Discover Young’s rich gold heritage and Chinese history, and why the region was once known as the ‘El Dorado’ of NSW.
Known as Lambing Flat until 1861, Young has a fascinating and at times volatile history steeped in gold. After the precious metal was first discovered in the area in 1860, Lambing Flat became known as the ‘El Dorado’ of NSW, with over 14,600kg of mainly alluvial gold extracted from its goldfields.
As is to be expected in the discovery of a rich goldfield, the Burrangong field drew in thousands of miners and prospectors from both near and far. This was a rich and vast area that could be worked easily with limited capital, equipment or manpower, making it every unlucky miner’s dream. By the 1860s, such places were rare as gold was proving harder to find, and competition for the good ground was immense.
AN INFLUX OF CHINESE MINERS
Among the new arrivals were 1500 Chinese miners, who staked their claim on the Lambing Flat filed from its earliest days. The Chinese were organised labourers, arriving in NSW in groups of around 100 people, complete with a leader. This approach allowed them to undertake mining in a vastly more systematic way than European miners, who worked alone or in small groups.
Chinese teams were prepared to invest time and labour in building infrastructure, such as water races and dams, to underpin their mining efforts. Water was typically a very scarce resource on the diggings, so the way the Chinese were able to provide for their own needs was a major point of difference.
The success of the Chinese miners in re-working ground that Europeans had abandoned as no longer payable led to palpable jealousy and resentment, with Europeans accusing the Chinese of ‘taking their gold’.
While anti-Chinese sentiment was widespread, the highly dispersed nature and small number of miners on many of the NSW diggings had usually acted to prevent major confrontation. Many predicted that it needed only a rush to a goldfield rich enough to attract a large concentration of European and Chinese miners for an explosive situation to develop. Thus, with 9000 miners on the Burrangong and Lambing Flat goldfields by 1861, the stage was set for confrontation.
THE 1861 LAMBING FLAT RIOTS
In late 1860 and early 1861 there were several attacks on Chinese miners. On 30 June 1861, some 3000 Europeans marched against Chinese miners on Lambing Flat goldfields, attacking their two main camps at Blackguard Gully and Back Creek. The Europeans were mainly armed with pick handles and carried a flag emblazoned with the words, 'Roll-up Roll-up No Chinese', which is on display today in the Lambing Flat Folk Museum. In a brutal expulsion that included scalping some ‘Celestials’ as their pigtails were cut off, the Chinese were banished on a cold midwinter night, with no equipment or provisions.
After the riot, 1276 fearful Chinese took shelter at local landowner James Roberts’ property at 'Currawong', 20km away near Murrumburrah. Roberts, his wife Elizabeth and their employees fed and sheltered the Chinese for two weeks.
Police reinforcements arrived on the field a week later, with three of the ringleaders arrested on 14 July. That night, 1000 miners attacked the police lock-up to free the men, resulting in one death when the police fired and charged the crowd. The next day the men were released.
The riot led the assistant gold commissioner to read the British Parliament’s Riot Act of 1714, which gave local authorities the power to declare a group of twelve or more people to be an unlawful assembly, and order them to disperse or face punishment.
Such a blatant uprising against law and order shocked the colony, with popular opinion blaming it on the presence of the Chinese. Parliament passed an anti-Chinese immigration bill and restricted where the Chinese could mine. This is regarded as the beginning of the ‘White Australia Policy’, restricting non-European immigration, which ended with the abolition of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1973.
This highly discriminatory legislation did help reduce tensions, creating a gradual status quo of resentful co-existence. As the alluvial gold reserves dwindled, most Chinese miners returned home, while those who stayed often drifted into new occupations. To diminish the memory of the riots, the name Lambing Flat was changed to Young, after the governor Sir John Young. Today, all citizens are respected and welcome in Young.
Those interested is discovering more about this significant period of Australian history can visit many of these sites along the Gold Trails of Young and Harden, many of which are still in a similar condition to how they were in the mid-19th century. Those eager to try their hand at fossicking are also encouraged to do so, with gold pans are available for hire from the Lambing Flat Folk Museum.