The miners of the Western Australian goldfields were the driving force behind the colony's Federation Movement. Many of the prospectors and alluvial miners of Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie, and other centres in the goldfields, came to Western Australia during the 1890s from eastern Australia. A large number of Victorian-born miners participated in the formation of the Australian Natives' Association - an organisation which had helped push for Federation in eastern Australia.
Many of the residents of the goldfields brought with them radical ideas about republicanism, socialism and unionism. Hostility to the government of John Forrest ran very deep among the miners of the fields. The Forrest Government's 'ten foot' law which forbade alluvial miners from digging any deeper than ten feet, granted big gold mining companies the rights to all minerals below that level, sparking widespread protests and unrest among the miners in the late 1890s.
Miners complained that the Forrest Government had used the wealth generated by the gold boom to benefit the residents of Perth, Fremantle and established farming districts. They resented the absence of government services such as fresh water and felt excluded from decision-making by an electoral distribution weighed heavily in favour of pastoral and farming districts.
For the miners, Federation represented a way of achieving fairer representation in Western Australia as well as affirming their links with friends and family in the eastern colonies. By 1899 this strength of feeling combined with frustration with the Forrest Government gave rise to a move to separate from Western Australia.
- Did the miners feel like they had more in common with other WA residents or with people in the Eastern states? Why?
- Do you think the miners were treated fairly by the Forrest Government? Why or why not?
- Find out more about the Australian Natives' Association. Why were they so in favour of Federation? What were their other agendas?
Australian Natives’ Association
Ten foot law