'Without natural protectors': Responses to wife desertion in gold-rush Victoria

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This article uses the issue of wife desertion in gold-rush Victoria to explore the ways in which women's welfare needs were often eclipsed by reform programmes centred on the male breadwinner. It argues that deserted wives were powerful cultural symbols of the dislocations of gold discovery, of urban poverty and of unprotected femininity, which reformers appropriated and used for their own ends. The article then charts how deserted wives, and the contradictions that they represented, emerged as legitimating figures in the rhetoric of the land reform movement. Viewed in this light, land reform appears to be a movement with a thoroughly gendered social vision, one that effaced the needs of impoverished women who lived apart from men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-46
Number of pages25
JournalAustralian Historical Studies
Issue number108
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1997

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