HISTORY AND HERITAGE
A mini gold rush is underway in Victoria. According to this news report, prospectors are finding glimmering nuggets after recent rains washed away topsoil.
The story is a reminder of Australia’s 170-year obsession with gold prospecting. Significant 19th century finds were the catalysts for Australia’s three gold rush mints - Sydney (1855), Melbourne (1872) and Perth (1899).
Identifying the first European to discover gold in Australia is difficult. Early finds were kept quiet because of the effect they were thought likely to have upon the largely convict population.
Anglican churchman and geologist William Branwhite Clarke found gold in the Blue Mountains in 1841. When he informed Sir George Gipps, the Governor told him: “Put it away, Mr. Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut.”
Edward Hargraves discovered gold near Bathhurst ten years later. He is reputed to have shouted to a companion over his panning dish: “This is a memorable day. I shall be a baronet, you will be knighted and my old horse will be stuffed, put into a glass case and sent to the British Museum.”
Ignoring pleas for secrecy, Hargraves named the area Ophir, whipped up enthusiasm in the district and sparked Australia’s first gold frenzy.
The find was soon overshadowed by discoveries at Bendigo and Ballarat. By 1860 there were more than 80,000 miners on the Victorian goldfields alone. In 1869, two lucky miners pulled up the largest gold nugget ever discovered – Welcome Stranger – near the township of Moliagul.
By 1893, diggers were swarming inland from Perth after word got out of a major new find by Irish prospector Paddy Hannan. Subsequently known as the ‘Golden Mile’, it was said to be the richest concentration of gold mineralisation in the world.
Unemployment during the Great Depression inspired more to try their luck, particularly after the discovery in 1931 of Golden Eagle, a huge natural nugget weighing 1,235 ounces.
The Great Depression was at its darkest, when Jim Larcombe and his 16-year old son, also named Jim, down to their last provisions, money and hope, unearthed a long flat nugget. Other prospectors working in the area heard their shouts and it is said they thought the Larcombes were carrying a dead eagle. Certainly the resemblance is undeniable – hence the name, Golden Eagle.
Many who trudged towards Kalgoorlie though had little or no experience of life on the goldfields. Concern motivated Hugh Corbet, the head of The Perth Mint, to prepare Hints to Prospectors, a pamphlet in which he observed: “Our miners are very energetic and resourceful but in most cases they lack the rudiments of technical training.” His valuable guidance proved extremely popular and was revised and re-issued several times. (read original extract from 1933.)
It remains a long held dream for many to head out into the bush to prospect for gold. But are there still any gold nuggets out there? Well clearly, if you believe the above news article. But it isn’t easy. As one expert told us recently, “…it takes time to read the land and recognise where gold is likely to be found… you might be lucky and you might not.”
The evocative history of gold prospecting in Australia was celebrated on Australia’s first precious metal gold coin program – the Australian Nugget. Launched in proof quality 25 years ago (and in bullion quality one year later in 1987), the coin designs by Stuart Devlin depicted some of the most spectacular nugget finds in Australia.
To be continued.
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