The Gommock: Exploits of a Cornish Fool in Colonial Australia
Cornish miner Yestin Tregarthy begrudgingly brings his family to South Australia as part of the first wave of colonists in 1836. He is restless for an opportunity to dig for ore once more, and his deepest desires are eventually fulfilled by the discovery of a huge copper deposit in the outback at Burra Burra. Beginning with the construction of huts dug into the dry banks of the Burra creek, a community springs up and grows ever larger in order to service what rapidly becomes one of the largest copper mines in the world. Inevitably friction arises between the rank-and-file miners, who follow the tribute system of mining to which they are accustomed, and the board of directors in Adelaide, who represent shareholders reaping vast profits and desirous of more. Inevitably, too, Yestin's family life passes through a number of vicissitudes and begins to disintegrate.
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Review by J. B. ANDERSON, February 2011. – In this historical novel the great Burra Burra copper mine of South Australia provides the background for the struggles of a Cornish miner Yestin Tregarthy and his wife Charlotte, who emigrated from Cornwall and its worked out mines in 1836. The reader is treated to their adventures at a mining camp in the Outback, with all the dangers of pick and shovel mining, collapsing mine shafts, and flooded tunnels, along with miserable living conditions. But the real story is that of a man’s greatest fear, the loss of his wife’s respect, and a woman’s greatest fear, the loss of her husband’s love. Yestin is too often called a ‘gommock’ – a Cornish word for a fool – by Charlotte, and Charlotte is too often ignored by Yestin. Their parting is most dramatic. The novel provides remarkable views of the life of immigrants in 19th-century Australia. One gets interesting lessons in copper mining and learns more than a few Cornish words. The story is related by the daughter Effie, who comes of age in the mining camp, and witnesses her parents’ struggles. In the end, Effie sums up her father’s life: “He had his sturt of luck and found (in his words) ‘where the riches hide theirselves’.” Effie could say the same for her mother’s life. In all…an interesting and exciting read!