One of the biggest gold rushes in history started in New South Wales, Australia, in 1851. Hundreds of thousands of “diggers” from other parts of Australia, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, and even California sought their fortunes and redefined Australia’s national identity.
On February 12, 1851, a prospector discovered flecks of gold in a waterhole at Ophir near Bathurst, in central New South Wales. Soon, even more gold was discovered in what would become the neighbouring state of Victoria and later in northern Queensland and around Coolgardie in Western Australia. The great Australian Gold Rushes had a profound impact on the country’s national identity and closer to home has left us with a wonderful collection of character-filled historic gold rush era towns.
Within a year, more than 500,000 people rushed to the gold fields of Australia. Even more immigrants arrived from other parts of Australia. Wages in the region doubled, but it was still difficult to find workers as people abandoned their stable jobs to seek their fortune in the gold fields. These “diggers” forged a strong, unified identity independent of colonial British authority. This concept of “mateship . . . [has] been central to the way [Australian] history has been told,” according to the Australian government.
The Discovery of Gold in Orange
The discovery of gold had a profound effect on the population of Orange. In 1851 the total population was 28, ten years later it had reached 581 and by 1871, 1,456 people were recorded as residents. This figure almost double in the following decade to 2,701 by 1881. While not all the gold seekers settled in the region the discovery of gold was the making of many towns and continues to support local communities through tourism. The tools of prospecting were simple and relied on gold being a heavier material than water or sand. The process of using a pan or cradle involves movement that encourages the gold to sink and separate from other materials. Picks and shovels were part of the basic prospecting tool kit allowing the hopeful gold seeker to dig up treasure not found on the surface.
Gulgong Gold Rush
Gulgong is a 19th-century gold rush town in the Central Tablelands of NSW.
Early finds of gold were negligible until Tom Saunders discovered a rich lode on Red Hill in April 1870 and the Gulgong Gold Rush began. By June of that year 500 people were on the Gulgong Gold Fields. By 1872 an estimated 20,000 people lived in and around Gulgong. Approximately 15000kg of gold was removed from the Gulgong Gold fields between 1870 and 1880. Currently approximately 2500 people call Gulgong home.
Gulgong Holtermann Museum
The Gulgong Holtermann Museum is a contemporary museum housed within two iconic State Heritage Listed buildings. These two buildings were originally photographed in Mayne Street, Gulgong in 1872 by Beaufoy Merlin and are featured in the UNESCO listed Holtermann Collection of photographs.
The Gulgong Holtermann Museum has not forgotten the importance of the photographers Merlin and Bayliss, and the miner, politician and entrepreneur, Bernhard Otto Holtermann. Their lives and dedication to photography have been brilliantly outlined within the museum displays.
Comprising some 350 images, the Gulgong photos taken in 1872, show in minute detail what it is was that made Gulgong different to many of the other Australian goldfields. The photos capture the town from its earliest beginnings following the first discovery of payable gold in April 1870.
The Holtermann Collection of Photographs is a unique cultural and social archive of world significance. With the simple touch of a screen, the Gulgong Holtermann Museum has made it possible for visitors to immerse themselves in the lives of the people, families, and mining activities during the 1870’s Gulgong gold rush; a wonderful experience for both adults and children alike, and an easy way to experience a slice of Australian gold rush history.
Step back in time and wander the bent, narrow streets with deep gutters, viewing the original buildings in this historic town.
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