The Australia Gold Rush
Even though gold was discovered in Australia as early as 1823, it remained a secret. Government and business were worried that if workers knew they could find gold they should leave their jobs and rush to the gold fields, and this would also lead to an increase in crime.
In 1849, gold was found in California, and people rushed to the USA from all over the world to try and make their fortunes. In fact, so many Australians left that some people thought the colony might collapse due to the dwindling population. To try and overcome this problem, the New South Wales government offered a $20,000 reward to the first person to find gold in its territory.
Edward Hammond Hargraves returned to Australia from the Californian gold field and immediately set out to earn the reward. He travelled west of Sydney, over the mountains, to a small place called Summer Hill Creek. He realised that the land in this area was similar to that around the rich goldfields of California. He used his pick to scratch the gravel and when he had a pan full, he washed it in the waterhole. He found little pieces of gold at his first attempt.
Within months other gold strikes were reported and gold fever swept the land. People flocked to the goldfields. Some Australia cities and towns began to look deserted. Businesses came to a standstill, houses were left and some schools were even closed. All members of society felt the impact of the gold rush.
As news of the first discovery spread, people from all over the world came to Australia seeking gold. In Victoria alone, 67,000 people arrived in the last six months of 1852. To begin with, these miners lived in tents or simple huts. Eventually, however, towns built up around the goldfields and life became more comfortable for the more successful miners and their families. By the 1850s, Ballarat in Victoria became the richest goldfield in the world.
Adapted from: Discovering Australian History, 1996, Eshuys, guest and Phelan, Macmillan, South Melbourne.