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Gold

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prospector dry blowing
Lack of water necessitated the use of dry blowing to separate gold and soil. Courtesy of West Australian Newspapers uncredited images from archival and contemporary sources.

Although a colonial Government incentive for finding gold was announced in 1862, the first brief gold production in Western Australia was in the Kimberley in 1885. The find attracted many prospectors from diggings in the east who subsequently investigated the potential of the Marble Bar, Meekatharra, and Mt Magnet areas before Payne and Anstey and three friends discovered gold at Southern Cross in 1888. Prospectors based there went on to discover gold at Coolgardie in 1892 (Arthur Bayley and William Ford) and at Kalgoorlie in 1893 (Patrick Hannan, Dan Shea and Tom Flannagan).

When the gold mining boom started in 1892, WA's population rose by about 26,000 as people flooded in from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, to try their luck. The newcomers also found work in the fast-developing public works program put in place under Sir John Forrest, which included undertakings such as the Fremantle Harbour, the Mundaring Weir, the Kalgoorlie pipeline and a comprehensive railway network to link the newly established townships.

The discovery of gold in Western Australia during the 1890s brought prosperity to what had been, up until then, a remote and struggling colonial backwater. The rush of prospectors helped tip the balance of public opinion in favour of Federation in the referendum of 1900. At its peak in 1903, Australia had become the world's largest producer of gold - half of which came from Western Australia. From that point on, the gold discoveries petered out, and the industry declined to a point where discoveries were minor and occasional. Gold then sprang back to prominence during the 1980s when the price rose sharply.

Russian Jack and Trolley.
Russian Jack, one of the many men who walked from Perth to the Goldfields. Courtesy of West Australian Newspapers uncredited images from archival and contemporary sources.

Gold