One of the agitations leading to the riots, aside from the cultural differences, was that Chinese miners would take over abandoned mining areas that Europeans had vacated due to their being a low return. The Chinese workers were happy with a lower return which they could improve by working all day and night. There was also some discontent over the excessive use of water by Chinese miners in washing the soil where gold was found. Despite the animosity that brewed, there were others in the community who recognised the senseless aggression. A Victorian Magistrate in Castlemaine during that period stated ‘All men here [in the goldfields] are equal, they come from all parts of the world in equality, and you have no right to drive any away because they do not work as you please.’ Interestingly, following the riots the Victorian Government also offered compensation to the Chinese victims and invited them to return to the fields.

However in another government move, Chinese miners were required to have a residence ticket to prove the validity of their mining claim. The system disadvantaged the Chinese who may have not understood the requirements and if they did not have their ticket nearby, European miners would take over their area. This injustice resulted in little to no restitution.

In the goldfields, Chinese people also were often charged for crimes that were not enforced against Europeans, such as droving animals through the town outside certain hours of the day or working on the Sabbath. These charges disproportionately weighted the reporting statistics unduly against them. It is not easy going about your everyday business knowing that those around you are watching you like a hawk, waiting for a mistake, looking for a reason to argue with you. Any excuse to send you home. Interestingly, there are seldom any records reporting Chinese charged with public drunkenness or domestic violence, both of which were rife among the local population at the time.

In an attempt to ease relations and encourage compliance among the Chinese population in the goldfield regions, the Victorian Police recruited, among some others, Chinese born Fook Shing. Shing served for 18 years as a trusted detective of the police force. An indication of the willing compliance of the Chinese population who wanted to do right is seen in their pursuit as a community for one of their own who murdered a woman in the goldfields.

At the zenith of the gold rush periods in the eastern colonies, the Chinese population grew to 60,000 but diminished rapidly in the ensuing decades due to discriminatory laws.

Equality of treatment was all that was sought. That desire rings true in arguably all conflicts involving minority communities past and present.

Reproduction of Gold License dated 18 July 1854. Chinese Museum Collection 1992.7.2