The Australian gold rush is one of the nation’s best-known stories. From the moment Edward Hargraves discovered gold in 1851, the nation was to be transformed forever.
The possibility of striking rich brought Australia into a frenzy, spurring gold rushes in Queensland (1853), the Northern Territory (1865), Tasmania (1877) and Western Australia (1890s).
News of Australia’s natural wealth travelled the globe and brought an influx of gold enthusiasts. From 1851 to 1871, the population trebled from 430,000 to 1.7 million. It became a multicultural society, with only 29% of the population Australian-born in 1861 – 60% had travelled from the UK and 11% from other parts of the world.
People come, people go
The dramatic population increase led to the halt of convicts being shipped over to Australia. It was no longer seen as a punishment when they were essentially getting a free ride to the gold fields, where they could potentially find their fortune! And while hordes of people made their way to Australia, local communities (without gold) became ghost towns, as men packed up and left for the gold fields.
Western Australia joins the golden era
When the gold rush took off in WA in the 1890s, it transformed the fortunes of Western Australia. Until that time, the state’s tiny European population struggled to survive. However, this was all about to change.
The rush to the gold fields then began in earnest. This brought unprecedented prosperity to WA, making it the golden state of the era.
Western Australian towns glow gold
As successful WA gold diggers built up their trove of treasure, their communities started to feel the benefits. They reinvested back into the towns by setting up businesses and buying farms. Immigrants became immersed into society and filled labour shortages.
The success of the gold mines had a knock-on effect to every industry. An increased population meant more demand for local produce, which benefitted agriculture and retail. And money was invested into the transport industry due to demands on a quicker and more effective way of transporting goods.
Life after the rush
When the gold industry flourished once again in the 1980s, businessman Alan Bond began plans to amalgamate all mines into one huge super pit in Kalgoorlie, which is now one of the world’s biggest gold mines. Since the first discovery and the expansion of the industry, more than 60 million ounces of gold have been mined.
This site has made an impact on the country’s tourism, attracting visitors to the nation’s goldfields to learn about the history of the prolific industry. Year on year, WA’s super pit attracts many tourists and Kalgoorlie has grown to become the largest outback town in the country. The town has also been featured in a National Geographic television series, ‘Gold Town’.
A golden future
Today, gold is no longer Australia’s biggest export earner, but it still contributes to a healthy economy. Australia is the world’s second largest producer of gold, second only to China. This resource has provided many knock-on benefits, including employment to regional areas where gold mines are located.
The great Australian gold rush is one of the country’s best told stories. But it’s not just part of our history books, the gold industry remains an integral part of Australia’s development and continues to enrich the lives of many today.