Born Maria Eliza Delores Rosanna Gilbert, Lola Montez fled Limerick, Ireland, and an arranged betrothal in 1818. She led a whirlwind life dinning and sleeping with European kings, advising Czar Nicholas and Ludwig I on matters of state. She took part in a plot against Jesuit-controlled Bavarian monarchy, and performed in leading opera houses of Europe. She traveled the world with her famous Spider Dance, landing her in Victorian goldfields in 1855-56.
The flamboyant showgirl hit the goldfield society with an attention grabbing style of her theatrical tour. But Melbourne critics were critical of her autobiographical theatrical production, Lola Montez in Bavaria, comparing her short curly hair to a “barrister’s wig”.
“She can talk politics like a book”, the review continued, “and teach kings how to govern their people more easily than you and I could conjugate a French verb”. This was a praise, of sort, but the critics damned her for her self-promotion and delusions of grandeur. Despite the disparaging reviews, adoring diggers tossed gold nuggets at her on stage.
Today, Lola’s journey is revived in the Museum of Australian Democracy’s sparkling exhibition, called Bling! Arranged in a dazzling array below a life size figure of Lola is a collection containing over 250 pieces of goldfields’ jewellery. This extraordinary collection consists of finely wrought gold resembling goldfield tools used by diggers. These tools of the trade earned diggers the money to buy the adornment pieces they otherwise could not afford.
The vast collection represents the fauna and flora of the colony which welcomed the penniless immigrants. Brooches, earrings, and hair clasps digger wives the chance to dress in royal fashion.
The Bling! exhibition, held at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat, is an example of the pride the gold rush miners had in their newfound wealth.