Australian Mining History

Australian Mining History

Mining in Australia probably started with the arrival of Aborigines some 40,000 years ago when they fossicked for stones suitable for tools and weapons, and dug for ochre which they used for decorative use.

“Modern” Australian mining followed the arrival of European settlers on the eastern seaboard in 1788, with the quarrying and shaping of Hawkesbury sandstone for early buildings at Sydney Cove. The first discovery of coal was made by escaped convicts in the Newcastle area in 1791. Over the next few years coal was reported at many other centres to the north and south of Sydney.

The coal industry began in 1798 when ship owners gathered surface coal at Newcastle and brought it to Sydney for sale. Export of Newcastle coal began in 1799 with a shipment to India.

Traces of metallic minerals, particularly gold, were found in the early part of the 19th century, mainly by shepherds and convicts. However, there was no concerted effort towards mining because an archaic English law demanded that all gold and silver remained the property of the Crown. In fact, Britain did not encourage people in the young colony to explore for minerals. The colony was first and foremost a penal settlement, and most of its inhabitants in the early years were preoccupied with learning how to feed themselves.

Lead was the first metal mined in Australia from the Glen Osmond hills on the outskirts of Adelaide in 1841. This was followed by the commemcement of copper mining at Kapunda in the same general area in 1842. Copper was also discovered at Burra Burra (SA) in 1845.

When many Australians migrated to the United States in 1849 following reports of rich gold discoveries in California, the New South Wales Government realised that if the wave of migration was to be reversed, it needed to provide incentives for Australians to find gold in their own country. Accordingly, rewards were offered for the discovery of “payable” gold.
In April 1851 the first reported discovery of payable gold was made by John Lister and William Tom at the junction of Lewis Ponds and Summer Hill Creeks, Ophir. Edward Hargraves, an associate of Lister and Tom, took their gold to the Colonial Secretary and then claimed the reward which included 5,000 pounds to Hargraves; and 500 pounds each to Lister, Tom and the Rev. W.B. Clarke. However, recently-discovered evidence in letters addressed to William Tipple Smith from the Government acknowledged the existence of gold at Ophir in 1848.

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