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On permanent display in the vaults of the Old Treasury Building is an exhibition about the First Peoples of Victoria at the time of the Gold Rush.

The Gold Rush represented a second wave of dispossession for many of Victoria’s First Peoples, their living and hunting grounds destroyed and waterways polluted. The impact on the environment is apparent in the 1855 painting by Edward Roper, reproduced for the exhibition courtesy of the State Library of NSW, entitled Gold Diggings Ararat. 

Against the odds, however, some Aboriginal Victorians adapted, finding opportunities on the goldfields. In an unfamiliar landscape, many newcomers settling in Victoria to ‘find their fortune’ depended on Aboriginal guides to point the way. Local Aboriginal people located food, bush medicine and precious waterholes. Demand was also high on pastoral runs with many Aboriginal Victorians employed in roles such as shearing and droving. And Aboriginal people quickly appreciated the value of gold and proved to be expert gold seekers. Many ST Gill paintings, also on display, are reflective of many of these roles.

The Native Police Corps, established in 1842 with more than 100 Aboriginal men, also played an important part in the Gold Rush story, with original records from Public Record Office Victoria’s collection on display including reports from the Superintendent of the Native Police Corps. 

“The strength, and wisdom of our ancestors has enabled us to walk in their footsteps towards our own healing, and walk the path of healing our Country. For this we thank you, our Martiinga Kuli Murrup (Ancestral spirits),” Rebecca Phillips, descendant of Caroline Malcolm, Dja Dja Wurrung.

This is a FREE exhibition, no bookings required.

Visit to see what other exhibitions are on display throughout the building. 


Old Treasury Building
Spring Street, Melbourne


Image Gallery

gold rush painting
Edward Roper’s painting of the Ararat diggings shows a group of Aboriginal people standing in the centre of the field. One of the figures is kneeling and could be panning for gold. The impact on the environment is also clearly visible. We see a vast, largely treeless field, with mounds of unearthed clay. The landscape has been literally turned upside down by diggers. Gold diggings, Ararat, circa 1858 / painted by Edward Roper, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW.


handwritten sheet of paper
On 21 September 1851 Dana and the Native Police troopers arrived at Ballarat to announce a new licence fee and issue monthly licences. Unsurprisingly the miners weren’t happy with the new tax. After a public meeting, some men attempted to pay for their licences, but were attacked by an angry mob. Superintendent of the Native Police, Pulteney Dana, praised the intervention of the Native Police, who prevented serious injury. Page 1 of Superintendent of the Native Police Corps, Henry E. Pulteney Dana, to the Colonial Secretary, reporting his arrival to the Ballarat diggings, 22 September 1851. PROV vprs2878 P0 unit51 item417.


gold rush painting
First Peoples also adapted to the commerce of the goldfields, selling goods such as baskets, nets, and dallong, heavy thick rugs or cloaks made from Wollert (possum), goin (kangaroo) or tooan (flying foxes). Here, you can see two Wathawurrung people, one carrying goods, on what is now Main Road Ballarat. Ballarat, Victoria by S.T. Gill circa 1854, NLA.


Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples