Striding down the street in her boots, cloth cap and white apron, with a shovel in one hand and a cradle under the other, ‘Biddy of the Buller’ is one of those characters you would very much want to meet.
Originally from Ireland, Bridget Goodwin was a hardworking goldminer, who spent hours standing in the freezing cold waters of the Buller River scooping, cradling and panning sands in the hope of finding gold. Her occupation was unusual for a woman at the time – the late 19th century – and it was she who lead the digging team consisting of herself and two men, who had arrived in the area in the mid-1860s after toiling the Australian goldfields of Bendigo and Ballarat.
Legend has it that the three of them had “work hard – play hard” attitudes, spending every last penny of spare money made from their work on drinking binges. Her retirement at 93 was spent in Reefton, retelling stories of her early life whilst smoking a tobacco pipe that was quickly hidden on the appearance of the Anglican vicar.
Biddy passed away in October 1899. As far as history is aware she was the only female goldminer in New Zealand at the time.
Image: Biddy of the Buller. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 39942 [cropped]