Monday, 30 September 2013

The Rush for Gold--and Land

Gold! The Robertson Land Acts and Warrimoo


Identifying the geography of New South Wales as being very similar to the countryside he recently visited in the California Gold Rush, Edward Hammond Hargraves set off across the Mountains’ Road towards Bathurst seeking clues to a possible ‘El Dorado’ west of the Great Divide.
Hargraves the heroic Discoverer--he is supposed to be saluting cheering goldminers, with the Blue Mountains in the background

He met John Hardman Lister at an Inn along the way. Lister mentioned that he had heard gold specks had been found in Lewis Ponds Creek, so Hargraves promised the young man he would show him how to find gold. They panned at Lewis Ponds Creek and found five specks of ‘colour’.


Hargraves then showed Lister and two of his mates, James and William Tom, how to build as well as  use a ‘Californian Cradle’, and shortly left for Sydney to announce the discovery of gold in the colony.
An old photograph of William Tom and the 'California Cradle' that he constructed, which launched the Australian Gold Rushes

While Hargraves was busily trying to (unsuccessfully) convince the Colonial Secretary of the importance of his find, Lister and the Tom brothers had actually sifted 120 grams of payable gold at the junction of Lewis Ponds and Summer Hills Creeks—this was to become the site of the first ‘gold rush town’ of Ophir. Rather foolishly, the boys passed this information, along with the 120 grams, to Hargraves.

John Hardman Lister--it was he who showed Hargraves where the gold could be found, and it was he and the Tom brothers who actually mined the first payable gold, but it would be decades before he and the Toms got some belated recognition

It was April, 1851. This was headline news. With Hargraves encouragement, a fever was being generated. By mid April, 400 people were panning for gold at Ophir. By December of the same year, 10,000 were frantically mining at Ballarat—the Australian Gold Rushes had begun.


Swollen Immigration


The next decade saw a massive influx of immigrants. For a group of colonies which had taken sixty years to achieve a white population of 405,000, the next ten years’ arrivals amounted to a tidal wave. In that time over 700,000 new optimists, including 50,000 Chinese, swamped the countryside seeking a new and fortunate life.
One of S. T. Gill's famous sketches, at left, diggers off to the goldfields--most walked--and at right in an anonymous drawing, Chinese miners at their labour

West of the Divide, far from Warrimoo, gold rush towns sprang up around and beyond Ophir, at Sofala, Hill End, Mudgee, Young (Lambing Flat), Forbes, Parkes, Grenfell and Gulgong along with many other, smaller fields. The traffic across the ‘Great Western Road’ as it was now known grew to be consistently intense. The colony grew wealthier, and service providers such as pubs and inns, stables and blacksmiths, general stores and postal services, sprang up across the Blue Mountains.


Throughout all this, the area now known as Warrimoo remained a campsite. The famous ‘Black Stump’ referred to by Maisie Lupton[1] had a clearing and a basic fireplace where weary travelers could bed down, bake some damper and boil a billy. There is (up to this point in time, at least) no evidence of non-Aboriginal occupation up to the 1860’s.


The Demand for Land


Many of the new immigrants saw opportunities in the fledgling settlements of the colony, and felt that land ownership offered the best chance of building wealth. However most land throughout New South Wales had already been “locked up”, either as Crown Land, previously granted and/or sold land, or as large scale “Stations” controlled by wealthy squatters, who paid peppercorn rental to the Crown for their properties.
Sir John Robertson--while a wealthy landowner himself, Robertson could see the need for a fairer and more dynamic system of land distribution--thus his 'Land Acts' became law in 1861


The question of land distribution became a sore political issue in all the colonies, so that ultimately the Premier of New South Wales, John Robertson, introduced a series of Land Acts which allowed “Selectors” to peg out 40—320 acre (16—130 hectare) ‘agricultural lots’ and then purchase the land at One Pound per acre over time. They were obliged to live on their blocks for at least three years and make economic improvements. Now, the “rush for land” had begun.
'Selectors' pegging out their land in the 1860's. They had to pay one pound per acre and live on their block in order to achieve ownership, as well as make 'improvements' such as dwellings and clearance.


Naturally, the most fertile, well-watered, less rocky and most accessible land was sought out and struggled over. In many districts, squatters aimed to block the new and enthusiastic farmers with a host of subversive and downright shonky practices, yet the process continued.


Soon, even less desirable farming land became available, and residential blocks to service transport networks such as roads, ports and railway stations, were released by the ‘Crown’ (the colonial government of New South Wales). Warrimoo’s existence as an identifiable Europeanised ‘place’ was drawing closer…

[1] LUPTON, Maisie et al, Warrimoo Public School, The First Twenty-Five Years, magazine published by Warrimoo Public School Anniversary Committee, 1987, p.11