One of the biggest gold rushes in history was started in New South Wales, Australia, in 1851. Hundreds of thousands of "diggers" from other parts of Australia, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, and even California sought their fortunes and redefined Australia's national identity.

Painting by Edwin Stockqueler, courtesy National Gallery of Australia

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    On February 12, 1851, a prospector discovered flecks of gold in a waterhole near Bathurst, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Soon, even more gold was discovered in what would become the neighboring state of Victoria. This began the Australian Gold Rush, which had a profound impact on the country’s national identity.
    Within a year, more than 500,000 people (nicknamed “diggers”) rushed to the gold fields of Australia. Most of these immigrants were British, but many prospectors from the United States, Germany, Poland, and China also settled in NSW and Victoria. 
    Even more immigrants arrived from other parts of Australia. Wages in the region doubled, but it was still difficult to find workers as people abandoned their stable jobs to seek their fortune in the gold fields. These “diggers” forged a strong, unified identity independent of colonial British authority. This concept of “mateship . . . [has] been central to the way [Australian] history has been told,” according to the Australian government.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandon Verb

    to desert or leave entirely.

    authority Noun

    person or organization responsible for making decisions.

    California Gold Rush Noun

    (1848-1855) worldwide immigration to California following the discovery of gold.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    endure Verb

    to survive.

    gold field Noun

    geographic area where gold is mined.

    identity Noun

    how a person defines themselves, or how others define them.

    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    profound Adjective

    powerful or insightful.

    prospector Noun

    person who searches or mines land for precious metals.

    state Noun

    political unit in a nation, such as the United States, Mexico, or Australia.

    wage Noun

    money or goods traded for work or service performed.