Discovery of Gold in Western Australia

A critical analysis of its impact.
Gold rush in Western Australia

The discovery of Gold in the 1880’s had an enormous impact on Western Australia. A major change in the states fortunes occurred allowing Western Australia to be shifted to the forefront of Australian economics into a society that could now manage itself independently from other states or nations. A gigantic rush occurred and W.A was transformed as a result. The most significant changes in this transformation could include the economical effects of a massive population increase, the effects of the influx of new nationalities, the massive development of Perth/Fremantle, the advancements in technology, old age political ideas being challenged and disasters resulting from the over-demand of produce. All of these changes played a key role in shaping Western Australia into what we know it as today, and without the discovery of gold the state could still be in the same situation as it was towards the end of convictism – sustainable but struggling.

As more and more gold was discovered in Western Australia, the idea of mining it became attractive to more and more people. People travelled from all over the world to W.A in the hope of striking it rich, and as a result the population of this fortunate state tripled within ten years. Prospectors by the tens of thousands swarmed to W.A, but what is more important are the changes they invoked as a result of their presence. At first the inflow of gold seekers provided much needed markets for the pastoralists, but eventually this success spread to other markets as prospectors spread out across W.A and their needs and demands began to increase. Until the 1870’s the economy of the state was based on wheat, meat and wool, but now gold, and the huge population boost that followed, opened up a whole lot of new avenues of economic opportunities for businessmen in W.A, and also encouraged slow/weak markets to spike up. This notion is evident when we compare economic figures from 1890 to those of the 1900’s. In 1890 the Hay market was relatively weak with only 56544 hectares of produce, but in the 1900’s these figures had spiked up to 254278 hectares of produce. The same occurred in the cattle market, in the 1890’s only 130970 cattle were available, but in the next ten years this figure tripled to 338590. As a rule of thumb in these industries is to only produce for demand, such a huge rise in figures could have only occurred as a result of a huge rise in population. Therefore, it is safe to say that the massive increase in population had an enormous impact on W.A, as its previously small, restricted market had now transformed into one of a large, diverse nature.

With the massive increase in population came an influx of new nationalities within Western Australia’s borders. Previous to the gold rush, nearly all immigrants landing in W.A were originally from England or other areas under control from the British Empire; meaning that W.A, and the rest of Australia for that matter, only really ever had outside influence from the British up until this point. It was at this time that W.A, and the rest of Australia, was set on its course towards multiculturalism, however this wouldn’t come without a number of problems. In particular, there became a concern over the amount of Asians and Afghans immigrating and working in the mining towns. At the rate they were increasing, people began to see them as great competition, and pressure was placed on officials to halt their advancements in the mining industries. This pressure is evident in the newly enforced laws that came about, which successfully prevented almost any non-European nationalities from acquiring new mining licenses in W.A. With that being said, it can be argued that this gold rush inspired the first ever major incidents of racism towards foreign nationalities within W.A, however that is of course ignoring their ongoing conflicts with the Aborigines. This notion of racism can also be identified in the extremely high prices foreigners had to pay in mining fees – in fact they had to pay double of what a local would pay. But nonetheless, the Asian population, at least, managed to dodge these racist laws by opening up their own businesses in the small mining towns, which again placed them in a situation of competition with the locals. As you can see, the effects of the influx of new nationalities had an enormous impact on Western Australia, as the most notable of these effects, multiculturalism, racism and foreigner-owned business, are all major aspects of not only W.A, but also the whole of Australia to this present day.

In addition to the spark up of multiculturalism, racism and foreign-owned business, the influx of new nationalities brought with it new influences and ideas to Western Australia, in particular in regards to politics. These people came from all over the world where very different governments and political ideas existed, so naturally after their arrival they began to question W.A’s own political stance. As a result of this, the local people of W.A also began to question, with a popular idea being that they wanted more representation in government and did not want to be fully controlled by a country so far away. These ideas would affect the outcome of Federation in 1901, however the pressures coming from the political ideas of these new nationalities would effect W.A government much sooner too. One of the biggest changes that occurred was the replacement of the old “master and servant laws” with laws dealing with hours, conditions of work and the payment of wages. This was a major political move in W.A and could never have occurred if it wasn’t for outside influences, as previous to gold Western Australia government was bent on following that of the British. Other political feats that occurred, that may or may not have been affected by immigrants, is the improvements for female workers in factories and shops and in 1899, the right given to woman to vote. As you can see, gold, and in particular the influx of new nationalities, had an enormous impact on Western Australia, as age-old political ideas that were challenged and replaced as a result, all played a part in shaping the state into what it is today.

 

As a result of the gold rush and the effects that surrounded it, a major building boom gripped Perth and as a result it was transformed and finally, and distinctively, could be properly defined as the capital. As a result of the increase in population, speculative builders made fortunes as Perth drastically spread into suburbs, and distinctive buildings such as the Supreme Court, Public Library and Government House Ballroom were built. In addition to the building boom, an infrastructural “explosion” also occurred. There was a vast expansion of the railways to connect Perth, Fremantle and the goldfields, and a creation of a harbour at Fremantle, making it a principle port, allowed efficient imports and exports to take place. However what truly decided Perth as the centre and most important location in W.A was the construction of a large scale telegraph connection. Between 1894 and 1896, a telegraph connection was constructed to link Perth with distant goldfields and the eastern colonies and in 1901 with London by submarine cable. An improvement of inland postal services also occurred. Perth had now become the communications centre of W.A and possibly the rest of Australia, its stance as capital was now set in concrete and its importance was emphasized, so it is easy to say that the gold rush had an enormous impact on W.A, as Perth was transformed from a small struggling town into a bustling metropolis.

With the gold rush came great advancements in technology within W.A. New technologies had to be imported for mining efforts, and Western Australia had to come up with some of its own creations to support its rapidly advancing industries. Previous to gold even thinking of buying such technologies would seem unimaginable, however the economic boom that occurred allowed W.A to finally purchase such commodities and further its success. As a result, the first motor car appeared in W.A in 1898, the mining industries acquired machinery to obtain gold deeper in the ground and make projects more efficient, and of course the telegraph connections that made Perth the centre of communications were constructed. However, what is more remarkable is the technological feat that W.A was responsible for during this time. Even today W.A has a water shortage, and as water is such a necessity for mining operations, the distant mines throughout W.A could not afford to run out of it. The W.A government recognized the importance of the mining industry and their need for water, so in turn the decision was made to build a pipeline from near Perth to distant gold fields to provide them with a constant flow of water. This project came under the name of the “Great Water Scheme”, and indeed was by far the greatest of its kind in the world. The pipeline was an enormous success, and as a result mining towns such as Kalgoorlie continued to thrive (which became the greatest gold producer in Australian history). However, it was not only a success for the mining industry. The pipeline allowed communities along its path to thrive and large agricultural projects to develop in previously unviable areas. In addition to the pipeline, the development of fertiliser also came about, allowing more of W.A’s infertile soil to be used. As you can see, the technological advancements that came with the gold rush had an enormous impact on W.A, many of which played an important role in ensuring the success of large industries and the establishment of vital communities throughout W.A.

One of the large industries which “exploded” as a result of the gold rush was that of the Timber industry. The mines required vast quantities of timber, such as the vast quantities of railway sleepers needed to make them accessible, and so did the increasingly expanding communities throughout W.A. Because of this huge dependence on timber, and the huge demand for it, greedy loggers logged everything they could in order to gain as much profit as possible. These loggers took into account none of the environmental impacts of their behaviour, which we could assume was either because they didn’t know of any, or they were just ignorant. As a result, W.A was left with a large salinity problem which still affects the timber industry, and our natural environment, to this day. This is a perfect example of how over-demand can lead to disaster, and in turn we can safely state that because of the mentioned salinity disaster, the gold rush evidently had an enormous impact on Western Australia which still affects the state to this day.

As you can see, as a whole he discovery of Gold in the 1880’s had an enormous impact on Western Australia, with both positive and negative outcomes. Western Australia was transformed from an insignificant colony into a state positioned at the forefront of Australian economics. This huge development significantly helped shape W.A into what we know it as today, however such a positive outcome came at a cost with problems such as over-demand producing long-lasting environmental effects such as salinity. However nonetheless, without the discovery of gold in W.A, the state could well be in the same situation as it was towards the end of convictism –sustainable but struggling, and it could well have remained an ignored nuisance to the rest of Australia.

 


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