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If This Concertina Could Tell Its Story ...

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While visiting a museum in remote Cooktown (Queensland, Australia) I saw a battered old concertina on display that had apparently been owned by a prospector during the Palmer River gold rush which began in 1874 and lasted until about 1890.


This was one of the most dangerous and inaccessible locations in Australia, so whoever played this instrument must've had a hard life. The music from this concertina would have been very welcome in such a harsh existence. A miner's diary from 1874 mentions how the sound of a tin whistle had lifted his spirits during the hard slog to the diggings.


The instrument's maker was Joseph Scates of 85 Renshaw Street, Liverpool. I've attached three photos taken through the glass display case.






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Ah, stories:


My Great Grandfather, died 1960 aged 94, used to tell me stories of walking from Brisbane to the Palmer River goldfields in his early 20's (which would put it around the early 1890's) when he first came to Australia, along bush tracks following the Great Dividing Range. On finding there was no gold left, he walked back to Sydney. If it was not for my Grandmother telling me he had really done it, and found just enough gold for his wife's to be wedding ring I would not have believed him. The distances are immense, thousands of miles. Apparently in the more civilised areas he did odd jobs on the way.


He said he was not the only one who walked. Grandfather told me it took Pa a couple of years for the return journey. I still find it impossible to believe. Great Grandfather played the concertina, but I doubt he left the one shown behind.


Great-Grandfather was a bit of a tragic when it came to gold. Having married he moved wife, presumably with her ring, to the south island of New Zealand to work on the deep mines there, six years later he returned to Australia with Great Grandmother, and child, my Grandmother, but still no gold.



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