A feature of the late 1850s may well have been the rise of reef gold mining prospects and the consequent development of settled communities, but this was only half of the story. Not everyone wanted a settled existence on the fields.

Many still sought out the boom times of a new alluvial goldfield where they could make their fortune with little capital, a moderate amount of work and a bit of luck. Unfortunately amongst the diggers of good repute that favoured this lifestyle, there was also a very significant number of nere-do-wells ever willing to put their own self-interest above all other concerns.
Unfortunate also was the fact that the alluvial mining community included the increasing number of Chinese then flocking into NSW. With existing animosity and resentment already widespread against the Chinese this was a powderkeg ready to blow should any newly discovered field be rich enough to attract a real crowd.

Left: Diggers of low degree S.T. Gill 1853.
Reproduced courtesy National Library of Australia nla-pic.an:7537603

Suddenly there it was, the new decade just one month old and the next big thing had arrived - Kiandra.

Located in the northern plateaus of the Australian Alps south of Tumut, it was somewhat mistakenly called the Snowy River field (given the location of this river was well to the south and flowed in the opposite direction south into Victoria!)

Alluvial gold miners twitchy to be first on the ground swooped on the news and the rush was on - as well it needed to be. These were still the summer months when it was just another patch of ground to be worked. Things however would be very different come winter when a thick blanket of snow reminded everyone this was an alpine goldfield.

4th February 1860

“There have been 1500 persons pass through Tumut these last four days, and they are still going. But they are going to a very cold place, for there is ice there now half an inch thick…” –

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25th February 1860

In short order the name Gibsons Plains started to crop up alongside Kiandra as a more geographically appropriate name for the new diggings.

Lest anyone doubt that these grounds were the real deal one report asserted that “We have unmistakeably entered a new era in the history of gold mining in the Southern Districts. So widespread and deep-seated an excitement has not possessed the minds of our people since the early days of gold mining…”

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28th February 1860

“On a close inspection of the various claims, I found that the majority of those in the creek were held by the miners of Tumberumba, and others from the heads of the Tumut, the accident of living nearest of course giving them the first advantage in the rush …”

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1st April 1860

Suddenly however it seemed the southern El Dorado was not quite the city of gold everyone had first imagined it to be.

Come April Fools Day the human tide already seemed to have turned and be flowing in the opposite direction away from the frosty alpine meadows. Kiandra and environs was still there as a viable goldfield of course – just not quite as overwhelming as first thought – and then also there was the approaching winter.

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What the Kiandra discoveries did do beyond any measure was to put southern NSW gold firmly into the headlines and to set up a major new pulse of goldseekers flowing into the region.

In this environment, the discovery of a new goldfield near Murrumburrah marked the start of a remarkable influx of new miners into these previously slumbering rural landscapes and their environs. While the name of the field would officially be 'Burrangong' once it was declared in November, the name most commonly used for the diggings was Lambing Flat.

10th July 1860

The first news of the discovery came from the adjacent town of Binalong in July where an urgent request for mining equipment was received.

As the letter said “there is a second Snowy just broke out .. but the Snowy will be nothing to it”

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24th July 1860

News soon followed that both this new field on White’s lambing station and the nearby Demondrille Creek were promising, but it was still too early to consider that a full scale rush was on.

In all 100 people were on the field then including a party of Chinese miners.

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4th August 1860

Within a month though the news was beginning to build of the potential of the new find – and indeed of the district.

Just down the road at Gundagai new gold discoveries at Stony Creek were also beginning to gain attention.

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So just what was the overall state of the NSW diggings at this time?

As always, talk of new finds was constantly trickling through in the Sydney media. The discovery of gold however did not itself a goldfield make and often it took several months for the wheat to separate out from the chaff.

By late August for example, reporters were still wary of giving the new gold finds north of Murrumburrah at Lambing Flat a tick as the next big thing.

They could however confirm that with 50,000 ounces of gold already on its scorecard, Kiandra would always count as a major find - even if everyone upped and left there and then.

21st August 1860

This it must be said was not going to happen. As those who decided to stay at Kiandra over winter hunkered down and waited for spring to come in order to resume mining, the Chinese on the diggings showed their resourcefulness by taking on a winter job of providing a human carrier service for goods and materials onto the snow-locked fields.

Interesting also is the arrival of new names like CARCOAR and BUNDA in the main news section of the gold field reports.

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25th September 1860

Come springtime, and those on the Kiandra field however had some serious competition for the label of the next big thing in southern NSW.

By then the Lambing Flat diggings were getting a reputation for just how extensive the distribution of gold across the region seemed to be and how relatively easy it was to obtain it – quite a heady mix this when the news got out.

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8th October 1858

By October Lambing Flat was really beginning to make a stir with one pundit predicting it would produce more gold than any other goldfield in NSW.

Small wonder then that people were really starting to stream in. Significantly fears were already being expressed about the general lack of water however, and it was the absence of this precious resource that would help fuel tensions on the field.

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Exactly what was it about the new field at Lambing Flat that set it apart from those numerous big new discoveries that had gone before?

27th August 1860

Also noted in this report was the fact that “In New South Wales, the last few years show so considerable an increase in the yield of gold, with almost an absence of machinery, the average earnings per man being far above the Victorian diggers it is not very surprising under these circumstances that there are thousands of diggers in Victoria at the present time eager to get to New South Wales.”

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7th February 1861

As a speech given at Lambing Flat early the following year was to explain however, the general state of NSW goldfields was poor … “instance Kiandra, Araluen, Turon, Meroo, Tambaroora, &c., in short, gentlemen, they are all in a state of insolvency and the only solvent one is the one on which we are striving for an honest livelihood.”

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With the general state of alluvial mining on the NSW fields being sluggish, and Kiandra failing to live up to its early promise, it's easy to see why the rich prospects of the Lambing Flat field excited such attention.

Because of its wide extent and the easy nature of the ground, it was a field that could be worked with little financial investment - a 'workin' man's field as opposed to a capitalist's field.

This at the very time when the future viability of the self employed, small scale alluvial miner was being questioned amidst the likelihood of NSW following Victoria down the path of independent diggers becoming a mere labour force to further the interests of mining companies.

Passionate stuff this and any wonder that when one threw in the vexed issues of the Chinese presence on the new fields, people seized upon it as the pivotal issue around which to condense a broader sense of 'they dun me wrong'. This in turn ushered in a very tragic ten month period on the new Lambing Flat field as the first racial riots erupted there at the start of summer 1860.

18th December 1860

The first news of a major incident at Lambing Flat broke in the Sydney media just prior to Christmas.

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22nd December 1860

Significantly it was soon followed up by a series of reports from Yass questioning the veracity of the claims. It was noted that “one Chinaman lost his life from the buffeting he received. Some others had their pigtails cut off, and were somewhat injured, but there does not appear to have been any premeditation in the affair.”

Maybe – maybe not. The Yass Courier was after all noted for its partisan support of the miners. Certainly come the new year and further disturbances there was no doubting the premeditation evident in the attacks on Chinese.

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