The Industrial Revolution in Australia: Part 2

Ballarat and the Industrial Revolution

Pennyweight Gully, near Castlemaine. Taken by Marion Littlejohn

Pennyweight Gully, near Castlemaine. Photo taken by Marion Littlejohn

Many townships sprang up during the Gold Rush era of Colonial Victoria, but many of these towns withered and died as soon as their gold ran out, to the point that many are now ghost towns. However there are several exceptions to that. Many prosperous Central Victorian towns can trace their beginnings back to the discovery of gold. Towns such as Stawell, Ararat, Maryborough, Castlemaine and St Arnaud were larger at the time gold was being mined, but they still survive decades, even a century after the gold ran out. Ballarat and Bendigo are today major regional centres, and although there are still gold mines in or near both, they do not rely on gold to continue to grow. So what are the things that decided whether a town would grow, survive or die after the gold ran out? We think the answer involves the Industrial Revolution in Australia.

In our previous post on the Industrial revolution in Australia, we discussed how the people coming to the goldfields brought the knowledge and skills of the Industrial Revolution, and very soon were putting this knowledge to practical use in the search for gold. Here at Sovereign Hill we have many examples of these technological advances, and the benefits and/or downfalls of the use of machinery in gold mining. More importantly we also have some examples of steam technology being used for purposes not directly linked to finding gold. It is these other industries that give us the clue as to why Ballarat thrived, but towns nearby (Clunes, Smythesdale, Creswick etc) struggled after the gold mining phase of our history dwindled.

It was because as the large deposits of gold became more difficult to get to,

Soho Iron Works. Ballarat Gold Museum Collection

Soho Iron Works. Ballarat Gold Museum Collection

heavy machinery was required to keep going deeper, and to process the quartz and gold ore much quicker.

Transporting heavy machinery was fairly easy after 1862, when the railway line was completed between, Geelong and Ballarat. But before this time all the machinery used for gold mining had to be brought overland, which could take weeks. Weston Bate says “It would have taken at least a fortnight to have a part made in Melbourne or Geelong … So as soon as a reasonable volume of work was assured, foundries were established at Ballarat” (Luck City 1989). The Victoria foundry was the first Ballarat foundry, opened in 1856 and by 1861 there were ten, eight specialising in mining equipment. At first these foundries mainly focussed on repairing parts, but before long they were able to manufacture parts, then boilers, engines, pumps, basically anything that was needed in the mining industry, or by the residents of Ballarat.

Phoenix Foundry Machine Shop. University of Ballarat Historical Collection.

Phoenix Foundry Machine Shop. University of Ballarat Historical Collection.

It wasn’t long before the agricultural and forestry industries around Ballarat began to mechanise and the foundries had a whole new market for their expertise. Manufacturing continued in Ballarat after serious gold mining ceased, around 1915-16, and continues in Ballarat to this day. In fact manufacturing still provided over 10% of the employment in Ballarat in 2011, which made it the third largest behind the retail and health care sectors.

We quoted Professor Weston Bate during this blogpost. Sovereign Hill hosts the Professor Weston Bate lecture each year, in honour of Professor Bate and his contribution to the study of local history and its importance to Australia’s national story. For more information or to book, click here.

If you would like to learn more, read our previous post on the Industrial Revolution in Australia, or look at our webpage on the Industrial Revolution in Australia. It has a link to a great video we made.

If you want to know more about foundries, the Gold Museum has an interesting Blogpost on the Phoenix foundry you can have a look at.

There are a couple of other reasons for Ballarat continuing to develop after the gold mining period ended. Maybe you can think of some. If you can, let us know by commenting on this Blogpost, or you could contact us.

2 responses to “The Industrial Revolution in Australia: Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Industrial Revolution in Australia | Sovereign Hill Education

  2. Pingback: Books for Teaching History – The Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat. The History of a Ballarat Engineering Company. | Sovereign Hill Education

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