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Scene 2 (right to left)

The 1850s gold rush attracted many Chinese people to Australia in search of fortune. In this scene, diggers methodically search for gold using various devices and techniques. Chinese miners are using a sluice box and puddling mill to search for gold, while another miner, at left, has a massage, for relief after physically demanding work.

Stitched panels of the Harvest of Endurance scroll featuring ‘Australian gold rush and ‘Chinese miners’.

Discovery of gold

When gold was discovered in Australia, the volume of Chinese immigration significantly increased. The highest number of arrivals in any one year was 12,396 in 1856.

In 1861, 38,258 people, or 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, had been born in China. This number was not to be equalled until the late 1980s.

The majority of Chinese immigrants to Australia during the gold rush were indentured or contract labourers. However, many made the voyage under the credit-ticket system managed by brokers and emigration agents. Only a small minority of Chinese people were able to pay for their own voyage and migrate to Australia free of debt.

The Chinese immigrants referred to the Australian gold fields as ‘Xin Jin Shan’, or New Gold Mountain. The Californian gold rush was in decline by the 1850s and had become known as ‘Jiu Jin Shan’, Old Gold Mountain.

Chinese miners

In 1861, there were more than 24,000 Chinese immigrants on the Victorian goldfields of Ararat, Ballarat, Beechworth, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Maryborough. There were over 11,000 Chinese on the New South Wales goldfields of Armidale, Bathurst, Binalong, Braidwood, Burrangong, Lambing Flat (Young), Carcoar, Lachlan, Mudgee, Tambaroora, Tamworth and Tumut.

As the southern gold deposits were depleted, there was a corresponding drop in the number of Chinese miners in these areas. However, in the 1870s there was an influx of Chinese miners to Queensland after the discovery of gold in the Palmer and Hodgkinson rivers and in Cooktown.

Chinese miners not only worked gold but also other metals such as tin, copper and wolfram.

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