The Town That Saved Queensland

Early in 1866, not even a decade after its formation, the Australian colony of Queensland was experiencing a recession, exacerbated by a prolonged drought and was on the edge of bankruptcy.

Mary River Crossing at Tuchekoi between Pomona and Imbil (1931-01-01/1931-12-31) by Agriculture and Stock Department, Publicity BranchQueensland State Archives

In desperation, the government offered a £3,000 reward for the discovery of gold. While gold was first discovered near Gympie in 1851 by John Carne Bidwill, the first Land Commissioner of Wide Bay, it was James Nash who would turn it into a significant find.    

James Nash in his later years (1890-01-01/1890-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

An impoverished Nash was heading towards Gladstone from Nanango in August 1867 with only his panning dish, pick and dog when he discovered ‘colour’ near the Mary River. 

In a day-and-a-half of prospecting he found approximately 33 grams (an ounce and three pennyweights) of gold. After replacing his broken pick in Maryborough he found another 2.1 kilograms (75 ounces) in six days. He sold the gold in Brisbane and returned to the diggings. 

Letter from James Nash to the Minister of Lands regarding his discovery of a gold field in the Wide Bay District and stating his claim of the reward offered for the discovery of goldfields by the government. (1867-10-16/1867-10-16) by Lands DepartmentQueensland State Archives

In October 1867, Nash penned a letter to the Minster for Lands, confirming the extent of the gold in the area, collecting the reward and sparking a gold rush.    

It transformed the luck of the state, hailing the town as the colony’s saviour.    

Gympie Goldfield (No.2 S.G. Eastern Underground) (1897-01-01/1897-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey of Lands Branch, Photographic BranchQueensland State Archives

The alluvial gold deposits were mined within a year, so underground reserves were created to continue mining. 

Four miners at the head of the winze, Gympie Goldfield (1897-01-01/1897-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey of Lands Branch, Photographic BranchQueensland State Archives

Reaching its peak between 1900 and 1910, the success of the gold mines created a permanent township, and many now heritage-listed buildings were constructed during this time. 

Mary Street Gympie (1868-01-01/1868-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Formerly named Nashville to honour James Nash, the town was later renamed to Gympie after the Gubbi Gubbi word ‘gimpi gimpi’ – a stinging tree that grows well in the area.    

The discovery of gold helped change the course of history for the state’s economic development and created a town with a gold mine of history, nestled on the banks of the Mary River.

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