’S POLITICAL ALPHABET.
A stands for Assembly, of legislative renown;
B stands for Benches, on which members sit down.
C stands for Consistency, which with members is rare;
D stands for Deception, and each carries his share.
E stands for Eloquence, which is often abused;
F stands for Foolery, frequently used.
G stands for Gammon, a known part of speech;
H stands for Humbug, within member’s reach.
I stands for Intelligence, of which some members boast;
J stands for Jaw, the thing they use most.
K stands for Knowledge, likewise for Knowing;
L stands for Learning, of which some members are blowing.
M stands for Ministers, who with honours abound;
N stands for Nonsense, in speeches oft found.
O stands for Opposition, and in numbers is nought;
P stands for Protection, which by many is sought.
Q stands for Queer, the state of the country will be;
R stands for Relief, the thing we don’t see.
S stands for Soft Soap, which candidates use;
T stands for Tomfoolery, which most of them choose.
U stands for Unison, which with members is rare;
V stands for Virtue, but vice has the best share.
W stands for Wit, when a funny story is told;
X stands for Ten, using Roman figures of old.
Y stands for Youth, which we oft do abuse;
Z stands for Zeal, which electors must use.

Also, the Week (of Saturday 2 September 1876, page 6) carried a decisively critical article of the Native Youth’s reluctance to financially or otherwise support a sporting icon of the time, Edward Trickett, a highly successful rower, despite their wealth and privilege:

THE NATIVE YOUTH NOT TO THE FRONT
The enthusiasm which prevailed when the news that Trickett’s victory first came to hand has not endured so long as was expected. Those who have made money by the event have buttoned up their pockets, and those who lost have not heart to come forward roundly with subscriptions towards the testimonial. A large number of subscription lists were sent out to leading citizens in different parts of the colony, and of these only seven have been replied to, and even in the case of these seven, the results have been bad-in some instances nil has been written in bold hand across the lists. Great indignation is expressed in the small circle of Trickett’s ardent admirers at these bad results. It is hoped, and indeed expected, that Queensland will show up better in this matter.

Again, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Wednesday, 12 June 1861, page 2) we see that the Currency Lads were not looked upon favourably by a Scottish writer in 1861 who described them as the “most sensitively self-satisfied people in existence”:

Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 12 June 1861, page 2.

Thus, through some preliminary research into colonial identity as alluded to in cartographic sources, a picture begins to emerge of this group of first-born free settlers on the Qld colonial frontier.

As with many of the early Qld frontiers (pastoral, squatting, bêche-de-mer), the mining frontier directly had a spatio-temporal association with the NMP. Essentially, the NMP were clearing the way for white industrial activities, such as mining, to be undertaken without Aboriginal resistance restricting their actions in any way. Through dispersals (killings), removals and the like, the NMP paved the way for white industry. By analysing and interpreting historical maps and archival sources, a direct association can be seen between mining areas and NMP camps. There are many cartographic examples of this, but one clear instance we have which exemplifies this association is found in an undated sketch plan of the Etheridge and Croydon Gold Fields showing the boundaries of Dunrobin and Norman Native Police patrols:

Sketch plan of the Etheridge and Croydon Gold Fields showing the boundaries of Dunrobin and Norman Native Police patrols (courtesy of the QSA).

For all intents and purposes, by destroying Aboriginal resistance, the NMP were preparing Qld not only for white settlers, but for subsequent white generations born into this landscape of conflict, including the Native Youth and Currency Lads.

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