Handsworth, W. Midlands, England 1854 – Eltham, Victoria, Australia 1914

  • Australia from 1887
  • Europe 1887-88

Fossickers [(Cabbage tree flat, back creek)] 1893 Title Notes: title changed by the Director, Ron Radford, in 2008 [exhibited: VAS April 1893 (131), VAS August 1893 (21)]
Place made: Creswick, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated l.l., oil "Walter Withers /93"
Dimensions: 67.7 h x 49.0 w framed (overall) 88.5 h x 70.3 w x 10.9 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Mrs Alec de Bretteville 1969
Accession No: NGA 69.197
  • Gold, gold, gold, gold!
    Bright and yellow, hard and cold;
    Molten, graven, hammered, rolled,
    Heavy to get, and light to hold;
    Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled.1

    Fossickers were miners who searched through mined earth in the hope of finding undiscovered gold. In Walter Withers’s depiction the fossickers are almost camouflaged within the land, blending inconspicuously with the colours of the earth. Under a gum tree the two men take a break in the midday sun. In the foreground of the picture the artist has depicted the texture of the gum tree and rocks in sharp focus, while the large rock-face in the background has been eroded by the impact of heavy mining.

    An English artist who arrived in Melbourne in 1883, Withers worked mostly around Heidelberg and Eltham. He visited the town of Creswick 18 kilometres north of Ballarat and 129 kilometres north-west of Melbourne where he painted landscapes and mining subjects. In January 1893 Withers conducted outdoor painting classes in Creswick.2 Percy Lindsay, who is known for his paintings of Creswick and the surrounding area, attended these classes as a young artist.

    1 J. C. F. Johnson, Getting gold: a gold-mining handbook for practical men, London: Charles Griffin & Company, 1904, p. 1.
    2 Andrew McKenzie, Walter Withers: the forgotten manuscripts, Lilydale, Victoria: Mannagum Press, 1987, p. 120.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra