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The Devastating Impact of Gold

Despite the long-overlooked evidence of Aboriginal people being active participants in the goldrushes, and in many ways benefiting from new social and economic opportunities, it is clear that the discovery of gold in central Victoria had a devastating impact on the Indigenous population, already adversely affected by the experiences of contact and pastoral expansion.

The influx of diggers took over the Djadjawurrung’s camping sites, disturbed wildlife, destroyed habitat and decimated sacred sites. In the new landscape, many Aboriginal people turned to begging or prostitution. The inquest records show an increase in accidental deaths of Aboriginal people, some caused by alcohol or fights, some by falling down mine shafts.

Submissions to the 1858 Select Committee of the Victorian Legislative Council on the Aborigines attested to the increase in mortality following the goldrushes, as well as the dramatic deterioration of the health of the Indigenous population, because of alcohol, malnutrition, venereal disease and tuberculosis.

The Committee concluded that ‘Victoria is now entirely occupied by a superior race, and there is scarcely a spot, excepting in the most remote mountain ranges, or dense scrubs, on which the Aborigine can rest his weary feet’.

But despite the devastating impact of gold on Indigenous people of central Victoria (not to mention later efforts of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines from 1860), Aboriginal communities survived and continue to play an important role in modern life in the Ballarat and Castlemaine areas.

Cate Elkner

Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1859. Details
Attwood, Bain, 'My Country': a history of the Djadja Wurrung, 1837-1864, Monash Publications in History, Clayton, 1999. Details
Clark, I.D. & Cahir, D.A, Tanderrum ‘Freedom of the Bush’, the Djadjawurrung presence on the goldfields of central Victoria, Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings, Castlemaine, 2004. Details