Gold fever: how to be a gold prospector
Gold digger ... making a mint takes a lot of patience. Photo: Peter Braig
The price of gold has continued to climb for the past 11 years. The precious metal synonymous with wealth has reached giddy heights, making now a tempting time to have a crack at gold prospecting like a go-getter from the hit Discovery series Gold Rush.
The director of Gold Prospecting Australia, Mark Hyde, estimates that, already, this country has 20,000 gold prospectors.
If you want to go on the prowl for gold, first, Hyde says, it helps to own a good metal detector. Consider a $6,500 GPX 5000 model sold by the Aussie firm, Minelab, which produces the world’s best metal detectors, according to Hyde.
Sparkling success ... gold prices have continued to rise for the past 11 years.
Also, you need a pickaxe, maps, training and “a bit of good luck”, says Hyde, who has been detecting for over 30 years. One potential rich seam that Hyde highlights is Victoria’s Golden Triangle – “an absolute must”. Then, there are the gold fields of Western Australia.
“They're probably the two absolute best places to hunt for gold,” Hyde says.
“Now you've got some fields in New South Wales, some in Queensland, some in Northern Territory. But the easiest access and the best place to get some sort of return on what you're doing would be Victoria and Western Australia.”
You might well strike lucky. Students on a $220 one-day prospecting course he runs routinely do, he says. Two years ago, a budding prospector on one of his tours found a 69-ounce gold nugget now worth $130,000.
“But,” Hyde says, “you've got to be so dedicated - you can go for six weeks and not find any gold at all. And then you might get a bit of a bonanza, but it's hard work.”
As anyone who has sieved country streams will confirm, panning demands plentiful patience. If you try it, ensure you dissolve all the clay, or the gold will stick to it and wash over the pan, Hyde warns.
Detecting, it seems, can be equally frustrating. In an August 30 2011 BBC report, a source pegged the hit rate at one in 20. Even when you strike gold, it may just be a ladybird-sized speck.
Still, seduced by the metal’s legendary gleam, “a fair few professional people” whom Hyde describes as “very secretive”, stubbornly fossick away.
According to Hyde, many gold seekers are grey nomads: over-50s merrily travelling around Australia. According to the director of the Bendigo gold hub, Gold World, David Watters [sic], the nomads are drawn to gold prospecting by the dual opportunity – the chance to make money while taking exercise.
Now, they have an enhanced chance of hitting the jackpot because recent rains have stripped away soil cloaking nuggets. If you are keen to bring home some biggies, consider buying a Minelab GPX 5000 detector, Watters says, echoing Hyde.
Or consider the Minelab Eureka Gold - “still a very very good machine” at a fraction of the GPX 5000’s cost, Watters says.
Alternatively, you could get a $500 sluice box and just go panning, the way 19th-century gold rush miners did.
“You'll certainly get some colour in the bottom of your pan in most of the gold fields throughout Australia,” he says.
Panning is much more relaxing than detecting, which makes a din loud enough to drown out kookaburra cacophony. But, because when you pan you are just randomly fishing for gold, you work through much more soil. So you need Zen-like patience.
To speed up the process, you could head for hotspots Watters recommends such as Castlemaine in Victoria and Gympie in south eastern Queensland. Another good area, he says, is Queensland’s far north.
Then there are historic gold fields, ranging from the Northern Territory’s Pine Creek to Bathurst and Bendigo.
In Bendigo, according to Watters, you even “get colour” in natural roadside gutters.
“Whip out a bit of soil,” he says. “Throw it into the pan and you'll see the actual gold at the bottom of the pan - if there's any there.”
Panning will earn you just $30-$50 a week, he says. But detecting is different.
“If you're working with a detector, the sky's the limit because you're digging a hole and there's always a metallic object there,” Watters says.
“It’s just the luck of the draw whether you're picking up a piece of gold worth 20 bucks or 200,000.”
For information on gold prospecting regulations, visit www.goldprospectingtours.com.au/goldaustralia.php.