‘During the 1850’s Australia had become so prosperous that its population demanded commodities and luxuries that her own industries could not yet provide. ‘ The gold rushes had caused an influx in migrations on a scale previously unheard of in world history; ‘Gold fever’ had taken its grip on the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales.
Although there are continuous arguments among historians that the consequences of the gold rushes have been exaggerated, especially when studying the political effects of the Eureka Rebellion, it is still clear that through the intensity of mining a significant change occurred economically, urbanely and industrially, that has benefited Australia to this day. The primary consequence and gain of the gold rushes was the growth of population due to migration. In 1850 the population of Australia was 405,356 and more than doubled to 1,168,000 by 1861.
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Even more amazing was the population of Victoria, which in 1851 was a small pastoral frontier of 77,345 but trebled to 540,322 by 1861, according to the Australian census of that time. From late 1852 the gold fields became a montage of nationalities, and thus there was ‘a marked tendency to segregate in national groups. ‘ Yet the characteristics of the 1850’s population boom, which deserve most reflection, are the age, sex, literacy and occupational training, of the migrants, of which all were significant economically. According to the 1861 census a majority of the migrants were male and in their twenty’s when they first arrived.
Their youth contributed to their vitality and flexibility in adapting to new activities; as a result, during the 1860’s most of the male population was in the workforce. Thus a distinct ‘bulge’ of young energetic males had arisen in Victoria’s age structure. This ‘kink’ in the age structure had long-term consequences and most definitely benefits for Australia. Due to the influx of young men and later women, who would have been reuniting with family and friends or seeking fortune in the famous colonies, there resulted a high quantity of marriages and births from the 1850’s through to the 1860’s.
This snowball effect, from the gold rushes, further grew when the children of the gold-migrants began their own families in the 1880’s. Advantageously to Melbourne and Sydney, many of these children moved from the declining goldfields and into the city, where demand for employment and housing were important causes in the urbanisation and industrialisation of each city. Urbanisation and Industrialisation are important outcomes of the gold rushes and yet they have been neglected in the past. Although the urbanisation of capital cities has had greater attention since 1962, when N.
G. Butlin put forth figures for historical analysis of gross national products, the urbanisation of country towns has not been examined to the same extent. Due to the influx of migrants, the intensity of mining created instant townships and although some did disappear many turned into solid foundations, a big step from the canvas and wooden structures that had first appeared. In 1862 Ballarat, one of the major mining towns, was the key location for foundries, cattle yards, and hay markets, it had a railway terminus and major banks and hotels.
By 1871 the gold rushes has caused Ballarat to mature into a city that was soundly built with such aspects as a hospital, public gardens and facilities, as well as the a before mentioned features. ‘But just as strong was the nature of Ballarat’s gold deposits, which ensured the dominance of local capital and helped an extraordinary self-reliant community to develop’ However, the most interesting of arguments, between historians and students alike, is whether the gold rushes, in particular the 1854 Rebellion at Eureka, benefited Australia politically.
The underlying causes of the Eureka Rebellion are mostly agreed upon; there was the hated license tax and fore most, the political gulf between the authorities and the diggers. The new governor of the time, Sir Charles Hotham, out of touch with the feelings of the diggers, decided to resolve the situation of a commercial recession in government finance with tough action against illegal diggers. He ordered twice weekly hunts, instead of once monthly, for unlicensed miners and so the antagonism on the fields towards the authorities increased significantly.
As hostility grew one conflict with authorities after the other became central issues and gradually drew to a head when a rowdy protest movement was pushed into a rebellion on December 3rd 1854. There was considerable life loss and disgusting behavior by the triumphant troopers and police. When a Royal Commission condemned everything about the administration of the goldfields the discrediting of the government ensued and was never again to assert such authority. The license tax was abolished and a single warden replaced several commissioners on each field around Victoria and New South Wales.
Even in the legislative council the goldfields were given eight members to represent them, opening the way for a civil government to arise. The conditions of the gold rushes had politically caused a convulsion that helped to produce constitutional reforms, like manhood suffrage and vote by ballot that may have otherwise have taken years to form. However, other impressive benefits were the land selection legislation and payment of members of parliament. These gains were introduced in Victoria, after the Eureka Rebellion, almost twenty years earlier than anywhere else in Australia.
Politically, the gold rushes helped nudge along proceedings in parliament that may have struggled in upper house conflict. Although they may not have created a ‘new Australia’ it is certain that without the gold rushes life could have been decidedly different today. The gold rushes were in no way a monumental, life-changing episode in Australian history. However, over a period of time the benefits gained during this innovative era, population boom, urbanisation and industrialisation and the political improvements did indeed have a helpful effect on the development of Australian colonies.
As reported in the Quarterly Review in 1860, ‘A vast continent, long regarded only as a convict prison and an abode of one of the lowest forms of savage life, has been elevated into a social consideration almost commensurate with its geographical importance, and has become a seat of industry, progressive refinement, freedom and Christianity. ‘ References ???Glynn, S. , Urbanisation in Australian History 1788-1900 2nd ed. (Melbourne, 1975) ???Bate, Weston. , Victorian Gold Rushes (Victoria, Australia 1988) ???Diamond, D. & McLoughlin J. B. , Political Economy of Australian Urbanisation. Oxford, 1984) ???Macintyre. S. , A Concise History of Australia. (Victoria, 1999) ???Butlin. N. G, Investment In Australian Economc Development. 1861???1900. (Cambridge, 1964) ???Barret, B. The Inner Suburbs. (Carlton, 1971) p. 132 ???Petrow, S. Sanatorium of the South. (Hobart, 1995) p. 112 ???Grant, J & Serle, G. The Melbourne Scene 1803 ??? 1956. (Melbourne, 1957) ???McCarty, J. W & Schedvin. , Australian Capital Cities. (Sydney, 1978) ???McCarty, J. W & Schedvin. , Urbanization in Australia. (Sydney, 1974 ???Dunstan, D. & McConville. The Outcasts of Melbourne. (Sydney, 1985)