Amidst the soaring price of gold Dr Ben Mountford is unearthing historic goldfields tales, researching their impact on the world’s social, economical and political climate.
By Lauren Mitchell
The US presidential election outcome was not the only surprise to happen in November last year.
While the world was preoccupied with talk of uncertain times, something else unpredictable was taking place. The price of gold soared above $1300 an ounce for the first time since January 2015, crushing stocks, bonds and most other major assets.
“After Trump was elected, one of the first things people noticed was the gold price soared,” says Dr Ben Mountford. “Gold has been a safe haven in times of trouble across history and that’s forced people to do amazing things to get it.”
Ben is holed up at La Trobe University in Bendigo researching another, perhaps more drastic world event than a Trump presidency. He’s delving into the heady gold rush years of the 1800s to determine the global impacts of the rushes of Bendigo and beyond.
“There was a time when Bendigo and Ballarat were the two most well-known cities in the world,” Ben said. Although his work stretches further than Victoria, this place is a major focus.
“Between the late 1840s and early 1890s more gold was found in the world than in the previous 3000 years, and that was not just in Australia. So you have this really interesting question of what does that do to the world?”
He says, for a start, not everyone was a fan of much of the world packing up and hotfooting it to the dust of Victoria’s goldfields.
“There were some strong critiques to the gold rush overseas. British newspapers were worried about England losing workers and their people getting gold fever and some campaigned against people coming here. They wrote if everyone was rushing to be rich, what kind of society would that create?
“There were a number of great thinkers of the day who were worried about what this would mean for the world economy, trade and people’s welfare. Those big economic questions in some way are academic ones but it’s also about how that affected people’s lives.
“I’m thinking about the international stories of Bendigo — where people came from and how Bendigo became a cosmopolitan place during the gold rush, and all the questions and issues that arise from that.”…
Read the full story in the autumn issue.