Australia’s Gold History

George Rehder

Our golden heritage

The discovery of gold in Australia carved the way for an industry that has contributed to the growth and development of the nation we know today.

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Halls Creek, Statue of “Russian Jack”

The first gold rush took off in 1851 when the precious mineral was found in NSW, closely followed by discoveries in Victoria and later Western Australia. With workers flocking to get lucky, Australia’s population tripled to 1.1 million by 1860 and continued to grow, making the gold industry one of the biggest contributors to the country’s population growth.

A decade later Australia was producing more than 40 percent of the world’s gold output making it Australia’s largest export, exceeding wool exports and creating high economic growth. Another golden-age followed in the 1890’s with the discovery of the ‘Golden Mile’ at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, believed to be the richest square mile of gold reserves in the world. This resulted in Australia’s gold production growing from 18 tonnes to 244 tonnes by the early 90’s. Growth in the sector continued even when the gold price began to fall.

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Kalgoorlie “Super Pit”

As Australia started to realise the potential of the gold industry, focus was aimed at creating new technologies and mining practices to support the sustainability of gold mining and reduce exploration costs in preparation for times of low demand. 

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Gold, everyone wants it!

By the early 2000’s, Australia was still one of the largest gold producers in the world, which is largely credited to China’s increasing demand for the resource. Today the gold industry employs more than 55,000 Australians nationally and is the world’s second largest producer.

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Gold Bars

The gold industry is a major contributor to the Australian economy and regional communities. The taxes and royalties paid by gold miners have helped to fund vital infrastructure and community services throughout Australia.

Western Australia’s Gold History

Western Australia’s rich history of gold mining dates back to the 1880s following the nation’s first gold rush in 1851. One of the State’s earliest gold discoveries was in Kalgoorlie, a town which remains the heart of gold mining in Western Australia today.

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Kalgoorlie in the early Days

The gold industry in Western Australia survived the challenges of the First World War which saw mining activity and investment decline.

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However, the Great Depression in the 1930s brought the revitalisation of the gold industry with a rise in the gold price and an increase in foreign investment. The discovery of the largest gold nugget in Coolgardie in 1931, ‘The Golden Eagle’, saw many prospectors return to Western Australia.

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Golden Eagle found by J Larcombe

Unfortunately, the Second World War once again devastated the industry a few years later and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Western Australia’s gold industry showed signs of sustained recovery. Since then, the State’s gold mining industry has maintained a lasting period of prosperity that has shaped the way for Western Australia’s population growth and economic development.

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WWII at Iwo Jima

Today, Western Australia is the largest producer of gold in Australia, accounting for more than 70% of the nation’s overall gold production. Additionally, the State directly employs approximately 60 percent of the nation’s gold industry workforce and pays more than $2.8 billion in wages each year.

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Australian Money

Western Australian gold miners also contribute more than $300 million in taxes and royalties to the State Government which is invested in vital infrastructure including main roads, transport, schools and hospitals.

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Taxation Office

Gold mining has been an important part of the State’s economy for more than a century and it continues to play an important role in the development and growth of Western Australia and its regional communities.

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Prospecting for Gold

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