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Production   /  Andrew Pike

Diggers on the Klondike

Australian experiences in the last great gold rush of modern times - to the Klondike in the remote north-west of Canada.

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Impact areas

ARTS

ENVIRONMENT

YOUTH & EDUCATION

Crew

  • DIRECTOR Andrew Pike and Robin McLachlan

  • PRODUCER Andrew Pike

Synopsis

DURATION: 70 MINUTES

The Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1899) in Canada’s remote northwest was the last great gold rush of modern times. Over a thousand Australians and New Zealanders set out on the epic journey to the goldfields in the Yukon Territory, across frozen mountain passes and through deadly river rapids.

The film draws on a decade of research by Dr Robin McLachlan (co-producer and co-director): he has identified over 700 individuals, men and women, who successfully reached the Klondike. DIGGERS ON THE KLONDIKE explores their experiences, both individual and collective.

While there is a vast literature on the Klondike, it is America-centred and in the case of cinema more Hollywood than history. Australians and New Zealanders are rarely mentioned. However, Dr McLachlan’s research reveals that these men and women have their own unique stories. Only a handful found their fortune in gold. To have reached the Klondike, though, to have been a “Stampeder”, was a badge of honour.

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0.42% funded
  • $120,000.00

    FUNDING GOAL
  • $500.00

    FUNDS RAISED
  • September 2020

    PROJECT ENDS
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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

The Australian and New Zealand role in the Yukon had significance, both to Canada and to the prospectors. Drawing on goldfield experiences in Australia unmatched by any other nation in the Klondike, this involvement included gold mining practicalities as well as resisting official corruption, often to the displeasure of the authoritarian North West Mounted Police. The Klondike saw Australians and New Zealanders as global leaders in both mining and in grassroots democracy.

Australians and New Zealanders were at the forefront in servicing the needs of an isolated goldfield – merchants, doctors, hotelkeepers, as well as workers in “Paradise Alley”. One enterprising woman went from selling silk lingerie to hotel keeping and mine ownership, Australian men made their name as boxers, and a woman gained fame as a music hall star.

In expanding our sense of national identity, we need to understand the ways, beyond the battlefield, in which we experienced the world and made an impact on it.

Impact

What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

Focussing on Australians and New Zealanders in a foreign field, we intend to put our role in the Klondike into the mainstream of national historical consciousness.

This is not an ephemeral TV show about an arcane obscurity. We are far more ambitious and especially want to contribute to a new national narrative that is not driven by war, special interests or great individuals, but rather a narrative of ordinary men and women with no recognition in museums or memorials.

Outcomes

What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

Our goal is to expand the accepted conventions of Australian history focussing on war and commercial ventures. Australian ingenuity, practical wisdom and survival skills in the extreme conditions of the Klondike should be matters of national pride and celebration, as these skills are in battles at Gallipoli, on the Western Front or in the Pacific. The large number of Australians involved in the Klondike means a significant population of descendants, and we want to stimulate research at a grass roots’ level, with stories being told in literature, film and other art forms. We will accompany the film with a study guide for schools, aimed at encouraging local and family historical research. We will also work to encourage museums to tackle the Klondike story to bring this neglected part of our heritage to life. History conferences nationally and internationally will also be a key part of our strategy, and we see these as being the equivalent of film festivals for other documentaries.

Stakeholders

How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

Robin McLachlan has had many years of experience communicating with a wide range of audiences about the Australian experience on the Klondike through conference presentations and history publications, especially in the growing field of mining history. Already, work-in-progress presentations have been made about the development of the documentary project. A range of mining historians known to McLachlan are already contributing ideas and information to his research for the film, and if required, can be used as commentators in the film about comparative experiences in other goldfields. This is true, for example, of historians who specialise in the experiences of women in the Australian goldfields and who can enrich our understanding of the diversity of women’s roles in the Klondike.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

We hope to stimulate grass roots research into local and family histories to identify further stories about Klondike “Stampeders”: many were undocumented at the time and may only be known today within the families of descendants. Our study guide will be designed to encourage school students as well as members of local historical societies to undertake research within their communities. Such local research may lead to blog postings, oral histories and forms of artistic expression. The rich archive of folk music from the Klondike (not necessarily Australian in origin) may also gain a new life as some of it will be featured in the film, and we will encourage students and musicians to investigate further.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

We will be able to measure the impact of our work by DVD sales and streaming licences in the education market, and by statistics for public streaming locally and internationally. The take-up of papers offered to conferences, and the publication of papers in scholarly and popular print and electronic media, will also indicate our impact. We intend to make a film that will not become dated, but will continue to have relevance for many years to come. Given our anticipated high production values we will examine all possible outlets through TV (Pay and Free to Air) in Australia and North America, and if no other options are possible, we will work with community broadcasters.

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