There are such things as fashions in mining speculation, just as there are fashions in clothes, and these fashions, of course, have their influences upon prices. These fashions, for the most part, seem to be started by a mere whim, and they last only as long as that whim lasts, and do not seem to be in the least directed by reason and common-sense. I am, for one, wholly against this fashionable speculation, this slavish imitation of other people, not so much because we suspend our own individual judgments, but because, like servitude to fashion in other things, they prove to be terribly expensive, and even ruinous; in fact, it leads as surely to ruin as any other idiosyncrasy I can think of. It is started generally by a gold discovery in some hitherto remote or unknown part of the earth's surface, in some region which we may have heard of only in our geography books, or even not there, or in some inaccessible desert, where white men have hitherto not penetrated. But it is a gold discovery, and that is enough.

The word 'gold' turns people's heads at once, and they all want to have a share in this discovery in some way or other. If they cannot go to the place themselves, they can, at least, pay for other people to go there and get the gold for them, giving them a percentage on their finds. Anyone would think, judging from the craziness of the people, that this was the only part of the world where gold was to be got, and that the discovery had come just in time to save us from a dearth of the metal. It seems to have gone entirely out of their recollection that other gold-fields are actually at work and turning out the precious metal in huge quantities, and are likely to keep on turning it out for many generations to come. In this we undoubtedly see a most remarkable idiosyncrasy of human nature. People care not whether gold is still being got on the Rand, in Australia, in India, and elsewhere; they evidently want some new gold from some new place, and now, therefore, their wants are likely to be satisfied.

How many fashions we have seen come into being, and how short-lived they have been! Not so many years ago we witnessed a fashion in West Australian mining. We were all startled one morning by the news that some gold ore, running several ounces to the ton, had been picked up by some lucky prospector at a place called Cool-gardie, and immediately everybody envied that prospector and wished that they had wings that they might fly to that very spot and pick up gold nuggets themselves. The ore might have been carried to that spot by that very prospector, but that mattered not. It was gold, and therefore vivid imaginations pictured the land shining with gold. Although we had never heard of Western Australia before as a land of golden promise, this discovery was sufficient to foreshadow for it a marvellous future. It was astounding how this discovery was immediately followed by other discoveries, just as though it was a sudden recollection on the part of innumerable people that they had seen gold quartz there too, though they had not troubled to pay particular attention to it at the time.

And all the time there were people in London - called company promoters - who actually knew of the existence of hundreds of rich mines in this very place, men who for some reason or other had kept this knowledge to themselves; but now that the secret of gold in Western Australia had been let out they saw no reason why they should not make their knowledge known, and give everybody who cared to seize it an opportunity to get as much gold as they liked. Evidently, in this unknown land, claim after claim must have been quietly pegged out, not a soul knowing of it but the peggers, for claim after claim and mine after mine were, within a few weeks of the announcement of the discovery, floated into companies, and everybody was only too eager to take up shares in them. It only goes to prove, after all, how subtle is the dividing line between sanity and lunacy, and how a mere accident, such as this, will infect a whole community with madness. In the popular imagination one had only to put a pick into the ground in any part of a territory extending for thousands of miles, and there gold would surely be struck. It didn't matter in the least whether it was a wilderness, whether there was any water, or timber, or transport facilities, or labour, or anything but gold. All that was necessary was simply to take a walk to the spot with a cart or two, and shovel the gold into them, and then come away.

I do not think that this is an absurdly exaggerated picture of popular ideas at that time. If it is an exaggerated picture, then I don't know how to account for the extraordinary notions that took hold of people from one end of the country to the other. The meanest intelligence would have questioned the possibility of hundreds of properties being discovered in a shorter time than it would take to reach them, not one of which but what was marvellously rich. It did not appear at all incredible that these properties should be discovered so suddenly - just as suddenly and as rapidly, indeed, as one could cable from this country to Australia. It did not appear incredible that gold could be taken out without shafts being sunk, or machinery being provided to crush and extract it. For if people had stayed to reflect upon these things - 'that thousands and thousands of pounds would have to be spent in developing a mine, that plant would have to be provided, and that railways would have to be built - surely they would not have been so eager to give their money to promoters merely for the asking.