The discovery of gold in Australia had, in many ways, a similar effect to the discovery of gold in the United States—a stampede of hopeful fortune seekers. Victoria is not the only place where gold was discovered, but it most closely parallels the explosive growth and ostentatious wealth of California’s great Gold Rush. In fact, many of those who did not strike it rich in California headed for Australia after Aussie gold turned up in 1851.
However, the experience of the gold fields in Australia is more deeply ingrained in the national identity of Australians than California’s is in Americans. That is probably because the United States had a fair bit of history and national identity in place when gold was first struck, while Australia was still quite new. So it was life in the gold fields—the adventure, the “mateship,” the irreverence—that grew into both the legend and the reality of how Australians view themselves. It was, in a way, the experience of the gold fields that gave birth to Australia’s national identity.
This excerpt from the poem The Roaring Days, by iconic Australian poet Henry Lawson, sums up the sentiment.
The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days.
Ah, then their hearts were bolder,
And if Dame Fortune frowned
Their swags they’d lightly shoulder
And tramp to other ground.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Stout sons, of stoutest fathers born,
From all the lands on earth!
Bendigo was one of the centers of the Victorian gold rush. Mines there went deep, and many survived into the 20th century. I visited the Central Deborah Gold Mine, which was started in 1851 and continued in operation until 1954. The life at this city mine might seem rugged, but was luxurious compared to life in the tented campgrounds of the rural gold fields. There’s a lot more info about the Central Deborah Gold Mine in the book, if you’re interested, but the photo of it is below.