Dr Barry McGowan

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Fool's Gold. Myths and legends of gold seeking in Australia

(Published 2006, Hachette Livre)
294 pages, 7 maps, 36 black and white photos, limp cover
Foreword by John Molony
Emeritus Professor
Australian National University, Canberra

Starting in 1851 gold was found in often stunning abundance in New South Wales, but particularly in Victoria’s Golden Triangle. Many thought that Australia had to be laced with gold, but Ballarat and Bendigo did not easily recur. The tragedy was that enough gold was found in countless places to cause an initial rush to them. Quickly, too quickly, the gold ran thin and hopes, often lives, were shattered.

Even worse was the frustration, almost madness, brought on when El Dorado could not be found. Astoundingly, too few accepted that it simply did not exist. No one has told the story of poor, deluded Lasseter and his semi-crazed vision of a reef as true as Barry McGowan. Yet even he leaves the faintest of doubts in the reader’s mind. Perhaps out there somewhere in the vast, dry distances beyond Uluru, Lassester’s Reef shimmers with gold. That it cannot be found is of no consequence to the seeker to whom the quest is almost all.

Of course that is the thing about gold. Men, but few women, when they hear it has been found get up, leave all and rush to the place to scratch up some for themselves. Fool’s Gold is a gripping, at times heart-wrenching story because of the needless misery and despair brought on so many by that primeval urge to rush. Around this phenomenon, and sometimes causing it, a vast literature grew up which was often more hair brained than the reality that gave it life. Barry McGowan’s examination of that literature forms part of the rich lode on which his book is based.

Fool's Gold does not attempt to tell the full story of Australian myths and legends about gold. It deals only with the least foolish. In the end we put it down with awe and a tinge of sorrow. Blighted lives, unfulfilled dreams, but yet the dreamers strove valiantly. Who are we to say they failed? One thing we can say. Barry McGowan has achieved a worthwhile goal, admirably so.

Book reviews

Quirky and full of little-known pieces of the historical jigsaw, this book is a fascinating read. (Australian Geographic)

There are numerous books about the gold rushes in Australia ...What distinguishes this intriguing study is that it examines the lure of gold and the myths that arise around it. (Age)

Barry McGowan's incisive account peaks with the hopeless quest for the legendary Lasseter's Reef. (Australian)

The final section of the book, a genuinely fascinating postscript, looks at the greatest of all the 'fool's gold' follies - the story of Harold Lasseter and his reef of gold. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Dr Barry McGowan ranges across Australia and the world dissecting the origins of El Dorado...the first Australian gold rushes; the influx of diggers changing the face of colonial society (Courier Mail)


Home | Australian Ghost Towns | Fool's Gold. Myths and legends of gold seeking in Australia | Dust and Dreams, Mining Communities in South-east New South Wales | Tracking the Dragon. A History of the Chinese in the Riverina | The Golden South. A History of the Araluen, Bell's Creek and Major's Creek gold fields | Contact & To Order

© Barry McGowan