Write a post about your prospecting, they said.

No! I cried, who would want to read that shit?!

Oh please o please, they begged, we want to hear about the gold, sir! The GOLD!

I already said no! Weren’t you listening?

But the GOLD! What about THE GOLD!

Ah yes, the gold. A non-scientific explanation of how gold forms is that it doesn’t. The science-fiction-esque reality is that gold came here from outer-space. To the international chorus of ‘bullshit!’ cries I just heard, my reply is just effing Google it. That’s right disbelievers, gold is from outer-space, via a meteorite bombardment 200 million years ago that makes the special effects-ridden Star Wars franchise seem like firecracker-night. It seems ridiculous, but apparently that’s how our planet’s silicate layer Au was deposited; since then, it has just been moving around a lot.

In terms of gold-fever, our patient-zero is lost to time. Trite to say, but we’ve always coveted ‘the yellow’ — as prospectors call it — and a drab illustration of this is the often heard ‘The gold in Pharaoh Mytophat’s tomb is still shiny after four thousand years!‘ when a better use of an exclamation-mark would be to say ‘The gold in this creek bed is still shiny after one-hundred million years!

But an even more useful characteristic of gold is its density. How dense? When we began measuring things, some boffin decided that water, as the fundamental unit of measurement, would weighs one gram per cubic centimetre. By comparison, iron weighs about eight. Gold weighs more than 19g/cm3, which means your average one-litre milk bottle filled with gold would weigh … 19.32 kilograms! And in today’s $AUD, that would be worth $1,337,818.23

That’s right, $1.3M AUD for a litre of gold.

So, have you go the fever yet?

Gold’s density is super-important, because if it weighed the same as all the other gravels in the river, you’d never find it. Or at least we’d be using different methods to detect it. Panning for gold relies wholly on the fact that gold is lazy. In streams (as well as in your pan) it sinks through the layers with the agitation of water until it strikes an impermeable layer. The plastic at the bottom of your pan, a flat slab of rock, a heavy clay layer, or bedrock itself. So when you’re looking for a prospect you have to get to the bottom, and it’s only when you start to hit the bigger specimens that you realise how deep gold burrows. And getting to the bottom of things, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates the ‘men from the boys’ as we used to say in pre-PC times.

Basic prospecting equipment reflects the hard facts: the good gold is at the bottom, and you have to work hard to get it. So what do I pack? Because I came to this from a backpacking background, minimalism is key: I carry a large (14″) and small (10″) gold pan, a classifier, a small shovel, a small pry bar, a rock hammer, a chisel, at least one trowel, an assortment of crevicing tools, a stiff-bristled brush, safety glasses, diving gloves, and the ubiquitous snuffer bottle where all the gold goes! Believe me, there’s a LOT more you can take. I also carry my camera equipment, a delicious sandwich, 3L of water, and my first aid kit.

But my latest, and probably single most important bit of prospecting equipment, is my personal locator beacon. Just in case I meet a marragawan that doesn’t like the cut of my jib. Because sudden, bitey death is always a possibility in Oz, I wear a heavy work shirt, heavy pants and long gumboots whether its -10°C or +40°C. Not just for sun protection, though the Aussie sun will kill you just as dead as an Eastern Brown, but mostly for the latter. They are skittish, easily provoked, can outrun me at a flat sprint and they are everywhere, BUT they have tiny fangs. Thick clothing and gumboots might save the day, and if not, there’s always that two-minute window to activate the PLB before the textilotoxin begins its merry dance.

Snakes aside, if (like me) you too could win gold, gold, gold for Australia in the Clumsy Olympics, then you’re probably more likely to dismantle yourself on the rock than die of envenomation. Because you have to work hard to get down to the good stuff, you’re constantly abrading yourself against the bones of the continent. Working hard in heavy clothing, you’re also prone to heat exhaustion in the summer. In winter, even with neoprene diving gloves, the near-zero water means hypothermia is always nibbling away at your extremities, whispering in your ear how nice it might be to have a rest and just lie down for a minute. So — snake bite, misadventure, heatstroke and hypothermia — why would anyone get up at 3:30am to drive 250 kilometres to spend a day risking your life on the river?

Because we WANTS it.

We NEEDS it!

My precious.

Leave a Reply