Kane and I haven’t done a lot of gold prospecting in Australia. It’s hot, scrubby and fossicking regulations vary from State to State. A lot of accessible ground has been picked over through various gold rushes and more recently by hobbyists confined to limited fossicking areas (or areas with landowner permission). In short, its easier to legally prospect for gold overseas (e.g. Alaska, Canada) than it is here.
That being said, Australia does have a lot of gold. In 2019 we were the second largest producer in the world and reached an all-time production record of 321 tonnes (Gluyas, 2019). Gold occurs all over the country in various deposit types, but the primary goldfields of Australia are in Victoria and Western Australia.
The Victorian Goldfields, north-east of Melbourne conjure images of desperation and romance. Gold was originally discovered in 1851 near Bathurst (in New South Wales), closely followed by discoveries in Victoria that same year. These discoveries spurred one of the biggest gold rushes Australia has ever seen.
In 1852, just a year after discovery, 35,000 miners had already converged on the fields in an around Ballarat and Bendigo. By 1854 there were almost three times as many miners, but productivity was declining (National Museum Australia, n.d.).
Nowadays it is mostly hobbyists like ourselves wandering the fields. With so much history and old workings, it can be difficult to know where to search though. Enter Gold and Relics Gold Prospecting Adventures.
Gold and Relics is a Ballarat-based company, located in the goldfields of Victoria. They currently offer gold prospecting tours in Victoria and Western Australia and carry all the necessary gear, permits and permissions to make the day a success (State Government of Victoria, 2015a & 2018). We decided on a Victorian day tour and bullied my parents, Maree and Michael, into coming along.
Our tour explored the Creswick Forest Reserve. The detectors for the day were the Minelab SDC 2600 and GPX 5000. Mum and I took the SDC 2600’s because they’re light, portable and good for sensitive work. These machines will detect gold grains at the surface, but the downside is they don’t penetrate very far.
Kane and Dad took the heavier, more powerful GPX 5000’s. These are good for big nuggets and penetrate much further than the 2600’s, but are heavier and usually don’t detect small material.
The goal of the day was to find more gold than Dad. After a quick demo we were given our detectors and let loose.
As the menfolk scampered off to places unknown, Mum and I wisely trotted after our hosts from Gold and Relics. We were shown how to calibrate for interference, what ‘hot rocks’ (rocks that can give false positive readings) in the area looked like and which layers of the earth usually hosted gold. The team were fun, friendly and very knowledgeable.
I am ashamed to say that when Mum found her first piece- a barely visible speck- I followed after her like hound. Working in a neat and methodical manner she was the winner for the day, picking up two tiny pieces.
After some good-natured, yet stern, maternal threats, I was shooed away from her claim and managed to find my own small speck on the surface. I also found a LOT of buckshot, some rusty screws, a few pieces of tin and my own shoes (do not wear hiking boots with metal on them!).
Kane found a nice piece at depth (~60cm below surface) that we assumed was ironstone. When we took it back to the car, our hosts encouraged us to smash it open, and lo and behold there was gold inside.
And Dad? Well Dad, who showed characteristic bluster and uncharacteristic patience… the only nuggets he found were unfortunately of the chicken variety. Better luck next time Michael!
The tour was a lot of fun and helped us get a feel for the gear. Kane and I actually bought a 2600 a few months later because we were so impressed with it. Creswick is a lovely little town with a good pub, great accommodation and an amazing French patisserie. All in all a great weekend away.
Things we took away from the trip:
- Every detector is different so get a feel for your gear before you take it out.
- Be methodical in how you search and follow a pattern.
- Try not to interfere with other prospectors by searching too close together (you’ll get interference on the detectors and have to switch frequencies all the time).
- Don’t wear watches, rings, or shoes with metal. You’ll get VERY SICK of the detector screeching at you if you do.
- Research the area and know the layers or rock types that the gold usually occurs in. If possible, consult local experts like Gold and Relics.
- Don’t expect to get rich quick. Gold is valuable for a reason- it’s rare.
- Finally, have a goal and stick to it- destroy Dad at metal detecting!
Geological Survey of Western Australia. (2017, March). Investment Opportunities: Gold. Retrieved 11 March 2020 from http://dmpbookshop.eruditetechnologies.com.au/product/gold-flyer-march-2016.do
Gluyas, A. (2019, August 26). Mining Monthly: Australian gold output hits all-time high. Retrieved 11 March 2020 from https://www.australianmining.com.au/news/australian-gold-output-hits-all-time-high/
National Museum Australia. (n.d.). Eureka Stockade. Retrieved 11 March 2020 from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/eureka-stockade
State Government of Victoria. (2015a, October 20). Land access rules: Permitted areas in certain parks under the National Parks Act. Retrieved 01 April 2019 from http://earthresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources-regulation/recreational-prospecting-and-fossicking/land-access-rules
State Government of Victoria. (2019, October 31). Victoria’s Earth Resources: Gold. Retrieved 11 March 2020 from http://earthresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/victorias-earth-resources/minerals/metals/gold
State Government of Victoria. (2018, January 15). Miner’s rights for recreational prospecting and fossicking: Recreational prospecting and fossicking. Retrieved 01 April 2019 from http://earthresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources-regulation/recreational-prospecting-and-fossicking