Metal detectors: Life's a beach ... with the possibility of treasure
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Metal detectors: Life's a beach ... with the possibility of treasure

Baking in the afternoon sun, splayed holidaymakers and darting children populate the endless beaches of the New South Wales south coast.

Methodically working his way up and down and side to side, Bevan Badcott negotiates towels and umbrellas, sandcastles and beach cricket. In one hand he carries a curious looking scoop shovel, in the other is the unmistakable black wand of the metal detector.

Surf Beach local Bevan Badcott using a metal detector at Surf Beach, Bevan runs a business helping people find lost jewellery and also helps remove any metal waste he finds on the beach.

Surf Beach local Bevan Badcott using a metal detector at Surf Beach, Bevan runs a business helping people find lost jewellery and also helps remove any metal waste he finds on the beach.Credit:Jeffrey Chan

''It's like ground fishing,'' he said, hovering above the sandy grave of a long lost tent peg on Surf Beach near Batemans Bay.

''You never know what you're going to find. One day you'll come home with nothing and then the next day you'll find a gold ring someone desperately wants back.''

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Maligned by some as opportunistic gold diggers, Mr Badcott brings an altruistic approach by offering his services to anyone who has lost jewellery or other items. He makes house calls and occasionally goes gold prospecting with a friend.

''The best thing is to find the important articles that people have lost on a sandy beach and want back,'' he said. ''A wedding or engagement ring has a story to it. If it's lost, that story finishes, but if you can find it for them, it continues. That is a real joy to be able to do for people.''

With more than four years' experience and thousands of items found, Mr Badcott said Surf Beach had produced five rings alone.

Carrying a small bag of various metal objects, he explains metal detection etiquette. ''I often come home with gold coins, fishing sinkers and other bits of metal. I also pick up all the tent pegs and bottle tops I find. My theory is if I dig it up, it becomes my problem. If I throw it back into the sand, I am the one who is doing the littering.''

Mr Badcott said most of his recent finds have been close to the surface, but digging in wet sand can also bring rewards. ''When the tide goes out, I go down to where people have been swimming and look there. I recently found a fairly old ring, very thin with a gold band. I couldn't see a stamp inside it indicating what carat it was but it was down about 10 inches and at the mid- to low-tide mark. It's hard to say how long it had been in the sand but at that depth, it may have been lost for some years.''

He said another metal detector on the south coast uncovered a dental plate, complete with gold teeth.

As the tourist crush arrives for another season on the south coast, Mr Badcott has his work cut out for him.

''People buy speedboats or expensive cars and then come home poorer than when they left,'' he said smiling. ''My hobby means I often come home better off.''

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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