Gold!

Story and Photography by Jim and Cheryl Foster

The masses of wildflowers were a good enough reason to visit Outback WA but Jim and Cheryl also brought home a great souvenir - $15,000 worth of gold nuggets!

Cheryl found the first gold nugget for our season on the Western Australian goldfields. As she freed it from the soil it gleamed softly in the warm autumn sun. It was a beauty, about five grams in weight worth at least $75, and it had taken only half-an-hour to find in a very popular goldfield 15-minutes’ drive down a good track from the sealed road.

As the WA eastern goldfields had experienced a wet summer we were prospecting amongst a riot of wildflowers. One small purple flower grew so dense that at times we waded through a glorious haze of purple, finding gold as we went. And as the season progressed the district experienced just enough rain to keep the flowers blooming right through the mild WA winter. 
 
From that first nugget our store of gold continued to grow until it was more than two ounces for less than a week of pleasant rambling amongst the old goldfields. But as we were on a popular site, Murrin Murrin, only 50-or-so kilometres from Leonora, it soon became a little crowded for us.

Gold!

Unrolling our maps we looked for another site farther out, away from the crowds.

We use 1:250,000 geographic maps printed by the Royal Australian Survey Corps. These maps show most  tracks, goldfields, and mines. They are available from NATMAP or from your local Department Of Mines. They are easy to use and understand. We also use geological maps from the same sources.

In conjunction with the maps we use a GPS, a compass, and the vehicle odometer. It sounds complicated but in practice it is easy.

Most times we don’t need any of the above but we always make sure our campsite is logged on the GPS, just in case. A compass mounted in the vehicle is handy to compliment a hand-held compass for overlaying on the maps. Most times we just follow the map and judge distances using the odometer.

Communications are taken care of with a UHF radio that incorporates a scanner. Nearly all working goldmines in WA use UHF radio and we could always hear someone wherever we went. That meant that in the event of trouble we were never far from help.

Looking through our copy of David De Havilland’s book Gold and Ghosts, we checked out the maps and information. There are a series of these books, two covering WA and another two covering Queensland’s goldfields.

Finding a spot that sounded good 100 kilometres away, we set out to find it. Only once did we refer to our compass and maps confirming we were where we thought we were. That night we set up camp and next morning began to find gold only a few metres from camp in this amazing spot.
 

We stayed on that site for three weeks, and in that time found what we dubbed “Specimen Flat”. 

This was a spot where I found first a small specimen of gold in quartz weighing only two-grams.

Camping is the main attraction -- finding gold is simply a bonus (honest!)

My next find weighed 390-grams, with about 90-grams being gold. Excitement began to build when our friends Brian and Marguerite found another specimen further up the flat. Dragging a chain to mark each pass, I
gridded the area and found a total of three kilograms of specimens containing seven-and-a-half ounces of gold and several nuggets. It took less than two days to find gold valued at over $4000.

We searched that area for the next few weeks, finding gold almost every day. Just over the rise from specimen flat Cheryl found the beginnings of a patch with a nine-gram nugget.

Marguerite chained the patch and found 13 nuggets. At last the gold seemed to give out and we moved on. Another spot in Gold and Ghosts called Eucalyptus sounded good and we headed off to find what we hoped would be another bonanza for us.

At the first creek crossing Brian and Marguerite had to take it slow with their caravan; for us it was easy. We tow a 1984 Jayco Finch camper trailer that we have
modified. To increase ground clearance we had placed the axle under the springs, and this made most creek crossings a breeze.

We had also fitted a stone guard to the front of the trailer and a stone guard to the protect the water tank. This made our little on-road Jayco almost an off-roader.

Following a fence line track that took us past a windmill we paused to fill our water containers. This water we used for washing, our drinking water we sourced from town whenever we went in to get food and fuel.

Many windmill bores do have water that is okay to drink, and there are many water purifiers on the market that will make the water that is not okay quite safe and palatable. Our Jayco has a 60-litre water tank and we usually carry another 100-litres in plastic jerry cans. We found that this supply was ample for about 10 days.

Arriving at Eucalyptus we set up camp and began to explore. The main mining centre had been worked on and off for over 100 years, but still we found gold.

Out away from the old workings we also found gold on new ground. In one spot I found a 10-gram nugget lying on the surface – it was like finding $150 in a car park, it was that easy.

Most areas in the eastern goldfields are covered in mulga trees where the absence of gum trees to provide nesting hollows mean few parrots live there. At Eucalyptus  parrots were everywhere.

Glorious emerald green Port Lincoln parrots flashed through the trees like living gems while galahs sat outside their nesting hollows chuckling and talking  amongst themselves.

One cool, rainy day I was out walking when I saw a large flock of galahs feeding. Half the flock flew up in alarm but chose to sit in a dead mulga tree only 10-metres from where I stood.

Over the next few minutes the rest of the flock flew up and landed in that small tree. It got so crowded that those birds already there had to shuffle along to make room for the newcomers.

By the time they had all landed the tree was full. You could not have got another galah on that tree. I remained still and they just sat there eyeing me and talking amongst themselves. A tree full of beautiful galahs and I didn’t have my camera.

After a month Brian and Marguerite had to go back to work and we were on our own. Leaving Eucalyptus we moved around visiting Pikes Hollow, Yundermindera Lake Darlot, Randwick, Royal Harry, and Cardinia mining areas, and we found gold at them all.

Halfway through our trip we spent a week of R&R in Kalgoorlie. After that we joined other friends, Gerry and Lyn prospecting around the Agnew-Lawlers area.

Camping out near Lawlers we explored the area and found gold here and there. My biggest find for the trip came from near there. It was a wide signal that sounded like a good target deep beside a creek.

Both Cheryl and myself use SD2200D gold detectors from Minelab in South Australia that can find gold very deep indeed. 

Without this super detector I would not have found what turned out to be a nugget almost two-feet deep weighing nearly 200-grams. At $15 a gram that nugget was worth $3000. 

We were extremely happy finding that nugget it put us way ahead of our hoped-for target of 10-grams a day every day.

A good reason to dig a hole.

The time slipped quickly by, the weather wavering between good and just wonderful with only occasional wet days. Different species of flowers died off to make way for new varieties and before we knew it spring was just around the corner.

As the weather warmed we saw patches of scarlet Sturt desert pea appear, and gaunt and grumpy goannas began to awake from their short winter hibernation.

Heading south again we dropped in to Murrin Murrin to give the area a quick hit. We found only a few small nuggets scattered about until Cheryl found a patch of gold only 70 metres from camp. It took her an hour to clean that patch of 13 nuggets up for a nice 68 grams. Not bad money for an hour’s easy work. It was her first patch for the trip and was she pleased about it!

Moving on we found another spot that looked good but the ground was deep. Cheryl found two nice chunky nuggets but I knew there was more gold there, I could smell it.

Then we found another spot where the ground was also deep but it looked like it would produce gold. We got a few small bits nearer the surface but I knew the big bits were still there, too deep for the search coils we had. Then I heard about a new coil from Coiltek called the UFO. In no time at all Coiltek had one of these new wonder coils to us and I headed for the deep ground confident of success.

Dragging the gridding chain I made the first circuit of the patch –  nothing. Then three-quarters of the way around the second time a good signal sounded nice and mellow through my earphones.

Digging down a few inches the signal became louder and I knew I was on to good gold. At two-feet deep I found the nugget, a bright beautiful 50-grammer that I fell in love with at first sight.

We finished that patch and found some smaller nuggets before moving onto the next spot. The first nugget there weighed 30 grams, or nearly an ounce of solid gold.

Some days later we reckoned we’d found all the gold there and moved south to Yerilla. Calling at the homestead to ask permission to camp and, after satisfying the owners we had no dogs or guns, carried our own water and took our rubbish away with us, we were granted entry.

Camping at Mount Katherine mine, a mine that was known to be salted and sold for a good price while containing little gold, we found some gold but not enough to hold us. Deciding to move to the Mount Remarkable group of mines, still on Yerilla station, we called in at the homestead and presented the owner with a gold nugget in thanks for letting us stay.

Anyone planning to spend time on a station should seek permission or risk being told in no uncertain terms to move on. If we find gold on a property we like to thank the owner with a nugget and in this way are welcomed back.

It is surprising how many people do not even ask permission and few are the property owners who are presented with a nugget. A list of property owners and their phone numbers is available at the Mines Department, and homestead locations are marked on all maps.

At Mount Remarkable we found more gold on the edge of the dry salt lake but moved north for the last few weeks of our trip. We finished the season where it had begun, near Murrin Murrin. The weather was now getting windy but most days were warm and sunny.

Gerry found a patch and chained it for a nice tally. Cheryl and myself found nuggets scattered here and there, nothing big but it all added up. Then Cheryl found a nugget that weighed just under half-an-ounce. That put us over the kilo of gold for the season.

Our total for 16 weeks of holiday was 1032 grams of bright, beautiful gold, more than enough to pay for our adventure into the wonderful desert goldfields of WA.

How To Become A Gold Prospector

Gold nuggets can be found in every state and territory of Australia but to be successful you will need the right equipment. We use only Minelab SD2200D gold detectors fitted with audio boosters. We have special purpose search coils from Coiltek to ensure we can handle any type of ground mineralisation. Both companies are located in Adelaide.

Many retired couples spend their winters on the WA or Queensland goldfields. Some are secretive and quietly return to a good area each year by themselves, but most are happy to be part of a group and share the fun of finding nuggets to subsidise their trip.

For those who have never experienced the Outback away from the tourist traps and well-worn tracks there are plenty of tag-along and fully-catered trip operators in every state who can take you out and show you how to find gold. Many people who start this way soon become very good at finding gold. Another way is to join a detector club and learn from them. I would urge the inexperienced to do both; you can’t have too much knowledge. And if you should decide to spend your winters in the Outback finding gold, prepare to be amazed – every day.