Looking Back to Our Golden Past
Two Years Hence Victoria Will Celebrate the Centenary of the Discovery of Gold In 1851. The Days When a Man Might Curse His Luck At Night and Find His Fortune In the Morning
THE OLD GOLDFIELDS of
California sprang to life again recently when a new "rush" set in. From all parts of America tourists
flocked to the "boomed and busted" ghost towns where celebrations were held to mark the centenary of the gold rushes of 1849.
That remarkable period in Ameri- can history has an equally remarkable counterpart in Australian history, be- cause, a little more than two years after the rich Californian finds, further excitement was caused by the discovery of numerous goldfields in a new country, and the first great gold rush to Australia began. Vic- toria, with a history every bit as illustrious as that of California, will celebrate her centenary of gold in
It was on January 24, 1848, that John W. Marshall, a carpenter, glanced into a newly dug sawmill ditch at Sutter's Mill, California, and saw gleams of gold. The real rush got into full swing the following year,
By LESLIE PEARCE
when the forty-niners began their frenzied digging in virtually every gulch, big and small, throughout that
State and Nevada.
A year after Marshall made his dis- covery in California, Melbourne seethed with excitement. Gold had been found in the Pyrenees. On January 31, 1849, a special "edition
of THE ARGUS announced :
" We hasten to apprise our readers of the important discovery of an ex- tensive goldfield in this province, yielding the virgin metal in such quantities as to all appearances will completely throw California in the shade . . . The Sydney cry of ' Off to California!' seems likely to be changed to 'Hey for Buninyong and the bonny Pyrenees!' "
THE ARGUS news was based upon a find made by Thomas Hood, a shepherd, who had sold a consider- able quantity of big gold to a Mel- bourne jeweller. But when a party
accompanied him back to the Pyrenees, the place where he had unearthed his nuggets could not be located, and " so the excitement sub- sided till 1851.
ON JULY 8 of that year a find was
made at Clunes ; three days later another was reported from Warran- dyte, and then in the following month came news of really sensational dis- coveries, and the name Ballarat went around the civilised world, and turned the flood of fortune-seekers from California to Australia.
Into the golden heart of Victoria that region extending roughly from
the south of Ballarat to the north of Bendigo, back to St Arnaud, and down to Stawell (a region of about 75 miles square) flocked diggers from all parts of the globe. Tent towns of anything between 20,000 and 40,000 diggers would mushroom almost over- night as one discovery followed an-
other within that small area. Vic- toria had everything California had — nuggets, gold escorts, stage coaches, excitement, and fortunes for thous- ands of lucky diggers.
For a number of years the output from this part of the State was greater than in any other country in the world with the exception of the more extensive fields of California. Vic- toria's greatest yield for one year was in 1856, when 3,053,744 ounces of gold were won from the shallow all- vial diggings.
In California extensive preparations were made to give the old diggings their old-time look for the centenary of the great rush. The original tail race at Sutter's Mill, where Marshall found the gold that started it all, was located and opened up, and many old gold-rush towns were re- stored to something like their former selves— minus the nuggets.
Among the most picturesque features of these places are the names given to them by the first diggers-names testifying to the wild and frequently violent life that surged around them. But on the old Victorian diggings names equally fascinating and colour- ful, although quieter in tone (the six shooter never did play the same part in Victoria as it did in California), can be found. Many of the scarred, heap-dotted, and deserted alluvial gullies are still known by the original names the diggers gave them in the boom days of the 'fifties.
WHEN THE GOLD discoveries
were reported hundreds of sailors deserted their ships at Hob- son's Bay and made for the diggings, and a Sailor's Gully can be found on nearly every Victorian goldfield. New Chum is another common name.
When Victoria celebrates her golden centenary in 1951, much in- terest is bound to be centred on those old, shallow, worked-out gullies that set the world agog and played such a big part in the State's early history. A digger is seldom seen in those old gullies now, but in 1951 amateur
prospectors, while giving such places another lookover, will no doubt try a few dishes from around where the world's biggest nugget (the Welcome Stranger, weighing 2,284 oz) was found an inch or so below the sur- face at Moliagul, near Dunolly, in
Others will visit Ballarat and Ben- digo, and, if their imagination serves them well, will contrast the present day cities with those of the time when thousands of bearded, red shirted diggers, tents, windlasses, and cradles dotted the countryside, and will envisage the exciting scenes that took place about the time when, from a small claim in Canadian Gully. Ballarat, three nuggets weighing 1,619 oz, 1,117oz, and 368oz, together with a number of little pieces weighing 2,640oz, came from within a few feet of each other in January, 1853.