Australia was a precocious mass democracy. In the middle of the 19th century the franchise was extended to nearly all white male adults, the secret ballot was introduced, and other important reforms implemented. Surprisingly, these developments have attracted little recent attention. Dominant interpretations are based on selective surveys of particular colonies; they either elevate the gold diggings or else cynically claim that democratisation was mostly accidental and inglorious. This paper encompasses a survey of the three major colonies. It argues that widespread collective action was a spur to political change, and that electoral reforms were introduced to contain future contention.