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Of all the industries to flourish in Australia, none had such a significant impact on the nation as the gold rushes of the 19th century. From Perth to Melbourne, Sydney to Darwin, the prospect of discovering gold ore brought great wealth to every corner of our country within just a few years — establishing Australia as one of the wealthiest states in the world at the start of the 20th century.
Despite the massive contribution the gold rushes had in helping the country get off its feet, little is known about the industry today, particularly among those visiting from overseas. But delve deeper into the history and heritage of this bygone trade, and you’ll effectively unearth the origins of the country we know and love today.
While it’s impossible to learn all there is to know about the gold rushes in a single trip, a cruise around Australia is the perfect way to get started. Why? You’ll trace the steps of the thousands of hopeful emigrants who travelled to Oz from Asia, Europe and the Americas, all with their hopes pinned on panning their way to fame and fortune. And who knows — you might stumble upon a nugget of something precious yourself…
For those with an interest in history and culture, join us as we explore the history of Australia’s gold rushes, and showcase the historic sites worth visiting to find out more about this long lost trade.
A Brief History of the Australian Gold Rushes
The story of our fabled gold rushes begins in 1851 when convicts tasked with working the land began finding nuggets of unrefined gold in the soils of Victoria. Given the success of the Californian gold rush of 1848, the government of New South Wales were keen to share these discoveries with the world, and so invited free labourers to come to Australia to help dig for this highly sought-after mineral — for a large reward of course.
Using similar prospecting techniques to those used in North America, a huge search effort began across New South Wales and beyond, with some striking lucky and others not. Frequent discoveries attracted a huge influx of migrants within a short timeframe, helping the country to develop at a rapid pace thanks to the new skills and professions offered by the settlers.
Australia’s population grew so fast that in under a decade some small towns had 1000% more residents, and 3000% in towns where gold was actually discovered. The rare mineral brought masses of wealth to deprived areas, allowing settlers to spread north, west and south from New South Wales and Victoria into previously unexplored territories.
It wasn’t until the outbreak of the First World War that the gold rushes began to slow. The Great War drained Oz of the labour needed to continue exploiting the gold mines, and the appetite for the mineral had waned by the time the war ended in 1918, never to recover. In the wake of the gold rushes, whole towns and settlements disappeared, and many moved back to the cities to find proper work.
While the gold rushes met a sad demise, their legacy lives on to this day. Cities like Melbourne, Ballarat, Ararat, Castlemaine and Bendigo — which were considered the gold-rush cities of the age — owe their opulent architecture to the wealth of the rushes, and Australia itself may not be the country it is today without them.
Discover the Rushes on Your Next Cruise Break
While it’s pointless to go digging in your garden for a nugget of the good stuff, you can still find evidence of the gold rush across Australia to this day. Here, we showcase four of the best attractions where you can find out more about the history of the famous gold rushes.
Central Deborah Mine
Want to experience the harsh existence of a 19th-century gold digger first-hand? Make for Bendigo’s Central Deborah Goldmine, which is an actual mine used during the rush era. Not for the faint-hearted, this mine extends several thousand feet below the surface, and with just a head torch to guide your path, this is the perfect way to find out what life was like for the brave souls who made it their mission to find Australia’s hidden treasures.
Victorian Goldfields Railway
For a less frightening way to learn about the gold rushes, why not board the Victorian Goldfields Railway, which links the celebrated rush towns of Castlemaine and Maldon. Transported via an original 19th-century steam locomotive, you’ll cross the plains that supplied so much of the gold that contributed to the success of the Victorian rushes. To make your journey extra special, why not opt for a first-class cabin, or else pay a little extra to travel at the front with the driver and discover the gruelling task of lugging the hefty bullion across the country.
No attraction brings to life the reality of the gold rushes quite like Sovereign Hill. Voted Australia’s best ‘Major Tourist Attraction’ three years on the trot, this immersive site provides unique insight into what life was like during the heyday of the Victoria gold rush. Visitors can pan for real gold, catch a charming street show, or meet costumed characters keen to share their colourful experiences. What’s more, by night Sovereign Hill is transformed by a multi-million dollar sound-and-light show — well worth a visit if you’re spending a stopover in the area.
If the charm, nostalgia and magnetism of the gold rushes have piqued your interest, why not check out our great range of cheap cruises in Australia? Offering port calls in all of the major gold rush cities, including Melbourne and Perth, our Australia cruises provide the ideal opportunity to explore this forgotten chapter in our country’s rich history. Give us a call on 1300 857 345.