The first widely known and officially acknowledged gold find was made by John Lister and William Tom at Ophir in April 1851.
The first officially reported gold find was made by a government surveyor, James McBrien, on the Fish River near Bathurst in 1823. More significant deposits were found independently by two geologists: Paul Strzelecki in 1839, near Hartley; and the Reverend W. B. Clarke in 1841, near Lithgow. Recent evidence shows that William Tipple Smith communicated his find in the Ophir area in 1848 to the Colonial Government, but, as with McBrien, Strzelecki and Clarke, the find was hushed up. Shepherds and others who accidentally or otherwise found small nuggets sold the gold to jewellers claiming that it had been molten down from coinage so as to disguise its origin.
The first widely known and officially acknowledged gold find was made by John Lister and William Tom at Ophir in April 1851. Edward Hargraves, who had instigated the search and trained the prospectors, returned to Ophir to inspect the find of 120 grams of gold. Hargraves, who excelled as a publicist, practically forced the Government into officially recognising ‘his’ find and thus ensured his own fame and fortune. The find was proclaimed on 14 May 1851 starting Australia’s first gold rush. Gold was subsequently found in 1851 in the Bathurst-Orange area at Hill End-Tambaroora, Hargraves, Lucknow, Sofala-Turon and Tuena. Further afield, major gold finds were made in the 1850s at Araluen and Majors Creek near Braidwood, at Adelong, and at Hanging Rock near Nundle.
The gold rushes caused many social and economic problems. Bathurst was practically abandoned by able workers during the Ophir rush, while riots broke out on the Turon in 1853 and again at Lambing Flat in 1860-61. Food and common necessities became scarce and expensive with many merchants making more money than the majority of the diggers. In an effort to gain some control on the diggings the Government unsuccessfully banned the sale of alcohol. The era became known as ‘the Roaring Days’.
Gold production fluctuated over the next 40 years showing an overall decline. Individual fields changed markedly in their importance; some had a life of only 1 or 2 years, although that life was often spectacular. Major producers in later periods were Braidwood, Young, Forbes and Sofala (1858-62); Grenfell and Araluen (1866-70); Mudgee-Gulgong and Hill End (1876-80); Lucknow and Hillgrove (1894-98). The downward trend in production was reversed in the 1890s when the copper mining centre of Cobar became the single most important gold producer. New techniques such as dredging brought renewed life to old mines, as at Araluen. This technique remained important until in the 1930s in the New England area, on North Coast rivers, on the South Coast at Nerriga, at Bathurst and in the Macquarie River area near Wellington. Later in the 20th century, the State’s production came predominantly from mines primarily concerned with winning other metals. Broken Hill, although better known for production of silver, lead and zinc, has been a major producer of gold. Similarly, the copper mines at Cobar, Canbelego and Nymagee, the lead mines at Sunny Corner and the antimony mines at Hillgrove all produced significant amounts of gold.
A new gold-mining era has now begun in the Central West, but not on the same scale as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. It is most likely to involve open-cut mining and possibly re-working of past deposits and waste dumps. Some historical centres are involved, such as Hillgrove, Hill End and Peak Hill. All but one of these new gold mines are in the Lachlan ford Belt, and usually involve mining other minerals, most often copper.
Dr Graeme Aplin, Macquarie University