The Gold Rushes of the mid and late 19th century have a special place in Australian history. They populated the continent in numbers previously unseen, contributing to the rise of our major cities. It also triggered an economic activity that plays a major part in our country’s economy even today. Mining contributes over 10 percent of Australian GDP and directly employs hundreds of thousands of workers. Gold mining is the second most profitable mining sector, after iron ore. You can find detailed gold mining stats here. Though concentrated in the hands of some of the world’s largest companies, mining for gold has always inspired individuals to scour the immense remoteness of our country. The thrill of finding the precious metal, in any quantity, is second only to the price it currently reaches on world markets.
To mine for gold in Australia, there are a few things you need. The first is a miner’s or fossicking licence you get from state authorities. The latter set restrictions as to where you can mine. Private land is off-limits, unless a permit is obtained from the owner or company. And so are national parks and reserves. Next, you’ll need intricate knowledge of mining sites across states. Western Australia has the most, and it is also the country’s largest gold producer. Numerous sites are also scattered across NSW and Victoria, roughly in areas that coincide with the first gold discoveries in each state. And since you’ll be looking for gold in remote areas, you’ll need a fully stocked and prepared 4WD.
Mining companies get their gold from so-called lode deposits that have concentrated through time in solid rock. The rock is dug, crushed and processed; remnants yield small deposits of gold through previous geological research. Huge open-cut or underground mines dot the country. Individual prospectors, on the other hand, rely on more traditional methods and use basic but purposeful prospector tools. They scour secondary or ‘placer’ deposits that have been washed into rock outcrops, cracks and crevices by streams and rivers, for the best part of millions of years.
Gold Panning Tools
Prospectors start their search for gold along streams they believe have sedimented deposits. They use inexpensive gear, at the centre of which is the gold pan. Pans can be either plastic or metal, and both types yield the same result. Panning involves filling the pan with gravel and submerging it in water. It is shaken back and forth and side to side a few times, then swirled around to remove larger rocks and clay. You can remove twigs, leaves and grass along the way. The remnants are again submerged in water to clear out smaller particles of dirt. This is done with gentle repetitive swirls.
Once the water is cleared what remains is pyrite or black sand, and potentially gold. Black sand is magnetic so using a magnet will separate it from the gold. And now the cry of “Eureka”. Small flecks of circular gold stick to the bottom of the pan. Use a sniffer bottle to remove the flecks off the pan, and with a transfer pipette or funnel, deposit your findings in a storage vial. If you’re lucky you’ll find larger deposits of gold nuggets.
Pans are also combined with sieves or classifiers that sit atop the pan. They’re used to aid and hasten the process of panning. Sieves are sold in different mesh sizes, to sift out coarse or finer materials. If you’re panning for fine gold, a small mesh sieve should give quicker, more thorough results than just using the pan itself.
If you’re prospecting for gold in rocks, you’ll need a few more prospector tools besides the ones mentioned above. To break up rocks, use a prospector’s shovel or a pick that you can get in different sizes. Once the rock has broken up and separated, use a scoop to filter out flaking dirt and sand. What’s left is placed in a pan and the whole process of panning begins again.
Panning tools are either sold separately or if you’re new to the whole prospecting thing, you’ll find kits with all the essentials, usually at a lower price. Either way, all things added, everything is cheap to buy. There are also books and guidelines on panning techniques from guys who’ve struck gold the old way. To help you narrow down where to search, state maps with frequent and past gold deposits and findings are also published.
While panning is cheap, detectors are not. Detectors work by creating a magnetic field that is disrupted by the electromagnetic field of metals. Beeping sounds alert you when you’ve found something. Basic metal detectors run in four figures and won’t necessarily mean you’ll find gold, but can be fun. Dedicated gold detectors, with frequencies tuned specifically for gold, can go upwards of $10000. However, they have greater sensitivity levels in locating gold at greater depths. Expect all the bells and whistles, including wireless headphones and colour screens in aiding you find gold.
Buying Prospecting Gear
Prospecting gear stores are located across Australia, and most stores also sell online. Besides panning gear, basic gold-digging tools and detectors, you can find useful information on gold sites and catch up on some of the most notorious chapters in Australian history – The Gold Rush.
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