Reel Smart Academic Roundtable: The Pioneer’s Wife

Roundtable In this Reel Smart Academic pitch, the La Trobe research team share their investigation into the accusations against Mary Minogue who was accused of murdering her baby in the goldfields sludge.

La Trobe University and AIDC present the Reel Smart Academic Roundtables which sees academics from La Trobe University pitch up-to-the-minute original research to producers at AIDC with the aim of triggering the development of new factual series or one-off documentary projects.

Irish housemaid Mary Minogue travelled to the goldfields in 1857 as an assisted immigrant aboard a government ship, two months pregnant with an illegitimate child. Four months after she arrived, Mary had married a stranger, miner Richard Valance and was before the magistrate accused of murdering her newborn child in the goldfields sludge.

The Victorian goldfields were a domestic space, home to tens of thousands of women and families. With domesticity, however, came the threat of family cruelty. Mary’s husband miner Richard Valance transformed his life story on the goldfields: first claiming to be a son of Ireland, then dying a Sydney-born ‘pioneer’, yet actually the son of convicts. In contrast, Richard’s wife Mary—The Pioneer’s Wife—lived a life of sadness, loss and disappointment, her decisions dictated by fear of the actions of a new husband.
Richard’s historical signature is his portrait included among the ‘Eaglehawk Pioneers’ held by the State Library of Victoria. Mary’s historical signature was not as a pioneer, or even a pioneer’s wife. Having conceived a child, travelled across the world, married a stranger, then birthed and disposed of her baby, Mary was branded ‘a hideous stigma on the character of the colony’.

The Reel Smart Academic Roundtables are limited in capacity. Interested delegates are encouraged to reserve their spot via AIDC’s online event platform early to avoid disappointment.

Image Credit: ‘Eaglehawk Gully, Bendigo’, William Bentley, 1853 (National Library of Australia).