There is no evidence that the Aborigines who inhabited Australia for over 40,000 years ever used gold or other metals. The first discoveries of gold date well back to before the rushes of the 1850s. In those days, all gold belonged to the Crown. A shepherd named MacGregor regularly appeared in Sydney with small nuggets, but vanished before he could be followed.
In 1823, Mr. J. McBrien, a government surveyor, reported the discovery of alluvial gold on the Fish River, NSW and in 1839 Sir Paul Edmund de Strezlecki found gold near Hartley, NSW, but did not publish his find until 1845.
The authorities hushed up these finds in fear of a rush. The Rev. W.B. Clarke, an amateur geologist, found gold in 1841 near Cox’s River. When he showed the Governor his small nugget, Governor Gipps said
Put it away Mr. Clarke or we shall all have our throats cut.
(Phillip V, Gold, Bay Books, Kensington, NSW 1984 p.4)
Ophir was the first place payable gold was discovered in Australia in 1851, when a couple of large nuggets and 113g of panned gold was taken to Sydney by Edward Hargraves. This sparked Australia's first gold rush, which proved to be short lived and did not lead to the establishment of a town.
Tent towns sprang up overnight on some diggings and, with the lure of easy gold as temptation, many crimes were committed. The Colonial police, called troopers and traps, not only maintained the peace, but also enforced the heavy licence fee which the government imposed on all diggers. Much of the police force came to be made up of ex-convicts from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) as the original members gave up their careers to try their luck as diggers.
In the early years, the diggings were not considered a suitable place for women. As a consequence, many families were left in tent towns like Sandringham, in Melbourne, while husbands and brothers sought their fortune. Those who did make the move to goldfields were often in a minority and faced great hardships. (By 1854 , there were 4,023 women on the Ballarat goldfields compared to 12,660 men.) Some, like Martha Clendinning, were bold enough to operate their own businesses while others took up the arduous work of mining. A few, like Lola Montez, found fame and fortune in the fledgling towns while many, faced with poverty and destitution, were forced into prostitution to become "fallen angels". During the mid 1850s, the 'civilising' influence of women was sought for the male-dominated colony and many young, single women were encouraged to migrate.
Unfortunately 10 months after the Ophir strike, it dried up leaving Ophir today as a reserve only.
Today the Ophir Reserve is a picnic and camping area located 27 kms north east of Orange where Summer Hill and Lewis Ponds Creek converge. You can still walk around the old workings and tunnels and see the site of the original find.
In the 1890's the focus of gold mining moved to Doctor's Hill about 3 kms from the camping area. Gunnadoo Gold Mine continues to operate, producing the gold for the medals at the Sydney Olympics.