When ‘gold fever’ swept across state
water. As he washes the dirt away, he finds specks of the precious metal at the bottom of the pan. With his blood pressure rising and sweat beading on his brow he repeats the process five more times and four times collects little pieces of gold.
If the big bear of a man were any lighter on his feet Hargraves would dance with joy.
It is February 12, 1851, and Hargraves names the area Ophir, after a region of vast wealth mentioned in the Bible. The Bathurst Free Press famously reports that gold fever has quickly gripped the local populace with a complete “mental madness’’.
People of all trades, callings and pursuits throw in their jobs to become prospectors and the newspaper warns “that there appears every probability of a complete social revolution’’.
Soon there are newspaper reports of gold finds in Victoria, at Clunes, Warrandyte, Buninyong and Ballarat and on September 2, 1851 the Times in London reports that “Gold Fever in Australia may yet put California to shame’’.
News of golden nuggets every- where in the Great South Land is reported in newspapers throughout England, Europe and the Americas. A starter’s gun had been fired, setting the whole world on a race for untold riches and thousands of hopefuls arrive in Australia every week hunting treasure. Small gold deposits are soon found across the Darling Downs and the first great gold rush in Queensland comes at Canoona near Rockhampton in 1858 with the arrival of more than 15,000 prospectors, most of whom leave empty-handed. Nine years later James Nash is credited with saving the infant colony of Queensland from bankruptcy with the discovery of gold at Gympie. There are subsequent gold rushes at Charters Towers in 1872 and the Palmer River a year later. Brisbane author Bruce Heiser, who runs an art gallery in Fortitude Valley, has written a marvellous new book about the gold rush on the Dee River about 35 kilometres south of Rockhampton. The rush took place near the small town of Struck Oil, named after the play that was the foundation for the theatrical career of the great American-born Australian impresario JC Williamson who had staged Struck Oil at the School of Arts Hall at Mount Morgan, 40km south of Rockhampton in 1894. Around the same time gold was found nearby at the top of the Dee River.
A mineshaft was sunk and the mine was called Struck Oil after the hit play. A small township grew and while the first gold rush was soon over, a prospector found some small nuggets in the river near there in 1903 and before long there were 1000 diggers on the field. The largest nugget taken from Struck Oil weighed more than 7kg.
Heiser’s book Tempting Dame Fortune recalls the hardships and privations of the author’s greatgrandfather as a miner on the Dee River and the lives of other prospectors he encountered.
Between 1903 and 1907, 8980oz of gold, worth about $16 million today, was extracted from the river bank as the Dee buzzed with prospectors.
The only evidence remaining from the gold rush there now, though, is scarred earth, a silent reminder of what was once a vibrant and thriving community. Grantlee Kieza’s biography of Banjo Paterson will be launched at Tattersall’s on November 14.
THE LARGEST NUGGET TAKEN WEIGHED MORE THAN 7KG
FORTUNE SEEKERS: James Nash (top left) is credited with saving the infant colony of Queensland from bankruptcy with the discovery of gold at Gympie (main picture); Edward Hammond Hargraves kicked off the gold rush in NSW (top right).