Mining has played a central part in the development of Western Australia, starting with the great gold rush of the late 1890s. The revenue produced from gold production, the employment it generated and the growth of other industries to serve mining communities was stimulated by an enormous influx of people and ideas. The arrival of tens of thousands of prospectors and their families in the late nineteenth century provided enough human capital to build a vibrant State in the new Australian federation.
Throughout the twentieth century mining of all types of minerals has been a constant presence in the Western Australian identity. During this time the mining industry has become truly industrialised. The individual prospectors which began the gold rush of the 1890s were soon replaced by mining companies using increasingly sophisticated technology and refined techniques to extract precious metals from the ground. In 1901 underground mining was the only method used to mine, but in the latter half of the twentieth century the introduction of improved earth-moving machinery allowed open cut mining to come to the fore.
The wealth generated by gold, nickel, iron ore and oil booms brought tremendous benefits to the State and the nation, but required an enormous investment by governments and private enterprise to build the required infrastructure. Some examples of this investment include the construction of the Goldfields Water Scheme, the laying of railways to transport iron ore across hundreds of kilometres of desert, the building of gas pipelines, the establishment of ports throughout the State, the construction of smelters and processing plants, and the building of oil rigs for off shore drilling.
Other types of mining important to telling the story of Western Australia during the twentieth century include the mining of tin, bauxite, coal, mineral sands and asbestos. Their discovery and exploitation is a vital part of the story of the economic history of Australia. When taken together these mining industries represent a sector of the economy worth over $15,000 million in 1999.
In 1900 Western Australia was a pauper state in the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia, reliant on grants from Canberra. In spite of Western Australia’s
resilient gold industry little changed for more than half a century. The great mineral booms of the 1960s, however, saw both Western Australia and the Australian nation benefit from the State’s abundant natural
resources, as it became one of the nation’s richer States.
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