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The frenzy

Once gold fever hit, Victoria would never be the same again.

"The forest, whose echoes but a few months ago were awakened only by the rushing of a stream, the voice of the bell-bird, or the cry of the jay or laughing jackass, now reverberates the sounds of human industry, wheeling, washing, rocking and digging in all directions." - John Sherer

Mass migration

As in had in California, word that gold had been found spread quickly. People joined the rush from California, China and across the globe, arriving in droves at Australian ports. British migrants were the most numerous: as gold fever mounted, more Englishmen flocked to distant Australia than to Canada.

Understandably, gold attracted criminals. But fever gripped the law keepers as well. Eighty percent of Victoria's police quit their jobs to search for gold as central Victoria became one enormous gold field. Towns around the state were deserted as people contined to flood inland.

"A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community, and as a a natural consequence, there has been a universal rush to the diggings." - The Bathurst Times

Road from Forest Creek to Bendigo
S. T. Gill
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria

From sheep runs to towns overnight

A lucky sheep rancher could stumble upon a nugget under his shack, and suddenly he would be at the heart of a thriving new town. Such was the case in Ballarat, Bendigo and Mount Alexander.

"Mount Alexander got its start...when gold was found beneath a sheep pen. In the familiar pattern, it quickly became a cluster of tents, then a community of lean-tos, and finally a town of wooden false-fronted buildings. Bendigo ... resulted from a chance find near a hut used by shepherds. Little time was required for it to become a complete town, the administrative and supply centre of a goldfield eleven miles wide where twenty thousand miners laboured."

Subverting the class system

Australia, set up as a colony of peasant farmers and convict labourers, soon developed beyond the expectations of the empire. In what was viewed as a diabolical, topsy-turvy situation by the elite, peasants struck it rich and subverted the class systems of British society. For many it was a risk to leave home in the hope of striking it rich, but it was also the only chance they would ever have of breaking out of the under-class.

"Gold digging was a lottery. On the goldfields education, upbringing and class meant nothing. A labourer was just as likely to strike it rich as his erstwhile master. Indeed, because of the necessity for continous back-breaking work on the diggings, the labourer may have an advantage over his 'betters'. To some the situation seemed like an inversion of the natural order of society."

Finding gold was a chance for a man to be his own master.


By Jack Kerr


Michael Evans, Gold Fever: Life on the Diggings,
from Gold 150, Celebrating 150 Years of Australian Gold-Rush History.

Douglas, Fetherling, The gold crusades : a social history of gold rushes, 1849-1929, University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Marion Place, Gold Down Under, The Story of the Australian Gold Rush, Crowell-Collier Press, 1969.

John Sherer, The Gold-finder of Australia: how he went, how he fared, how he
made his fortune
, Clarke, Beeton, 1853.


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