If you're thinking being stuck working from home for the duration of the pandemic is starting to wear a bit thin, have some consideration of jobs the citizens of Victorian-era Ballarat had to endure.
In a time before the full rise of mechanisation, when horse and cart ruled transport and the concept of hygiene was limited to a weekly bath (if you were able), any number of occupations were just as likely to maim, injure or kill you as they were to pay you a barely-liveable wage.
The hundreds of thousands coming to the colonies were often fleeing a life of misery in their countries of origin, whether it was England, Ireland, China or the states of Europe.
While the allure of gold and the hope of a better, wealthier existence drove many to abandon what little they had to throw their luck onto the seas and sail to the other side of the world, just as many were leaving the tumult of societies changing through the crushing of democratic rebellions.
But were the colonies any better? Arriving on the goldfields, it was clear class distinction still ruled. The dispossessed Indigenous owners were driven to the edges of their land, while the merchant classes ensured the goods they were selling were marked up exorbitantly. If you found no gold, starvation was a real possibility. It was on the goldfields that public hospitals, orphanages and asylums were first founded, from real need as well as Christian principle.
So what work was available to those needing employment?
1: Nightsoil carting
'Nightsoil' is of course the euphemism used by the Victorians (and well into the 20th Century) for human excrement. As Ballarat grew into a large and stolid country town, it needed to control the disease and stench of a growing population's waste. Early management was non-existent: pits were dug and waste piled in (along with dead animals and food scraps), or mineshafts were repurposed.
Outbreaks of typhus and cholera soon prompted the creation of by-laws and regulations for the disposal of sewage, but it was not until 1923 that the Ballarat Sewerage Authority was established, and the plans for proper sewerage laid out.
Before then, as still evidenced across many of Ballarat's back lanes, the night carter would come to the backyard toilet to remove pans in the early morning. Giving a hefty whack on the wall to ensure no-one was using the privy, he'd slide the old pan out an hoist it onto his cart, whacking a new one in place in easy... movements. Woe betide those who overfilled the pan. It also gave rise to the deathless saying 'The mare comes before the shit cart', meaning beauty before the beast.
For the modern mind, we see leather in shoes and jackets, on expensive couches and chairs, and various sporting goods. But the Victorians needed leather for almost every part of their lives: the brakes on buggies, the belts to drive machinery, every aspect of saddles and horse gear, holsters and buckets for pistols and rifles, bookbinding and luggage.
Ballarat has a remaining tannery, Greenhalgh's, but even tanners will tell you it's a wet, dirty, poisonous job preserving a hide from the elements and making it last. Before the rise of chrome tanning (which is poisonous too, just faster), tanners would spend their long days covered in caustic products like alum and soda.
Soaking skins in long brick pits full of these mixtures, tanners would inhale carcinogenic fumes and leather dust, which also caused cancer. By the turn of the 20th Century, the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne were home to hundreds of tanneries spewing contaminates into the water. The pollution remains in the soil today.
3: Seamstresses and dressmaker
For a widowed woman on the goldfields, poverty was ever-threatening. While a few were successful publicans and businesswomen in their own right, many faced the prospect of the poorhouse - a literal house for those who were too poor to rent. For many women, the poorhouse, or avoiding it, meant taking in sewing.
Until the early 20th Century, all clothes were handmade for the greatest part. While knitting mills were churning out cloth, the idea of mass clothing itself was unheard of. Even soldiers' uniforms were handmade by seamstresses. Often working in appalling conditions, cold in winter and dark, dressmakers were paid low wages per piece and worked 12-hour days
They developed ophthalmia from the close work;or the more serious palsy of the optic nerve. Malnourishment was not uncommon. It was more important to finish the work than eat; this led to other illnesses. Mistresses who farmed out the work took most of the profit. It was a brutal business.
4: Sex work
Go to Sovereign Hill, Ballarat's great recreation of the goldfields in the 1850s and 1860s, and one of the things you won't see are sex workers. Which is odd, because the Victorians were absolutely and utterly obsessed by sex, and it was a thriving industry.
The hotels of the city were filled with small 'short stay' rooms, which were brothels. Among the most well known were the York Brothel, for which York Street is named, and the areas of Black Hill and Esmond Street. Child prostitution was rife.
Sex work in the late Victorian era, as today, was dangerous work. It was made more so by the lack of prevention for sexual diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea, and by the brutal practises of backyard abortion, which led to many unreported deaths. The prevalence of the symptoms of congenital syphilis among the population of Ballarat - meningitis, anemia, monocytosis, jaundice, retardation - were present until the control of the disease by penicillin after WWI.
5: Medical work
It seems strange to list doctors among the dangerous jobs of Ballarat, but it has to be remembered contagious diseases killed many more people in the Victorian era. Anything from measles to diptheria, scarlet fever to dysentery, typhoid to whooping cough was easily transmitted and quite often fatal.
Doctors also suffered the dangers of infection from cuts in rudimentary surgery techniques. An infection, however slight, in these times was a serious matter. Poor teeth and nutrition led to many people suffering from communicable diseases, as well as those from sexual conditions.
Doctors also acted as coroners on the goldfields. Post mortems were conducted in hotel rooms and chambers of public buildings if necessary. Bodies awaiting a coronial inspection were often stored with food in coolrooms; putrefaction was often well advanced by the time a doctor came to a finding. Sterilisation was barely a concern until almost the 20th Century.