National Heritage List inscription date 27 January 2005
It was a sight! Mounds of earth lying beside holes presented the dismal appearance of a graveyard, men washing dirt in tubs, carrying its colour on their skin, hair, hats, trousers and boots, miserable-looking low tents their places of refuge. Where water was to be seen it was puddle. The whole scene to a new chum was one of unspeakable squalor, surpassing all that his eye had seen or his fancy woven.
James Robertson 1852
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The first major Australian gold rushes took place in 1851 near Bathurst in New South Wales and at Ballarat in Victoria. Gold fever lured tens of thousands of immigrants from all over the world eager to strike it rich in Australia.
Gold played a major role in the development of Australia. The gold rushes shaped the nation with its influence on population, wealth, manufacturing, transport, the development of regional centres and townships, the further development of a middle class, the democratization of political institutions, reform of land laws, and the genesis of an Australian Chinese community.
At one point the richest goldfield in the world, Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park in Victoria is an outstanding gold rush-era site that provides a rare insight into how people lived and worked in the harsh environment of the 19th-century gold fields. It produced around 5.6 million ounces of gold during its history.
A sheep station hut keeper found gold in Castlemaine in 1951 but kept his discovery quiet. He and three friends earned one year's pay in a month by chipping gold from rocks with a hammer and chisel. However, word of the fabulous richness of the diggings soon got out and thousands of people started to explore the creeks around the area, finding gold close to the surface. By 1852, the population on the Castlemaine Diggings had reached 30,000 people.
The gold rush way of life
Now an activity only conducted by large mining companies, the Castlemaine diggings offer a fascinating insight into gold mining in the past. Situated within regenerating box-ironbark forest, the mining remains and habitation sites illustrate the goldminers’ working way of life, with its emphasis on manual labour, hardship, the utilization of natural resources, the dependence on water and a lifestyle intimately connected with the earth.
In the pursuit of wealth, diggers puddled and sluiced alluvial gullies and hillsides, dammed creeks and gullies, built roads, constructed water races to convey water, and dug intricate networks of shafts, tunnels and open-cuts. They erected machinery of wood, stone and iron, which was driven by hand, animal, steam or water power.
The park has a much higher diversity of mining remains and landscapes, with greater integrity, than any other Australian goldfield. The goldfield’s many mining relics include shallow alluvial diggings, tracks, burial grounds, huts and fireplaces, puddling machines, sluices, tail races, quartz roasting kilns and early quartz mining and crushing sites.
Visitors can see well-preserved artefacts and diverse mining sites, including miner's huts, Chinese market gardens, mine headframes, stone footings, shallow shafts and the Garfield Water Wheel, the biggest waterwheel in Australia at the time.