Category Archives: STEM in history

Environmental Changes to Victoria’s Landscapes

During the 19th century, what we now call the State of Victoria changed dramatically. In 1800, it was an organised collection of Aboriginal cultural landscapes, and by 1900, it was dotted with new industrial cities while the countryside was covered by farms featuring exotic animals and plants. With the introduction of European farming, the feverish gold rushes, a huge increase in population, and the impacts of the Industrial Revolution, Victoria’s landscapes were completely redesigned in less than a century. Let’s explore how and why the landscape changed, and reflect on some of the consequences of this change.

maps

Maps showing how much the surface of the landscapes have changed in Victoria since colonisation. Reproduced with permission from: https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/naturekit

For tens of thousands of years Victoria’s landscapes were carefully managed by Aboriginal people to produce food, fibre and medicine. In Ballarat, the Wadawurrung people farmed many plants and animals (and in some places still do today), often using fire to weed certain areas or to promote new growth. For example, on the sunny plains they farmed the murnong – a root vegetable like a mini-sweet potato. In forest areas with lots of old trees, they farmed the brushtail possum – the meat was eaten while the pelt (the skin with the fur on) could be turned into warm, waterproof clothing. By looking after landscapes carefully, they made sure there would be plenty of murnong and possums for the next generation and the many who would come after them. Such landscapes are today called Aboriginal cultural landscapes.

for blogAfter 1835, when hundreds and then thousands of European immigrants – mainly English and Scottish people – arrived to colonise South Eastern Australia with their flocks of sheep, traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and landscape management practices were interrupted. In the following sixteen years, almost all of what came to be called Victoria was divided up and made the private property of individual European farmers (known as squatters) and their families, leaving only the largest mountains and deserts un-colonised. The huge amount of wool that was produced as a result of this was sent to the new factories of England, and made many of these squatters very rich. Some historians believe this was the fastest land-grab in human history, with fences, foreign animals and protective European farmers with guns taking over. This meant the food, fibre and medicine that was being produced across Victoria’s landscapes changed radically in a very short time.

pastoral map

A map of Victoria which demonstrates how quickly European colonisation happened in this part of Australia. Reproduced with permission from the Gold Museum Ballarat Collection.

It is thought that the murnong was nearly extinct within 1-3 years after the arrival of sheep, because these new animals ate it and at the same time changed the nature of Victoria’s soils with their hard feet. Now, murnong is only found in a few places across the state. It fed people for tens of thousands of years (thought to have eight times more nutrition than the potatoes we buy from the supermarket today) and was a staple of Aboriginal diets all across South Eastern Australia (meaning it was eaten regularly, like most Australians now eat bread). Its sudden disappearance had grave consequences for 19th century Aboriginal communities.

The rapid changes to local landscapes left many Aboriginal people hungry. Occasionally they stole sheep, fruit and vegetables from the European farms to keep their families from starving. Some of the squatters reacted by killing the Aboriginal people who took these possessions, or any other Aboriginal people they found on or near their farms after a theft had taken place. As a result, we know that at least 69 massacres of Aboriginal people (where 6 or more people are killed at a time) occurred during the first sixteen years of European colonisation of what we now call Victoria.

Many Aboriginal people survived this period in our history – commonly called the “Squatter Era” – by adapting to the new colonial culture and economy. This often meant learning English, wearing European clothes, and eating the foods common to a European diet at the time. Due to this cultural change and a lack of access to land, Victorian Aboriginal people could no longer practice their landscape management to produce the foods, fibres and medicines of their ancestors. The old staple foods of murnong and possum had been replaced by wheat and lamb.

Black Thursday post-restoration

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th. 1851, 1864. Reproduced with permission from the State Library of Victoria Collection. The largest fire in Victoria’s history happened in the summer of 1851. It burnt one quarter of the state, killed millions of animals, and a handful of people. Some believe this fire was so ferocious because Aboriginal people had not been able to practice traditional landscape management techniques (like firestick farming) for the 16 years beforehand, thanks to the arrival of sheep farmers. This meant that “fuel” (like dry leaves, branches, dead trees etc.) had built up across the state, making this a devastating fire both economically and environmentally.

Then, in 1851, some of Victoria’s landscapes began another transformation – the rush for gold brought thousands of new immigrants with shovels, axes and gold pans, eager to find their fortune. These gold seekers quickly multiplied (more than 500,000 new arrivals came to Victoria from all over the world between 1851 and 1861, which is the fastest population increase that Australia has ever experienced) as did the environmental change they caused to landscapes in the hunt for shiny yellow metal. Most did not plan to stay on the goldfields – or even in Australia – for long, and thought little of the lasting environmental impacts of their mining activities. Soil was upturned, rivers diverted and polluted, and trees were cut down at a rapid rate. These new arrivals all needed food, shelter and water, and took whatever could be collected from local landscapes, causing a number of plants and animals that had survived the Squatter Era to become locally extinct.

After the social change brought about by the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, many miners decided to stay and make goldfields like Ballarat, Bendigo and Beechworth, a permanent home. At this time, some local landscapes started to be protected for their beauty, or for their good soil for farming. However, this permanency also brought the Industrial Revolution to Victoria, with its wood-hungry steam engines and CO2 emissions. This transformed landscapes again. Trains, boilers, factories and foundries created urban industrial landscapes around Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo which demanded yet more natural resources to be taken from local environments and re-purposed.

steam ops

Sovereign Hill employee in the role of Boiler Attendant feeds a boiler to produce the steam to power working steam exhibits. During Australia’s Industrial Revolution, lots of communities burnt wood from local forests, instead of coal like their European equals to power their steam engines.

From this, modern Victoria as we know it today was born. There are many places across this state where sheep are still farmed, gold is still mined, and factories and foundries still operate. While Aboriginal landscape management practices were disrupted across most of Victoria for more than 180 years, in many places these practices are now being revived by Aboriginal communities and government agencies to help restore biodiversity, and manage bushfire risk. So, next time you travel around Victoria in a car/bus/train/plane, take a moment to think about how much the landscape has changed in recent history, and how it might change again in the future.

Links and References

Australia’s Aboriginal farming history in a nutshell: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/indigenous-historian-bruce-pascoe-says-weve-got-our-story-all-wrong/news-story/70518cd1c35efd73c126ec0c19bb8281

The National Museum of Australia has produced a free video series on Australian history, including environmental history: https://www.nma.gov.au/learn/classroom-resources/australian-journey

A free online podcast series made by La Trobe University on Australia’s environmental history: https://itunes.apple.com/au/course/australian-environmental-history/id499537077

The Australian Research Council on “Australia’s Epic Story”: https://epicaustralia.org.au/

Australia and New Zealand’s environmental history by professors Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths: https://ceh.environmentalhistory-au-nz.org/wp-content/uploads/Environmental_History_in_Australasia_2004.pdf

ANU Professor Tim Bonyhady’s take on Australia’s environmental history in “The Colonial Earth” (2003): https://www.bookdepository.com/Colonial-Earth-Tim-Bonyhady/9780522850536

The State Library of Victoria Ergo Blog on Victoria’s experiences of environmental change: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/land-exploration/environment

SBS Gold on the environmental impacts of the gold rushes: https://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=124

Is modern Australian farming broken? https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-dark-emu-and-the-blindness-of-australian-agriculture-97444

An article from The Conversation called “What Australia can learn from Victoria’s shocking biodiversity record”: https://theconversation.com/what-australia-can-learn-from-victorias-shocking-biodiversity-record-113757

How? When? Why? – The Industrial Revolution in Australia

Last of England

Ford Maddox Brown, The Last of England, 1855, reproduced with permission from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Student visitors to Sovereign Hill often explore this painting during our education sessions because it can tell us interesting stories about the hundreds of thousands of people who came to Australia during the height of Ballarat’s gold rush. Painted by Ford Maddox Brown, it is entitled ‘The Last of England’. If we could, we would ask these people about the skills and ideas they are bringing with them to Australia, because these are the kind of people who shaped modern Australia into the country it is today. You can watch a source analysis of this artwork here. For better or for worse, European immigrants like these brought the Industrial Revolution, democracy, and a completely new agricultural system to this land ‘girt by sea’.

Let’s explore these imported skills and ideas in more detail.

Definitions:

Europeans realised there was gold in Victoria in 1851 at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In the same year Queen Victoria launched her Great Exhibition in London which showcased England’s new industrial technologies. Many of the six million people — equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time — who visited the Great Exhibition, were soon to join the mass migration to the Australian goldfields. They brought with them Industrial Revolution knowledge, experience and skills – many had ridden in trains, worked in factories, and believed that the ‘Age of Steam’ had made Britain the most powerful nation on Earth, and could have a similar impact on Australia.

Gill

At the start of the Victorian gold rushes, only simple hand-held and often handmade technologies (like the ones in this sketch) were needed to find gold, but by the 1860s steam-powered machines were required to extract gold from deep underground. S. T. Gill, Prospecting, from The Australian Sketchbook, c.1865, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

After the Eureka Rebellion in 1854, the muddle of goldminers’ tents that people called ‘Ballaarat’ (a local Aboriginal [Wadawurrung] word for resting place) became a more permanent city. As the easily accessible gold started to run out, these immigrants began importing steam-powered machines from Britain so they could mine for gold trapped deeper underground. This meant that Ballarat’s mining changed from an individual occupation to a company (group) project, and helped to keep people here once the initial ‘rush’ was over. Without these technologies (which among other things pumped water out of mines and fresh air in, powered elevators, and crushed quartz to extract its gold) the Ballarat gold rush would probably have come to a grinding halt.

During the 1860s and 70s, many Ballaratians invested their gold wealth in local factories and foundries to build their own industrial machinery, such as steam engines and boilers. This meant that you didn’t have to wait a long time for your steam engine to arrive on a ship from the other side of the planet, you could instead purchase it (much more cheaply) from a foundry just down the road.

 

Phoenix

The Phoenix Foundry in Ballarat – capable of smelting iron to create steam engine components and steam trains. S. Calvert, PHOENIX FOUNDRY, BALLARAT. – THE ENGINE FITTING ROOM (where Target in central Ballarat is located today) 1873, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat.

Many Victorian towns had been built on gold by this time, but many withered and died as soon as their gold ran out, to the point that many are now ghost towns. However, Ballarat and Bendigo are major regional cities today, 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 a gold rush? We think the answer involves the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Australia.

The decision to change the local economies and jobs in these cities from mining to manufacturing, helped these cities to continue to grow and thrive. Immigrants with experience building railways, factories, foundries, and deep mines back in Britain used their knowledge and skills to start an Industrial Revolution here. Had it not been for the gold rushes, it may have taken much longer for such steam-powered inventions to arrive in Australia.

By 1900 the Ballarat region was dotted with steam-powered machines, and the people who lived here enjoyed mass-produced and therefore cheaply-made goods. Much came from local factories, but as steam trains and ships were making product transport much faster and safer than people had experienced before, buying things from overseas became easier than ever. Tractors and other farm technologies, along with introduced plants and animals (such as wheat and sheep) were also industrialising the way food, fibre and medicines were produced, and because we could support a growing population with jobs and food, modern Australia started taking shape.

 

Queen Mine

Enter aAn example of a (steam-powered) company quartz mine in Ballarat. F. Kruger, Queen Mine (near Black Hill, Ballarat), 1887, reproduced with permission from The Gold Museum Ballarat. caption

Australia’s Industrial Revolution did have some significant environmental impacts which should be explored – namely in the way it required lots of trees to be chopped down to burn in boilers (local wood was also used to build houses and line mineshafts). This deforestation devastated local forests and caused the localised extinction of many plants and animals. Due to advances in industrial mining and transport technology, when wood couldn’t be regrown fast enough to replace what was being burned/built with, Australians started burning coal to produce power instead (once huge quantities of it were discovered). Read more about the environmental impacts of the Victorian gold rushes and Australia’s Industrial Revolution here.

While democracy – like the Industrial Revolution – was on its way to Australia one way or another, it is often argued by historians that the gold rushes and the Eureka Rebellion helped it get here faster. You can read more about this here.

 

Yr9 IR

Some Year 9 students learning about the arrival of steam power in Australia and visiting many of Sovereign Hill’s related museum exhibits through the education session entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

In summary, we think that Australia’s Industrial Revolution was likely sped-up by the gold rushes. If you would like to visit Sovereign Hill to learn more about this topic, we offer an education session for students entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’.

 

Links and References

Wikipedia on the Industrial Revolution: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on England: https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution

A great video about the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c

A Sovereign Hill Education video on the Industrial Revolution in Australia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVW6Xq3Pd4

An old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/02/06/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia/

Another old post on the Sovereign Hill Education Blog called ‘The Industrial Revolution in Australia: Part 2’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2013/04/29/the-industrial-revolution-in-australia-part-2/

Sovereign Hill Education Blog on the ‘Environmental Impacts of the Gold Rush’: https://sovereignhilledblog.com/2014/09/01/the-environmental-impact-of-the-gold-rush/

A history of Ballarat featuring lots of great primary source images: http://ballaratgenealogy.org.au/ballarat-history

Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution

The Khan Academy on the Industrial Revolution: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/acceleration/bhp-acceleration/a/the-industrial-revolution

A Gold Museum blog about a model train made by apprentices at Ballarat’s Phoenix Foundry in 1878: https://goldmuseumballarat.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/phoenix-foundry-model-locomotive-engine/

A podcast about the environmental impacts of Ballarat’s gold rush: https://talesfromratcity.com/2018/08/12/episode-eight/

A blogpost from the MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences): https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2018/08/29/industrial-revolution-in-australia-impact-on-manufacturing-in-the-1800s/

The Science of Gold

What is gold and why do we like it so much? In response to the many questions we receive like this from visiting students during our education sessions, let’s explore the origins of gold and our fascination with it.

Where does gold come from?

Humans can’t make gold, although many in the past have tried. And the Earth can’t make more of it even if we wait a couple of billion years. Only recently did scientists confirm the long-held theory that gold is created by the universe during supernovae (when neutron [dying] stars explode/collide). These violent astronomical events produce lots of the heavy metals we now use for things like ‘bling-y’ jewellery, as well as microcircuits for electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Gold can even be used in food like this burger, which costs $AU81! This great video explains the creation of gold really well.

All

People today use gold for all kinds of weird and wonderful things. We hope the 24 karat gold toilet paper isn’t a real thing. Pictured are gold pizza, gold sushi, a gold facial, gold toilet paper, a gold doughnut, a gold cappuccino, gold flies for fly-fishing, a gold turkey, and the $AU81 gold burger!

Neutron stars are the densest objects in the known universe, and when their super-hot collapsing cores explode or smash into one another, they create elements like gold and silver. It is believed that such an event or series of events in the distant past created meteors containing gold and silver which then fell to Earth, delivering the precious heavy metals that adventurous miners sought to dig out of the ground in places like Ballarat and Bendigo during the 19th century. According to some research published in 2011, a meteor shower about 4 billion years ago dumped 20 billion billion (Wow!! That’s a big number!) tons of gold and other precious metals on our planet!

The chemical symbol which you find on the periodic table for gold is Au (from the Latin word aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’). As gold is an element, it can’t be broken down into other substances, which is the reason humans can’t make gold themselves (although with the development of nuclear chemistry, one day we might figure it out).

Why do we like gold so much?

Many cultures around the world for at least the last 8,000 years have used gold for things like decoration/art, religious ceremonies, false teeth, currency, sporting medals, medicine, and more recently in human history, electronics and satellites. It is useful to us because it never goes rusty, it’s soft and easy to shape, it conducts heat really well, and it’s a beautiful colour. In scientific language, we describe gold as being dense (that’s why it’s heavy), malleable (soft and easy to bend) and lustrous (shiny).

While some cultures have used it for thousands of years, others have not. For example, the Aboriginal people of Ballarat – the Wadawurrung people – knew of the gold that could easily be picked up from the ground across Western Victoria, but instead they valued much more practical and sustainable natural resources like brushtail possums, and certain kinds of stones useful for tool making. You can learn about how gold has been used by many cultures here.

One of the main reasons we like gold today is because it’s rare. If all of the gold found on Earth were collected together, it would only fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools! If it were more common and easy to find, it wouldn’t be worth anywhere near as much money as it is today. The price of gold changes day to day, depending on how much is being dug out of the ground, and the number of people keen to buy the gold (the demand for it). The price of gold today (9/2/18) is $54.52 per gram, or to state the value in the unit of measurement more commonly used to weigh gold, it’s currently worth $1,695.97 per ounce (1 ounce = 31.1 grams). You can find the current price of gold here: https://goldprice.org/

Ballarat is an alluvial goldfield, basically meaning that our gold has been brought here and is moved around by water (including underground rivers) and is often on the surface or not far beneath it. For miners in Ballarat at the beginning of the gold rush (from 1851 until about 1853), this meant they didn’t have to dig very deep underground to find big gold nuggets. By the 1860s most of that easy-to-find gold near the surface was gone, meaning miners had to dig much deeper underground to continue finding payable (enough to make a profit) amounts of the precious yellow metal. This is when deep lead and quartz mining really took off in Ballarat.

The gold miners who came to Ballarat largely used gold to buy better lives (better clothes, housing, food, investments etc.) and the majority of the billions of dollars of gold found here was turned into gold sovereigns (English money made of gold, after which our museum – Sovereign Hill – got its name) or gold ingots (gold bars). Some however, was turned into spectacular, flashy pieces of jewellery, and even the beautiful mayoral chains owned by the City of Ballarat!

If you visit a jewellery store, you will notice items made of gold are usually described as ’18 karat gold’ or ’10 karat gold’. A karat is a unit of measurement which explains how much gold was mixed into the alloy (a mixture of metals) that have gone into the making of that piece of jewellery. A carat is used to value gemstones and pearls. 18 karat gold jewellery has a higher amount of gold in it than 10 karat gold jewellery, which is why it is always more expensive. If, say, a ring is made from 24 karat gold, it is pure gold – but of course this would make it an easily bent piece of jewellery!

The Castlemaine Goldfields is the only mining company in Ballarat still successfully finding payable gold underneath the city. There is still a lot of gold in the ground in this part of Victoria, but it’s very difficult and expensive to get out of the ground.

Links and References

TED Ed on the chemistry and origins of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf_4z4AKwJg

Sovereign Hill research notes for students about the different kinds of mining common in Ballarat in the 19th century: http://education.sovereignhill.com.au/media/uploads/sovehill-pdf-file/SovHill-mining-notes-ss1.pdf

Some great facts about gold: https://www.livescience.com/39187-facts-about-gold.html

A report on the recent confirmation that gold is produced by supernovae: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/uoc–asc101517.php

A fantastic explainer video on the creation of gold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iaviqwMfJ0

How the gold karat system works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fineness

Gold in antiquity: https://www.ancient.eu/gold/

A video explaining why we use gold for currency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18yIHCSemhs

How NASA uses gold for space exploration: https://curiosity.com/topics/nasa-uses-gold-on-its-spacecraft-curiosity/

Should we eat gold?: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/is-gold-safe-to-eat

Gold according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold

What is more valuable than gold?: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-rarer-than-gold-45073180/