HOW would you like to find a gold nugget as big as a football and weighing as much as yourself ? Several such lumps have been found near Ballarat where we now are, and who can tell what we may see if we wander about through the hills ?
The earth of about one half of Victoria contains more or less gold, and from this mining region alone has come gold to the amount of three hundred million dollars.
Ballarat was the birthplace of the mining industry of Australia. Gold in paying quantities was first found in New South Wales shortly after its discovery in California, but the product was small, and it was not until some of these big lumps were unearthed near Ballarat that people from all parts of the world flocked here to dig. They came by sea to Melbourne and thence inland to Ballarat. There were so many that Melbourne soon grew to be a rich city, its wealth of today starting from the discovery of gold.
The first gold found was in loose veins and dust in the bottom of the streams and along their banks. Then a nugget was unearthed that weighed ninety-eight pounds, and then another still larger. Later on came the famous Welcome nugget, which weighed over one hundred and eighty-four pounds and which sold in Melbourne for fifty thousand dollars; and later still the Welcome Stranger, the biggest of all.
Do you wonder that the miners became almost crazy over these discoveries ? They dug up the earth and washed it again and again to get out the gold, so that every bit of dirt over which we are walking this morning has been handled over and over. As the loose gold gave out, the miners dug deeper and deeper. They found veins of the precious metal away down under the earth, and great works were put up to hoist the gold-bearing rock to the surface and crush it. Some of the mines are now almost half a mile deep and are still yielding gold.
Soon after the big nuggets were found, rich mining camps sprang up not only in Victoria but in New South Wales. Then gold was discovered in Queensland and later in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, until today there is not a state of Australasia which does not produce some gold.
Mount Morgan, a mountain of iron mixed with gold, near the coast of Queensland, is said to be the richest gold mine of the world, and about the town of Gympie, some distance off, there is so much gold in the earth that the boys sometimes find the yellow grains in the gutters after a rain. There are more than two thousand gold mines in Queensland alone, and also rich deposits of tin, iron, cop-per, and lead. The tin is found mixed with the sand of the streams, the grains looking very like the iron filings of a machine shop or smithy.
In Western Australia the best gold fields are in the desert. Camels are used by the prospectors, and supplies of food and water are carried from one place to another by caravans. There are parts of Western Australia where we might travel for hundreds of miles over nothing but rock and sand, but the rock and sand would be more or less mixed with gold.
Australia is a wonderful continent. It is rich in minerals and other resources, but parts of it are so little known that we can not tell just how rich it is. It already vies with North America and Africa as the greatest of the world’s gold producers, and it has vast beds of coal north, south, and west of Sydney which supply most of the ships of the southern Pacific Ocean.
Let us go on with our trip about Ballarat. We enter mine after mine, now descending the shafts and climbing through tunnels over rocks away down underground, now watching the heavy stamps crush the ore to a powder to get the gold out, and then visiting the furnaces from which flow the rich yellow streams into the molds, forming the gold bricks of commerce.
How would you like to attend school in a mine ? This is what is done in the mining college at Ballarat. The college has a mine beneath it, worked by the pupils under the eyes of their teachers. The boys themselves blast down the rock. They manage the machinery which hoists it to the surface. They crush it and gather the gold and smelt it into bricks.
There is gold on the train which takes us to Melbourne. It is on its way to the mint, where it will be coined into money and flow through the streams of commerce all over the world. The men in charge of it take us with them, and the mint officials show us all the processes of melting and coining, after which we go to the hotel. We have seen so much gold that it dances before our eyes in our sleep, and we dream of yellow nuggets as big as our heads, which we make into beautiful coins to give us all we want for the rest of our lives.
The next day is spent in driving about Mel-bourne. It is a fine city almost as big as
Boston, with magnificent buildings of gray stone, wide streets paved with wood blocks, and so many parks and gardens that it seems more than half pleasure grounds. We drive out to the Flemington Race Course and take a spin around the track, which the Australians think the finest of its kind upon earth.
After that we look at the public library and the art gallery and visit the colleges and schools. Melbourne has excellent schools, and the same is true of every town in Australia. There are fine libraries almost everywhere, and even small towns have schools of arts, where good books are kept for reference.
We spend some time in the zoological garden and the botanical garden and take a ride on the river Yarra, which runs through Melbourne on its way to the sea. Melbourne is very near the mouth of the Yarra, so near that large steamers come to anchor in the city and the biggest of ocean vessels have a safe harbor only a few miles below it. It is therefore a great commercial point, and its people do business with all parts of the world. It vies with Sydney as the greatest city of Australia, the two towns being so jealous of each other that here in Mel-bourne we have to be careful not to say much in praise of Sydney.