Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/99

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85
A BIRTHPLACE OF FREEDOM.

the country stretching to the north of Melbourne. At Coburg he was engaged in building a church, when the exciting news of the gold discoveries at Ballarat was proclaimed. All the men employed on the building left at once for the gold-fields. As a priest was very much wanted amongst the digging population, Father Dunne lost no time in responding to the request of his ecclesiastical superiors. Mounting his horse and taking nothing with him save the clothes he wore and his sacred vestments, he started for the golden centre. In such a dreadful condition was the road, that some days elapsed before he reached the spot where ten thousand people were living in tents and digging for gold. He found shelter in the tent of Mr. John O'Sullivan, a timber merchant of Melbourne, who had come up with the rest in the hope of achieving a fortune more expeditiously than in the ordinary ways of trade.

On the Sunday after his arrival, Father Dunne celebrated the first mass that was offered up in what is now the episcopal city of Ballarat, and afterwards it became a familiar and a very edifying spectacle to see, every Sunday morning, hundreds of rough, red-shirted, long-bearded diggers devoutly kneeling outside in the open air, whilst the Holy Sacrifice was being offered up in the tent. The pioneer priest of the gold-fields made himself in all respects as one of the people around him. He slept on a sheet of bark with a blanket rolled about him; he often prepared and cooked his own meals, and every morning at six o'clock, he could be seen making his way to the nearest water-hole with two large bottles in order to secure a supply for the day. An hour later not a drop of clean water was to be had, every available hole and creek being surrounded by diggers, washing out the clay in search of the precious metal.