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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Huge gold nugget found near Ballarat

Last month near Ballarat, a rare gold nugget was found 60 cm underground by an amateur prospector. We don't know his name because he wants to remains anonymous, but the owner of the shop he took it to said that he was overjoyed at being able to pay off his house and all his debts.

He heard a faint noise on his detector and after clearing away dense leaf mulch, started to dig. He thought it would probably be a rusty bonnet of an old car but then he saw a glint of gold. As he cleared away more dirt, he saw more and more gold, until the huge nugget was revealed.  Its incredible to think that 162 years after the gold rush, gold in big nuggets can still be found in and around Ballarat.

The lucky prospector was using a metal detector that is marketed as the best in the world, a Minelab GPX-5000. I looked it up on the Internet and it's currently selling on eBay for $6500. Many other gold-seeking hopefuls have walked over the exact spot where it was found, but missed it.  The nugget weighed 177 ounces or 5.5 kilograms and is valued around $300,000.

The Eureka Stockade at Ballarat was a famous event in our history because it was our one and only rebellion. When a group of miners decided to make a stand against government rules, they expected a fight and they got one, in spades. 

Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851 and thousands of men and women with a sense of adventure came to the gold fields to live in tents and chase the dream of striking it rich.

Eureka Stockade Museum, Ballarat

In September 1851, the Victorian government introduced a gold licence to pay the wages of policemen and other essential services like roadworks.  It cost 30 shillings, a lot of money in those days, and few could afford it.  Miners were fined five pounds for the first time they were caught without a licence, 15 pounds the second time, and 30 pounds for a third.  So most diggers would head for the hills when police came around checking to see if they had one.

Painting in Eureka Museum

The miners decided that this licensing fraud had to stop, so they organized themselves and voted Irishman Peter Lalor as their Commander in Chief and drew up the Ballarat Reform League and made a list of demands.

The removal of the gold licence
The right to vote for the people in power
The right to be represented in government
To scrap the rule that you had to be a property owner to be a member of Parliament

Peter Lalor

The authorities refused all demands and sent more soldiers and licence inspections were increased to twice a week, instead of once.

Frustrated, with the newly devised Southern Cross flag flying over their heads, the diggers, led by Lalor, knelt and made a solemn oath.  "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."  They then left to construct the stockade.

At dawn on the 3rd December 1854, two hundred and ninety six well armed soldiers and police attacked approximately 150 diggers.  Of course it was an absolute route, 26 men, mostly diggers, died in the battle.

Peter Lalor's arm was damaged in the fight, but he escaped to the home of Father Smyth in Ballarat, where his arm was amputated.  He was then taken to Gelong where he was cared for by Alicia Dunn, who he later married.

Eventually, a reward was placed on his head but was later revoked and the 13 diggers who were charged with "high treason" and put on trial in Melbourne, were found not guilty and released.  The bloody event brought about major reforms which were then introduced.

Ironically, Peter Lalor ended up on the other side - in government. He held the seat of North Grenville and later stood for and won the seat of South Grant. In 1875 he became Commissioner for Customs in the Berry government and in 1880, he became Speaker.