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Bush-lost children’s place in new ‘moral communities’: the emergence of a cultural rite in colonial Victoria (and across Australia), 1850s–1890s

journal contribution
posted on 2022-03-15, 04:16 authored by Timothy CalabriaTimothy Calabria, Tash Joyce
Abstract In the 1850s goldrush, new communities emerged in Victoria with members from diverse origins of place, faith and ethnicity. Settlers usually migrated to pursue wealth; however, the social cohesion these young towns required often came from beyond logics of economy. As the goldrush waned from the 1860s, communal searches for children lost in the bush became a secular ‘rite’ that helped produce ‘moral communities’, which articulated shared values through common beliefs and social practices associated with lost children. Entire segments of communities would gather, suspend economic pursuits and search for lost children, often for days or weeks at a time. The euphoria of finding the child alive, or the solemn reverie when the child perished, forged communal goodwill through shared sentiment. The rite of the search became disseminated through newspapers, literature and word-of-mouth, while the ‘bush’ – a construction referring to various landscapes in Australia – enabled readers to participate in the searches remotely, as part of an imagining and feeling community in the colonies’ various climates. In the gradually secularising settler colonies of Australia in the late nineteenth century, lost children functioned as a fulcrum on which communities could pivot, while establishing social cohesion and communal belonging.


Publication Date



Rural History




Cambridge University Press



Rights Statement

© The Author(s), 2022. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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