HEART OF GOLD DISCOVERY TRAIL SERIES
Gold has retained a hallowed place in the history of the Australian resources sector and beyond for generations, and its central part in Western Australia’s past is both colourful and fascinating.
However, the story is far from over, and the importance of this rarest of precious metals in today’s economy can be seen with more than 70% of the nation’s overall gold production coming from WA. If WA was a country, it would be the 5th largest gold producer in the world.
The discovery of gold in WA carved the way for an industry that has significantly contributed to the growth and development of the state. WA’s long history of gold mining dates back to the 1880s, with the first gold rush sparked by the discovery of the ‘Golden Mile’ at Kalgoorlie in the 1890s, believed to be the richest square mile of gold reserves in the world.
One Saturday morning in 1892 prospector Arthur Bayley carried a staggering 540 ounces (over 15kg!) of gold from Coolgardie straight to the bank in Southern Cross. Bayley and his partner William Ford’s gold strike was one of the first noteworthy gold finds in the State, and a frenzy of gold miners were on their way to Coolgardie within hours of the news getting out.
That was just the beginning. Nine months later WA’s biggest gold rush was set off with Paddy Hannan’s discovery of a new gold district 40 kilometres east of Coolgardie, known as the “Golden Mile”. In 1894 alone, some 25,000 men from many parts of the world came to WA to try their luck as ‘diggers’.
Perth is a city built on gold and the gold rush secured the economic future of Western Australia. No longer was Perth a struggling British colony - its population, economy, transportation network and foreign trade flourished - and one of the state’s most successful industries was born.
The discovery of gold changed the physical nature of Perth city dramatically with economic prosperity and the increase of population as a result of gold rush immigration. In one decade the population of the city tripled, from 8,447 in 1891 to 27,553 in 1901.
The state produced more than two million ounces of gold in the year of 1903 alone – around 56,699kg! Gold’s value skyrocketed and 88 percent of WA’s export income between 1886 and 1900 was attributed to gold.
The gold industry in WA survived the challenges of the First World War, which saw mining activity and investment decline. However, the Great Depression in the 1930s brought revitalisation to the gold industry with a rise in the gold price and an increase in foreign investment.
It was the discovery of the largest gold nugget, the ‘Golden Eagle’, in a hole in the road in Coolgardie in 1931 that created a national sensation and saw many prospectors return to WA.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Perth streets were lined with elaborately styled multi-storey buildings, built by gold mining entrepreneurs and government and to service the gold industry. Some still stand today, including The Perth Mint, London Court, McNess Royal Arcade and the Old Treasury Building, and will feature in the Gold Industry Group’s virtual #heartofgold Discovery Trail.
Understanding the nation’s humble beginnings and learning of the impact the early gold rushes had on the development of Western Australia and the nation provides an appreciation of the vibrant Australian society of today.
Representing a united voice for Australia’s gold industry, the Gold Industry Group works to promote the importance of the sector, including raising awareness of the metal’s past and present contribution through community initiatives.