Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

The fabric and structure of Australian mining settlements

Peter Bell

ABSTRACT

There seem to be distinctive elements identifiable in the plans of towns and the forms of buildings that served the mining industry throughout the world in the nineteenth century. However, both the settlement plans and the built forms are also subject to considerable diversity. In some individual cases, the fabric and form of mining settlements can be attributed variously to economic, ethnic or cultural causes. This chapter begins to analyse the pattern of nineteenth-century mining settlement in Australia by identifying some circumstances in which each of these forces may be expected to operate more effectively than the others. It also looks briefly at the distortion of evidence that can arise from the processes of decay on settlement sites.


INTRODUCTION AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Why should mining create a distinctive cultural landscape? There are a number of reasons. First, mining industry obeys different geographical imperatives. Geographers have created a number of useful models which, given parameters of climate and terrain, can accurately predict the location of farms, agricultural settlements, towns, ports and roads. But one cannot model the location of mining industry. Mines are located where the minerals are; they cannot be anywhere else. And frequently the location of those minerals takes settlement into regions where farmers and pastoralists do not go: across Australia there have been mines and mining settlements in utterly waterless deserts, in tropical rainforest and on frozen mountain tops.

Second, the economic impact of mining happens very quickly. Population and wealth can both boom remarkably in a very short time. In 1851, when gold was discovered, the population of the entire colony of Victoria was 97,000. In the following decade the population increased by more than five times, to 540,000 in 1860. In that same decade, Victoria produced something like 25 million ounces of gold, worth about £100,000,000 that simply had not existed previously: in every year a new £10,000,000 of wealth was being created (Serle 1963:382, 390).

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