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Gold Rush in the West

Video clip synopsis – Gold, more than any other single factor, transformed the Australian colonies.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 2min 58sec
Tags - Australian History, Constructing Australia, Kalgoorlie, colonisation, federation, identity, national interest, nationalism, natural resources, pioneers, see all tags

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Gold Rush in the West

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About the Video Clip

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Gold Rush in the West is an excerpt from the film Pipe Dreams (55 mins), the second episode of the three-part series entitled Constructing Australia, produced in 2007.

Constructing Australia
Politics, tragedy and conquest combine in stories behind the building of Australia. The Bridge, Pipe Dreams, and A Wire Through the Heart, combine rare archival images with dramatic storytelling in showcasing three landmark events that would allow Australia to mark its place in the world. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Kalgoorlie Pipeline and the Overland Telegraph line were engineering triumphs, but the human drama in constructing Australia is even more fascinating.

Pipe Dreams
From the remote coast of Western Australia, to deep within its inhospitable interior, an immense water pipeline was being constructed that would unlock countless riches and help build the nation. This is a story of personal tragedy, political rivalries, corruption and trial by media that nearly tore apart Australia at the moment of its birth.

Pipe Dreams was produced with the assistance of ScreenWest and Lottery West. Developed and produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A Film Australia Making History Production in association with Prospero Productions.

Background Information

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Gold, more than any other single factor, transformed the Australian colonies.

In 1851, New South Wales and Victoria, followed by Western Australia in 1890 were granted self-government just before major gold discoveries were made. Gold drew new populations in such numbers that the old colonists were swamped.

By the1890s the heady days of the rushes in eastern Australia were long-gone, but the dream returned on the far side of the continent. In the late 1880s, alluvial gold was found in sites scattered across Western Australia, but only in small amounts.

The discovery of gold in Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 not only brought wealth to Western Australia, it brought “t’othersiders”—gold-seekers from the eastern colonies on the other side of the Nullarbor Desert.

Some 4,500 miners arrived in 1892; 5,000 the following year. Isolated goldfields were ripe with precious metal, but the people were dying of thirst.

Two men shared a vision for opening up Western Australia by pumping a river of water through pipes across the desert. The state’s first Premier and leading explorer, John Forrest, had a vision to take water to the goldfields. In Chief Engineer Charles Yelverton O’Connor, he found the man he needed to turn his dreams into reality.

The Coolgardie Water Scheme, at the time the biggest and most ambitious engineering project of its kind in the world, would save thousands from disease and drought, unlock untold riches in gold and allow the ‘Cinderella’ state of Western Australia to take her rightful place in Australia’s Commonwealth.

The five long years of the pipeline’s construction would be dogged with controversy, destroy reputations and push O’Connor to breaking point. As Australia voted for Federation, becoming the new Australian Commonwealth, the dream of water in the goldfields finally became a reality.

Classroom Activities

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  1. The gold rush in Western Australia represented a “now or never opportunity” for Western Australia to catch up with and gain an equal status with the other Australian colonies. Discuss in class then write a short response as to what this statement means, and what the Western Australian government, led by Forrest, decided to do about it.
  2. In pairs students are to research and prepare a two-page magazine spread about life on the eastern goldfields of Western Australia in the 1890s, including the reasons for, and the effects of, the outbreak of disease on the goldfield community, and how the disease might be controlled or eradicated. Use desktop publishing software for formatting and page layout. Add photographs, illustrations, maps and extracts from miners’ diaries and biographies where applicable.
  3. Write a short fiction story in 500–700 words about a “t’othersider” on the eastern goldfields of Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie or Boulder. What dreams does he have of wealth and a happy future? Does he think of family back in distant Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne? Is he ill from typhoid fever?
  4. Discuss in class then write an informative essay on how the discovery of gold in 1892 both directly and indirectly transformed Western Australia from small, struggling colony to progressive Australian state.

Further Resources

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Frank Crowley, Big John Forrest 1847–1918: A Founding Father of the Commonwealth of Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, WA, 2000

A. G. Evans, CY O’Connor: His Life and Legacy, UWA Press, 2002

Richard Evans and Alex West, Constructing Australia, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2007

Albert Gaston, Coolgardie Gold, Hesperian Press, 1984

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