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Expanding Colonization, Wool, Gold, and Economic Development

Edward Hargraves, Mount Alexander, new rush, Australian colonies, California gold rush

Australian soils and climate, with the recurrent droughts, were better suited for large-scale livestock grazing than for farming. During the 1830s and 1840s the continent was rapidly transformed as squatters established huge sheep runs. Paying only a minimal license fee, squatters could claim virtually as much land as they wanted. From 1830 to 1850 wool exports rose from 2 million to 41 million pounds while the population of the colonies increased from 70,000 to 334,000. With new immigrants and the growth of the capital cities, each of which served as the major port for its region, the Australian colonies were poised to enter a new phase of development.

In April 1851 Edward Hargraves found gold at Summer Hill Creek, near Bathurst in New South Wales. Hargraves had recently returned from the California gold rush, and his find precipitated a new rush to the other side of the Pacific. After additional finds, the rush quickly became centered in Victoria at Mount Alexander (focused on the town of Castlemaine), Ballarat, and Bendigo. These concentrations of rich minerals offset the dispersion of sheep farming settlements and created Australiaís largest inland towns. Gold was later found elsewhere in New South Wales and Queensland.

In the following ten years, Australia exported at least 30 million ounces (850 metric tons) of gold. In a single decade the Australian population trebled from 400,000 to 1.2 million, and Melbourne, the gateway to the new goldfields, overtook Sydney as the largest city in Australia. British and Irish immigrants led the rush, but Americans, Germans, Italians, and Canadians also arrived in unprecedented numbers. In Victoria miners quickly became irritated with the high cost of mining licenses and the regulation of their right to search for gold. After miners staged an uprising at the Eureka claim at Ballarat in December 1854, the license fee for miners was replaced with an export tariff on gold. Miners thereafter held a minerís right instead of a license; for the fee of one pound per year, the minerís right also gave them the right to vote.

Both miners and colonists responded with alarm, and fierce racial hatred, to the influx of Chinese immigrants attracted by gold. In 1856 Victoria restricted the entry of Chinese. By the end of the century, exclusionary legislation in several colonies had established the foundations of the so-called White Australia Policy, which was made explicit by the new federal government in 1901. For a while it seemed that Queensland, which began to bring in Polynesian laborers for its sugarcane plantations in the 1860s, might remain at odds with the other colonies; it eventually conformed, however, and small-scale sugar farms run by whites replaced the plantations. For many decades thereafter, the White Australia Policy continued to limit the number of non-Europeans immigrating to Australia for purposes of permanent settlement.

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