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Sludge:  Water Supply and Pollution in the Gold Rush

June 15, 2023 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

$10 – $20

We are delighted to welcome distinguished Professor of Archaeology, Susan Lawrence, to deliver this co-presentation between Engineering Heritage Victoria and the RHSV. 

This is a fascinating examination of how water supply led to a troubling legacy of the gold rush.

Everyone knows gold made Victoria rich. But did you know that gold mining was disastrous for the land, engulfing it in floods of sand, gravel and silt that gushed out of the mines?

Or that this environmental devastation still affects our rivers and floodplains?

Or that the problem had its origins in the sophisticated water supply systems built for the mines?

Victorians had a name for the mining waste: ‘sludge’. Sludge submerged Victoria’s best grapevines near Bendigo, filled Laanecoorie Reservoir on the Loddon River and flowed down from Beechworth over thousands of hectares of rich agricultural land. Children and animals drowned in sludge lakes. The traditional country of many indigenous peoples was smothered. Mining effluent contaminated three-quarters of Victoria’s creeks and rivers.

Sludge is the compelling story of the forgotten filth that plagued nineteenth-century Victoria. It exposes the big dirty secret of Victoria’s mining history – the way it transformed the state’s water and land, and how the battle against sludge helped lay the ground for the modern environmental movement.

Susan Lawrence is acting Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of the Inland and a Professor in the Department of Archaeology and History at La Trobe University and has spent thirty years studying the goldfields. In 2019, with Peter Davies, she published “Sludge: Disaster on Victoria’s Goldfields”, that was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Her expertise is in the physical evidence of the recent human past and she is internationally recognised for her research on mining, rivers, and British colonisation.

In her work Susan emphasises the importance of collaborative relationships and inter-disciplinary approaches, and she works with environmental scientists, ecologists, visual artists, heritage professionals, historians, Aboriginal Studies scholars and Traditional Owners. For the past decade Susan’s work has focused on long-term human interaction with the Victorian environment.

She is currently lead Chief Investigator of the ARC funded Discovery Project ‘Rivers of Gold: the Legacy of Historical Gold Mining for Victoria’s Rivers’ <https://rivers-of-gold.com> and the ARC funded Special Research Initiative ‘Fire, Flood and Food: People and Landscape Change in Northern Victoria’.

Susan is also working with Djaara women on the co-designed “Yam Paddock Project”, a philanthropically-funded program to use cultural fire and digging sticks to return yams and other traditional foods to Country in central Victoria. Susan’s research has also actively addressed the archaeology of gender, urban development, extractive industries and material culture studies


Like most of our events, this event is hybrid – offered in person at the Drill Hall, 239 A’Beckett St, Melbourne 3000 or via ZOOM. 

For those attending in person, refreshments are served between 5:30pm and 6pm when the lecture starts. The Zoom session will open at 6pm. Zoom log-in details are sent 24 hours prior to the event. 

Members discount is available to both members of the RHSV and members of Engineering Heritage Victoria. 


June 15, 2023
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
$10 – $20
Event Category:


Royal Historical Society of Victoria
03 9326 9288


RHSV Gallery Downstairs
239 A'Beckett St
Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia
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03 9326 9288