Getting Gold

Article | Updated 1 years ago

Gold fever persisted in Western Australia for many years, and, particularly in the beginning, the going was tough. Traditionally, gold miners used the power of water to help them search for the precious metal, but miners in arid Western Australia went without such a luxury. New methods had to be developed.

Small and large scale mining companies were set up, and soon ran into their hundreds. New companies were registered daily.

The harsh conditions of life on the goldfields, and the competition for gold, often meant tempers ran high.  Getting gold wasn't just a job, it was a unique way of life, and everyone faced their own challenges and problems. Those who made their fortunes often left the fields to retire, leaving behind those who hadn't yet had their lucky day. Often, that day never came.

Retired prospectors’ camps, Kalgoorlie, early 1930s
Retired prospectors’ camps, Kalgoorlie, early 1930s
Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia 004338D

Changing Fortunes

Since the goldrushes of the 1890s the goldfields region has accounted for more than 60% of Western Australia’s gold production as well as 98% of its nickel output.

Rising extraction and processing costs led to a decline in the gold industry in the early twentieth century. Changed mining and processing techniques by the late 1920s renewed confidence. This was boosted in 1931 by the Commonwealth Government’s bounty or ‘bonus’ on gold production as well as rising prices and increased demand for gold. Production which doubled between 1929 and 1934 was to decline again during and after World War II with increased production costs and a shortage of labour.

The 1950s saw an increase in the gold price and demand for a wide range of metals for the growing post war economy. Gold gradually lost its role as the state’s leading mineral in terms of production value. By 1970 gold accounted for only 2% of the value of all mining.