Although gold had been rumoured
to have been found in Australia as early as 1814, the first gold fields did
not appear until thirty years later. Gold discoveries were not considered
blessings in the pre 1850’s Australian convict society as the
authorities believed gold fever could potentially cause anarchy in the small
fledgling British colonies.
How things have changed since those days. The gold rushes in the second half of
the 19th century would completely change the face of Australia. Before 1851,
Australia’s combined white population was approximately 77,000. Most of
those had been convicts sent by ship over the previous seventy years.
The gold rush completely changed that however. In the two years that followed
Edward Hargraves’ discovery at Bathurst,
Australia’s population increased to over 540,000. 370,000 immigrants
arrived in Australia’s ports during the year 1852 alone. That is right, gold is the very reason
Australia grew as a nation.
The flow of convicts to Australia’s shores
stopped. It suddenly seemed like a foolish idea (and indeed no longer a
punishment) to give a free boat ride to Australia’s rich gold fields to
anyone who had committed a crime in the UK.
The incredible wealth that poured out of Victoria
was unthinkable. When the ships returned to England carrying eight tonnes of Australia gold, the London Times declared in
1852: “…this is California all over again, but, it would appear,
California on a larger scale…”
Incredibly, Victoria alone produced more than a
third of the world’s gold produced in the 1850's. By 1871 the population
of Australia had increased from 540,000 to a whopping 1.7 million.
Victoria was not the only State in Australia to see
massive gold interest. Gold was
initially reported to have been discovered in Western Australia at Fly Flat
near Coolgardie in 1892 by Arthur Bailey and
William Ford. Bailey reported
that he had mined 554 oz of gold on that day and received a “reward
claim” of 20 acres of mining lease.
The Kalgoorlie gold rush
began in June 1893 with the discovery of rich alluvial gold deposits near
Mount Charlotte. This distracted prospectors away from Coolgardie
in a similar fashion to other discoveries in the Eastern States a few decades
From an historical perspective, the Coolgardie gold find proved to be one of immense national
significance. During the 1890’s, Eastern Australia experienced a severe
depression and people flocked to the areas of Coolgardie
in the hope of a better life.