The boom-and-bust nature of gold rushes in the Australian colonies in the 19th century typified newspaper development. The rushes brought wild, extravagant times to the colonies in the post-transportation era, and sometimes the wildest extravagances were the newspapers themselves. Three newspapers could spring up on a goldfield in less than a month, as they did at Croydon in far north Queensland in August and September 1887. Although many newspapers survived, others were as short-lived as the rush they served. ‘Miners as a class are very excitable and seldom stay long’, wrote mining journalist George Dunmore Lang. ‘The faintest rumour of fresh gold … flies to their heads at once and fairly intoxicates them.’ Newspapers established on the goldfields were more susceptible to failure than those in farming areas. In New South Wales from 1860 to 1865, 47 country newspapers were launched—many on new goldfields—but only 12 survived until 1870. One printing press was used to publish different goldfields titles successively at Lambing Flat (later Young), Burrowa (now Boorowa), Gundagai and again at Burrowa.
The rushes had their biggest impact on newspaper development in Victoria in the 30 years after 1851, New South Wales in the 1860s and 1870s, Queensland in the 1870s and 1880s, and Western Australia in the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century. One estimate was that the gold-rush era brought into existence nearly 1000 newspapers—almost six times as many as existed before the end of the 1850s. The number of newspapers published outside the capitals in the three mainland eastern states at the start of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1890 reflected, to a significant extent, the impact of the gold rushes: Victoria 4, 33, 68, 103 and 159; New South Wales 3, 21, 46, 96 and 173; and Queensland nil, 3, 17, 40 and 69. Eight of the 11 dailies published in provincial Victoria before 1860 were in goldfields towns, and the only provincial daily in New South Wales by then was published on the Braidwood goldfield. In the 19th century, 30 dailies were published in seven Victorian goldfields towns.
After gold was discovered near Bathurst, New South Wales, in May 1851, and two months later near Ballarat, Victoria, the rushes changed the face of Australian society, accelerating migration from England and America, and hastening rail and port development and the electric telegraph. Initially, newspaper development was adversely affected—especially by the rushes to Ballarat in 1851–52. Newspapers ceased publication in centres such as Geelong, Warrnambool and Adelaide as thousands of their readers and advertisers—and often members of their staff—joined the headlong rush to the goldfields. There was a positive impact on the press once more goldfields opened, at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Mount Alexander (Castlemaine), Beechworth, Ararat, Stawell and other places in central Victoria, and at Araluen, Kiandra, Lambing Flat, Forbes and Grenfell in New South Wales. Newspapers sprang up to meet the emerging needs for expressing views, telling news and advertising goods and services. The papers were also used for carrying messages to and from home—the Adelaide papers were full of messages from the diggings, and vice versa, a sort of ‘lost and found’ column. The population of Victoria outstripped that of New South Wales during the 1850s, as did the number of provincial newspapers established. New South Wales did not catch Victoria, in terms of population and provincial press numbers, until the end of the 1880s. In the final decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, 60 newspapers sprang up in WA goldfields towns. Twelve dailies were published in five mining towns between 1894 and 1899. One, the Kalgoorlie Miner (est. 1895), is still published.
The diggings were hotbeds of discontent. The Ballarat Times (1854–61) trumpeted the dissatisfactions of the diggers in 1854, and was seen as contributing to what has been termed the only civil rebellion on Australian soil, the Eureka uprising of 3 December 1854. Twenty-four diggers and five members of the government forces died. Henry Erle Seekamp, editor-owner of the Times, was imprisoned for sedition. Disturbances also occurred because of ethnic conflict. Lambing Flat was the main scene where European diggers cruelly maltreated Chinese diggers—in December 1860, and January, February, June and July 1861. On 30 June 1861, 3000 white diggers gathered at Lambing Flat in an anti-Chinese rally that led to riots and attacks on Chinese diggers, and pillaging and destruction of their property. Two ringleaders were jailed for two years. Hence the NSW government passed the Chinese Immigration Restriction and Regulation Act in 1861 to control the numbers of Chinese people migrating to the colony.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000) and The Bold Type (2010).