In the 1850s most people came to central Victoria to find gold, but one enterprising young émigré arrived at the Mt Alexander diggings determined, quite literally, to make it.
Writer: Sarah Harris – Photographs: David Field
Peter Barnes is the latest in a long line of alchemists. For five generations the men of this family have spun sugar into gold. For 158 years the Barnes family has made its own sweet fortune, producing the little gold nuggets called Castlemaine Rock.
The family tradition began in December 1853 when Thomas Shinfield Barnes, accompanied by his wife Mary and their baby daughter born on the voyage from England, landed in the colony. They headed straight for the diggings, but unlike so many others – who were forced to pay exorbitant prices to buy picks and shovels from the camp merchants – Thomas carried the tools of his trade with him.
Today in a modest factory in Wallace Street, Castlemaine, his great-great-grandson still uses the same hand-held cutter old Thomas used. Made of steel tempered over and over in an old-fashioned forge, successive generations of the Barnes family have never been able to find anything as strong as the original tool to cut the rock-hard candy. “Everything else tends to bend or snap,” says Peter, hacking a toffee snake into small pieces…