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The first major mineral discovery - gold - was a watershed (a turning point or landmark) for Australian society. The initial stages of the gold rush were responsible for tremendous changes in the community, bringing Australia's first great waves of immigration from countries other than England and Ireland.

Ambitious prospectors from Asia, Europe and America made the trek to the goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria, and Bathurst in New South Wales, in the hope of striking it rich. This influx of people brought many social changes, including an increase in racial tensions with the persecution of some groups, notably the Chinese.


  • Government Surveyor James McBrien discovers traces of gold in the Fish River, east of Bathurst.


  • Explorer and geologist Paul de Strzelecki discovers small amounts of gold in silicate near Hartley in the Blue Mountains. On hearing of the find, New South Wales Governor George Gipps officially requests that no mentions are made of it in de Strzelecki's reports.

The 1840s

Early gold discoveries were greeted with fear. Members of the governing class were afraid that the news of gold discoveries would encourage convicts and free settlers to abandon the cities and newly established townships in their search for gold.


  • William Campbell finds gold on his sheep run in Strathlodden, Victoria, in 1840.


  • Clergyman and amateur geologist William Branwhite Clarke discovers traces of gold at Hassan's Wells, near Lithgow. When presented with these new discoveries, Governor George Gipps responds, 'Put it away, Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut.'
  • Governor George Gipps moves to suppress all reports of gold discoveries in New South Wales.

The 1850s

The 1850s saw the beginnings of the great Australian 'gold rush'. Large gold deposits were discovered in various parts of Australia, particularly in the eastern States. A significant development at this time was the establishment of the Sydney Mint. This was the first Royal Mint to be established outside of England. Between 1851 and 1861, Australia produced one third of the world's gold.


  • First payable gold discovered at Ophir in NSW - beginning of the great Australian gold rush


  • Gold miners rebel at Eureka in Victoria, in protest at the conditions imposed by the 'Miner's Licence'. The rebellion led to the abolition of the Miner's Licence.


  • British Secretary of State gives permission for the establishment of the Sydney Mint. This was the first Royal Mint to be established outside of England.

See image 1

The 1860s

One memorable find during this decade was the Welcome Stranger nugget, by Richard Oates and John Deason in Moliagul, Victoria.


  • Gold discovered in Queensland, at Rockhampton.


  • 'Welcome Stranger' nugget discovered by John Deason and Richard Oates in Moliagul, Victoria. It is the world's largest nugget found to date.

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The 1870s

The 1870s saw the discoveries of gold in South Australia and Queensland. Interest in these colonies intensified as people started moving to the scenes of gold discoveries in the hopes of striking it rich.


  • Rich gold deposits found in North Queensland.

  • First gold discovered in SA at Birdwood.


  • World's largest piece of gold-bearing material, the Holtermann Nugget (a mixture of slate and gold weighing 235 kg) found by William Holtermann at Hill End NSW. See image 3

  • The 1880s

    The 1880s were a boom time for Western Australia. In 1862 the Western Australian Government had offered 5000 to anyone who could find payable gold deposits. As a result, gold was found in large deposits in several parts of the State. These discoveries led to greater prosperity for many and brought economic stability to the State.


    • First WA gold discoveries at Halls Creek. Triggers gold rush in WA.


    • Large amounts of gold found at the Murchison goldfield, WA.

    The 1890s

    With the discovery of major gold deposits in WA, moves were made towards combining the colonies into one nation. Prior to the discoveries, the government of WA had been reluctant to join the other colonies as they felt they would have little influence on any decisions made by a Federal Government. With the new found wealth that the gold brought, they decided to become part of the Commonwealth.


    • Bayley and Ford discover large gold deposits at Coolgardie in WA.


    • Hannan's discovery at Kalgoorlie, the last and most important early goldfield.


    • The Perth Mint established to profit from Australia's richest goldfield at Kalgoorlie.

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1. How much was offered by the West Australian government for the discovery of payable gold?




10 000


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