Australia is one of the three biggest gold producers in the world. Many miners have been attracted by the allure of finding this elusive metal in Australia for centuries. The history of gold prospecting in Australia is a rich one that still interests a lot of people who up to this day still come with hopes of stumbling across a gold nugget or two. Successful gold prospecting and mining was never an easy task.
There were several activities that would follow a discovery of a gold field once it has been rushed by diggers. Hundreds of holes would be sunk by pick and shovel in the places where the first finds were made. Some shafts yielded gold and others didn’t. The diggers would work feverishly to find and get as much gold as possible in one area before rushing to the next big find. There are some gold fields in Victoria where the ground was a bed of large nuggets. Diggers would simply put a shovel to the ground, bounce it up and down listening for the clang of metal. If there was none, they would simply toss the dirt aside. These were known as the gold “potato fields’.
The Western and Central Australian gold fields and northern inland Queensland have always been the hardest to mine because the areas are dry and quite remote. Early miners suffered a lot of hardships and many could not survive the isolation and the drought. These areas also happen to be the areas that yielded the best gold nuggets in history. The largest gold nugget, the Welcome Stranger nugget was found in Moliagul, Australia by John Deason and Richard Oates on February 5 1869. The nugget weighed 72kg and measured about 60cm in length. Prospectors were always quick to sell gold nuggets. The nugget was bought for £9381 by the London Chartered Bank of Australia. A replica of the nugget can be seen in the City Museum in Melbourne.
Legend has it that the nugget was found lying a few inches from the surface. Its top was apparently exposed by a cart’s wheel tracks. In addition to the replica in Melbourne, a monument was erected to mark the place where the discovery was made.
Before the Welcome Stranger Nugget was found there were a couple of places in Victoria that became part of the gold rush after gold nuggets were found.
Gold was discovered in the Township of Wedderburn. 225 km northwest of Melbourne in August 1852. This drew 6000-7000 diggers to the area who went in search of gold in gullies, on hills and flats and the gold field itself. However, by June 1853 only 100 remained as many left because of the lack of water and rain.
In 1856 Capt. Smith discovered gold in what would be known as Smith’s Gully. That created another rush.
In August 1869, a few months after the Welcome Stranger Nugget was discovered a 40oz nugget was found at the bottom of a shallow shaft dug outside John Paddock by Alexander Clelland. This site would later be known as Berlin. This created the Berlin Rush. Berlin was later renamed Rheola and the area became known for its beds of large nuggets found in gullies.
There were various other places throughout Australia that were scenes of rushes by gold miners. These include Possum Hill, Bent Creek Valley, Summer Hill Creek, and the Macquarie River near Bathurst and Wellington. More nuggets were found at Kiandra on the Snowy River, Burrandong near Orange and Meroo Creek on the Turon River. The Turon River might have created the first gold rush in New South Wales and the town of Sofala is regarded to have produced the biggest and the most gold nuggets. There are many legends on how gold nuggets were discovered by Aborigine shepherds stumbling across them and prospectors happened upon nuggets at the mouth of caves or ‘accidentally’ found them buried a few centimetres below ground behind miners’ huts.
The turn of the 19th century was a golden period for Australia and many miners made their fortunes in gold. These days, the gold mining industry is an organised and highly regulated industry that has been taken over by big mining companies. There are still some places where ordinary people find gold. Not so long ago, a lone prospector found a football-sized gold nugget weighing 22,68kg, in Kalgoorlie. The nugget known as “the Ausrox Nugget,” was sold for more than a million dollars. A Townsville man finally helped answer the question of what lies at the end of a rainbow when he found a 1.1763kg gold nugget under a double rainbow in a field in the Charters Towers region in Queensland with nothing more than a metal detector.