The spontaneous colonization and transformation of Australian society following the gold discoveries (1851-1900). – The political-social structure of Australia or, better said, of the whole of Australasia, just described, was radically changed in the second half of the century. XIX, thanks to an unexpected event, the gold-bearing discoveries, which in a few decades changed the aristocratic pastoral society into one of the most advanced workers’ democracies in the world, and, while not supplanting the pastoral bases of the continent’s economy, widened them into those of sheep farming and of the mining industry in a first time, of these and of agriculture later.
According to andyeducation, word of the first discoveries spread through Sydney in early May 1851. The precious metal had been found on the banks of Summer Hill Creek, near Bathurst, by a certain Hargraves, who, emigrated to California and struck by the similarity between the gold-bearing lands of it and those known in Australia, he had returned to this in the hope of finding gold there. Three weeks later, more than 1000 prospecters (gold diggers) flocked to that locality and soon their number rose to 20,000, flocked from all over the continent. The fever of gold invaded all of that very mobile society at once; while flocks of adventurers and deluded people of every race and every faith rushed from every part of the world to Australia and soon, for the same reason, to New Zealand. Farms and farms were abandoned, despite protests from farmers and squatters, the latter even asked the governor for a state of siege and the prohibition of exploiting the gold fields; Whole cities were depopulated and others, made of tents, arose as if by magic, in the middle of the desert, perhaps to fade a little later like fog in the sun; sudden displacements of large masses of colonists took place from colony to colony, depending on the discovery or exhaustion of the gold deposits. Tasmania, which had 40,000 males in 1842, had no more than 22,261 in 1854; New South Wales saw 30,000 of its colonists pass the Murray to pour into Victoria, while this from 176,162 residents in 1850 increased to 364,300 in 1855, to 541,800 in 1861, that is almost 200,000 more than the parent colony at the same time; Melbourne, which has suddenly become Australia’s first city, to be the irradiation center for gold miners, it saw 82 vessels arriving in just one month containing 12,000 immigrants; the United Kingdom alone gave Australasia 508,802 emigrants in ten years (1851-1861); the Chinese also rushed in the footsteps of the whites, despite the protests and threatening welcome of these, reaching 18,000 in 1856, to over 54,000 in 1862. And the wave of gold rose from year to year to submerge the ancient Australian company: over half a million pounds in value was the net export of gold from Victoria alone in 1851, according to official reports only; nearly 7 million in 1852; over 11 in 1853 and subsequent years; nearly 97 and a half million pounds for exports from Whole Australia in the first decade of the gold discovery (1851-60); nearly 98 million pounds between Australia (about 78) and New Zealand (which also entered the competition with about 20 million) in the second decade (1861-1870); less than half in the next two decades; almost 70 million pounds in the last decade of the century, following the discovery in Western Australia of those very rich gold deposits, which in the last years of the nineteenth century allowed the rapid development of a colony that had hitherto remained far behind demographically and economically. Other riches of the subsoil will soon be added to gold, such as silver, kauri gum, copper and, even more precious for the industrial future of the country, fossil coal itself:
If the first effect of the inexhaustible river of gold discovered first in the Australian desert, later Australian, was an economic and social, material and moral upheaval that was easier to conceive than to describe (sudden rise in prices, wages, fees; frenzied speculation and general uproar; sudden rise and no less rapid collapse of fortunes, etc.), the lasting effects of the discovery of gold, unlike the largely murky and ephemeral immediate results, had the most beneficial influence on the society of entire Australasia, whose appearance and tendencies changed radically. First of all, the population of the country, which deportation and subsidiary immigration had only begun, received from spontaneous immigration, prompted by gold, an impulse not even dreamed of: from 430,596 residents for the whole of Australasia in 1850, it rose to 1,202,994 in 1861; to 1,924,770 in 1871; to 4,546,434 in 1901. Reduced instead to just over 150,000 negroids, especially in Western Australia, they were the native races of the continent, nomadic, brutalized and (unlike the 40,000 New Zealand Maori, capable of assimilating the Anglo-Saxon civilization) refractory to white civilization. And even these residues were destined to disappear, under the inhuman and ferocious pressure of the whites. The race which had disappeared completely for some time now was also native to the island of Tasmania; and almost extinct in the colony of Victoria. Secondly, agriculture, which had been an almost insignificant part of the Australian economy in the first half of the century, eased the acute gold rush, which at first he had made him neglect even more, he resumed with new, unusual vigor. It was stimulated by demographic development and the increasing demand for agricultural products every day; the availability of unemployed manpower, or willing to settle on the land as an owner, with the earnings made in the gold industry; the abundance of capital in search of remunerative employment that is not too random; the same agricultural laws imposed by the new workers’ democracy on the old intractable pastoral plutocracy, even if at times these laws resulted indirectly in a new increase in pastoral estates instead of agriculture. The cultivated area in the whole of Australasia (Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand), which did not yet reach one million and 100 thousand acres in 1861, it included nearly 10 million in 1901; although only a small part of the alienated area had been cultivated and some colonies had not yet emerged from the pastoral stage of life. Victoria, the colony most invaded by gold fever, in just six years – between 1852 and 1858 – passed from 34,000 to 419,000 acres of cultivated land, suddenly surpassing the same mother colony in agriculture (the New South Wales) who could not even later regain the lost ground on the rival.