The exploration of the continent of Australia

The exploration of the continent of Australia, after the delimitation of its exterior boundaries by sea, was closely related to the development of the pastoral industry. As early as 1796 considerable interest was displayed in Sydney in the establishment of the Merino wool industry. By 1813 a road was pushed over the Blue Mountain Upland from Sydney to Bathurst, the first town to be established in the interior. Bathurst lay at the edge of a vast grassland, interspersed with trees, which stretched far to the west, north, and south. Explorers pushed out in all directions from Sydney and later from Adelaide to observe the nature of the continent. The pastoralists followed closely on their heels wherever suitable pasture lands were discovered.

Thus, by 1830, Australia entered upon the squatting era, and for some decades the rugged pastoralists drove their flocks beyond the original confines of the settlements to encompass the most favorable portions of the continent. Government followed the squatters and usually confirmed the rights to land that they had pre-empted. The sheepmen became the aristocracy of the new land, and their influence is still characteristic of the continent.


Although the occurrence of gold in Australia was indicated 10 years before the California discovery, it was fully confirmed only after the return of certain Australians from the California diggings in February, 1851. Within a few months the rush of the "diggers" to Bathurst, 150 miles west of Sydney, was in full swing. Gold was soon found in even larger quantities in Victoria. Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, and other centers experienced all the features associated with hectic mining activity by thousands of new arrivals. Melbourne boomed as the principal point of entry to the Victorian gold fields. Within 10 years the population of Australia rose from 400,000 to 1,145,000. A strong, vigorous, and new group of people was injected into the population of the continent, and mining was firmly established as a major occupation of Australians. Although early gold mining based on scattered alluvial deposits inevitably diminished in importance, the continuing interest in mining eventually turned to copper in South Australia, gold at Mt. Morgan, silver at Broken Hill, silver-lead in Tasmania, and eventually to the rich gold finds in Western Australia after 1890.

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