A selection of an intriguing group of brooches are on display in the Australian Art Collection, Queensland Art Gallery — made by unknown jewellers, they were produced in the Australian goldfields, circa 1880–1915 and are a peculiarly Australian innovation. These elegant pieces in uniquely Australian designs which are made from gold, small nuggets of native gold, fragments of gold-bearing quartz, and garnet, employ mining motifs such as picks, shovels, buckets and prospector’s pan.
Following significant discoveries of gold in Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a movement of making innovative gold jewellery began, with the earliest being dateable from the mid-1850s. Original examples were quite large, and most of these were melted down when smaller brooches were more in favour.
Though the makers are unknown, the jewellery’s existence embellishes the story of the Australian gold discoveries.
Charters Towers goldfields
Due to the gold boom between 1872 and 1899, Charters Towers in North Queensland — affectionately known as ‘The World’ — operated the only Stock Exchange outside of a capital city. Its population of around 30,000 made Charters Towers the largest city in Queensland other than Brisbane where the metropolitan population in the early 1880s was about 37,000.
Goldfields bar brooch (dark quartz with applied flowers)
Goldfields bar brooch (gold bearing ore)
Goldfields bar brooch (three bars with four nuggets and garnet)
Goldfields bar brooch and chain (two bars with large nugget)
Goldfields brooch and chain (boomerang with gold nugget)
Goldfields bar brooch (two bars with large nugget)
Goldfields stick-pin (crossed pick and shovel with garnet)
Goldfields pendant (crossed pick and shovel)
Goldfields brooch (crossed pick and shovel with nugget)
Goldfields bar brooch (two bars with pick, shovel and prospector’s pan)
Goldfields brooch (shovel with suspended nugget)
Goldfields brooch (crossed pick and shovel with nuggets)
Goldfields brooch and chain (crossed pick and shovel with bucket and nuggets)
Goldfields brooch (crossed pick and shovel with bucket)
Featured image: Unknown Jeweller, Australia / Goldfields brooch (crossed pick and shovel with bucket) c.1880–1915 / Gold and gold nuggets / 3 x 5.2 x 0.7cm
All brooches purchased 2011 with funds from Margaret Mittelheuser AM, and Cathryn Mittelheuser AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art