THROUGHOUT Australia's history, resource booms have left powerful legacies. Melbourne as we know it was built on the 1850s gold rush, which funded lavish Victorian-era buildings, world-class art collections and transformed it into one of the world's richest cities within decades.
Fast forward to today, and just what Australians will be left with after the mining boom is very much up for debate.
A higher dollar looks likely, and a far bigger share of the economy will be devoted to selling commodities to Asia. Consumers are already cashing in by travelling overseas in record numbers, while the share of people driving luxury imported cars is at a two-year high.
But as the investment cycle wanes, what lasting effects can we expect? Have we spent the one-off boost to income on overseas holidays and cheap imports? Or will we be left with a more productive economy linked more closely to Asia?
Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson maintains that the bonanza will continue to benefit Australia for years to come, as mining's share of the economy expands from 5 per cent to more than 10 per cent, where it will remain for decades.
''Instead of the boom-and-bust cycle, what we will see ultimately is mining becoming a much larger share of a reshaped economy,'' Parkinson said in a recent speech.
But his predecessor, Ken Henry, struck a more sceptical note this week when assessing the longer term. Future Australians, he said, would look back on this generation as the one that ''extracted unparalleled monetary reward for the continent's natural resources''.
''Those future generations - our children's children - will have reason to examine whether we made the most of the mining boom that we knew would not last forever,'' Henry said.
At the same time, there are growing signs the investment peak will be smaller, and occur sooner, than expected.
The $6 billion Oakajee port and rail project in Western Australia was put on ice this month, and claims of cost blowouts are dogging the country's largest resource development, Chevron's Gorgon liquefied natural gas project.
Aside from the boom's long-term legacy, these cracks in the investment pipeline raise a more immediate concern: what will fill the gap after mining investment peaks some time next year?
Consumers have undeniably benefited from the boom through access to cheaper goods, even if this isn't always obvious.
Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens says that five years ago, a shipload of iron ore was worth 2200 flat-screen imported televisions. Today, the same shipload is worth about 28,000 TV sets - about 13 times more than in 2007.
Since 1998, the rise in commodity prices had delivered a ''gift'' equal to $6300 a person in extra income, Commonwealth Bank analysts said this week.
But now that commodity prices have peaked, these forces are working in reverse.
Even Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has described the price boom as ''over''.
So what will the economy be left with when the investment boom also starts to die down?
Officials at Treasury and the Reserve Bank think that talk of the mining boom ''ending'' misses the point. Instead, they say the payoff will continue for years, due to a surge in the volume of exports, as a many mines and energy projects come on-stream.
HSBC's chief economist and a former Reserve official, Paul Bloxham, sums it up like this: ''When you do see the peak in investment, the exports start to ramp up. We get the export volumes that will come out of Australia. It means we are producing more output, the companies pay tax here and employ people here.''
But does this scenario stand up to reality?
Now that the boom is fading earlier and more quickly than expected, business leaders such as Woodside chairman Michael Chaney are warning that a ''growth cliff'' will confront the economy as the wave of investment dries up.
An Australian National University professor and former Reserve Bank board member, Bob Gregory, predicted a similar scenario in September, in a paper written with the former head of the Victorian Treasury, Peter Sheehan.
Gregory expects recession-like conditions of rising unemployment by next year - in part because the stubbornly high dollar will make it hard for other industries to fill the gap left by mining.
''If the exchange rate remains high, it's putting much more pressure on producers in this country, although it's making things much better for all us consumers,'' Gregory says.
Even if the dollar does come down, he says it is unlikely to suddenly spur the investment needed to fill the gap left by mining.
''Once we knock out the props, we've got to find something to take their place, and I just don't see it coming fast.''
Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted also expressed concerns about how the dollar would affect the economy's transition into its next phase, saying he ''struggled'' when thinking about how businesses could regain their competitiveness in the face of the high currency.
''It's the first time ever that since commodity prices have come off we haven't seen an adjustment to the Australian dollar,'' he said.
Talk of a ''growth cliff'', alongside the high dollar, raises the question of where future jobs growth will come from.
Despite all the investment in mining, the latest figures show the industry employs about 2.5 per cent of the workforce, or 270,000 people. This compares with 962,000 in manufacturing and 1.2 million in retail - industries that have been cutting jobs due partly to fierce overseas competition caused by the dollar. With many businesses reluctant to hire when the outlook is so uncertain, most economists also expect unemployment to drift higher next year.
In another blow to companies competing with miners for staff, the boom has also pushed up the cost of hiring skilled workers in key trades and professions.
The chairman of Manufacturing Australia, Dick Warburton, bemoans that the high cost of labour is ''the biggest legacy'' of the commodities bonanza for manufacturers.
''We wasted the opportunity because we just allowed practices which are deleterious to the manufacturing sector to grow,'' he says.
All up, the boom has been lucrative for many businesses, but has left others severely weakened and unlikely to bounce back strongly.
Stevens - who has made no secret of his surprise at the dollar's strength - says there are tentative signs of recovery in housing and consumer spending.
But it is not clear if this will be enough to pick up the growth baton from mining.
''Will the net effect of these developments mean that aggregate demand rises roughly in line with the economy's supply potential over the next couple of years, or will a significant gap emerge?'' Stevens said this week.
''That is the question the Reserve Bank Board is trying to answer every month when it sits down to decide the stance of monetary policy.''
The risk that some of the economy would be ''hollowed out'' by the mining boom was well known.
Treasury itself was warning of the ''resources curse'' in the 2010 budget, which said industries wounded by a high dollar ''might not simply reappear'' after the boom.
The solution? To save more through a resources super profits tax - something that was dumped months later. The more industry-friendly minerals resource rent tax started in July, but is believed to have raised little in its first quarter.
Aside from the mining tax disappointment, however, government coffers have benefited from the mining boom in other ways.
A study this year by Per Capita said government coffers had swelled by some $180 billion between 2002 and 2008 due to higher commodity prices. Of this, $69 billion was put into savings funds like the Future Fund and $36 billion used to pay down public debt.
The remaining $75 billion was given back to households through tax cuts and payments - derided by many economists as wasteful, and fuelling the perception of the boom being squandered.
The chief Australian economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Saul Eslake, was one of the first to say Australia was ''frittering away the fruits of the mining boom''.
He remains critical of this pre-financial crisis spending, but points to it as one way in which Australians have benefited from the boom.
''I think it would be wrong to say we've had no benefit from the mining boom, particularly if you look at what it's done to the budget,'' he says.
Since 2008, however, the boom's impact on government finances has been less rosy. The global slowdown has forced Treasury to write down company tax projections by $160 billion in the past five years. But this failure to capture more budget revenue only tells part of the story.
Stevens has been at pains to point out that despite the budget deficit, national saving has indeed lifted under the mining boom.
''The marked rise in the rate of saving by households in 2008 and 2009 has been sustained. Corporations have also increased their saving considerably over the past five years, opting to repay debt and lower their gearing ratios,'' he said.
The amount of income saved by consumers has increased from virtually nothing to about 10 per cent in a matter of years. Companies are saving much more, with the share of GDP saved jumping to a 15-year high as mining companies retained earnings to fund investment.
Gregory cites this jump in saving as proof the boom wasn't wasted - it was just something that was always going to be transient. ''I don't think we've frittered it away, I just think we weren't going to keep it,'' he says.
For all these challenges that have come with the boom, the mass injection of mining capital is set to fundamentally transform the shape of the economy.
The number of jobs in mining, many well paid, has tripled in the past decade to 270,000 - most of them in Western Australia and Queensland.
The sum of money invested in advanced mining projects in the west has grown by a staggering 1335 per cent in the past decade, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics says. Much of this wealth has trickled into other states through channels such as spending on other services linked to mining, federal tax collections and dividend payments.
HSBC's Bloxham says the country will be left with a ''very productive'' stock of capital and, in all likelihood, a dollar than stays stronger for longer.
''The larger capital stock and continued growth in demand for commodities is likely to see support for the Australian dollar, which is ultimately a way of spreading the benefits of the resources boom.''
Nevertheless, the massive expansion in exports will also tie Australia's economic fortunes more closely to the whims of global commodity markets.
Mining investment made up about 1 per cent of the economy 10 years ago. Next year it is projected to hit record highs of about 8 per cent, before it slowly declines as projects are completed.
ANU's Gregory says the country is putting its money into things that are ''naturally volatile'' - like the energy industry, which itself could be transformed by the rise of the United States as a gas exporter.
''Looking historically, it does mean that a large part of our exports are going to be more volatile than they used to be,'' he says.
Financing the huge expansion of the mining sector has also made Australia more dependent on foreign capital, which some see as a risk.
Eslake points to recent International Monetary Fund projections about our ballooning current account deficit.
''They forecast our current account deficit increasing to $US88 billion in 2013, and then to roughly $US100 billion per annum in the four years after that,'' Eslake says. ''That will be, if their forecasts are right, the second highest current account deficit in the world after the US.'
The IMF sees this surge as sustainable, as it's mainly driven by the heavy imports of capital to finance the mining investment boom.
But the fund - and the credit ratings agencies that guard Australia's top-notch credit rating - says increased national saving should be used to tackle this potential vulnerability.
For households, business and government, it seems saving more of what's left of the boom will remain a key challenge into the future.