1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Catalyst or Cataclysm? Gold Mining and the Environment

Environmental historians can be a miserable lot. They tend to prick bubbles, to be doomsayers, to spout a sort of black armband history, for they point out that all that glittered in our history was not golden. In their view, gold was as much a cataclysm for the environment as a catalyst for 'progress'.

The historiography of gold mining in the colony has tended to view the rushes and their contribution to gold mining in an essentially positive light. Gold is seen to have stimulated progress, industriousness, pioneering initiative and development. The Midas medal was the catalyst for great things.

The last two decades also brought some attention among environmental historians to an equally important effect of gold - the environmental impact. This work offers challenging new interpretations based upon somewhat different use of source materials, including visual representations.The environmental perspective does not promote a story of progress, but unveils the profound negative impact of mining upon local ecosystems and the rapidly increased pressure upon flora and fauna. It was an environmental cataclysm that was arguably without human-caused equal in the history of the continent to that time.

Edited extract from: Garden, Don. Catalyst or cataclysm?: gold mining and the environment. [Article in a special issue celebrating 150 years of goldmining in Victoria.]. Victorian Historical Journal, v.72, nos 1-2, Sept 2001: 28-44.

Don Garden

Garden, Don, 'Catalyst or Cataclysm? Gold Mining and the Environment', Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 72, no. 1-2, September, 2001. Details