The high gold price continues to drive a resurgence in prospecting in Western Australia, and the discovery of a large, 1.4-kilogram nugget likely to fetch more than $100,000 is helping spread another bout of gold fever.
- A prospector near Kalgoorlie has found a 1.4kg gold nugget
- The Australian dollar gold price is trading near historic highs
- Every year thousands of prospectors flock to WA gold fields
A prospector, who wants to remain anonymous, discovered the large gold nugget near the historic mining city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder several weeks ago.
The cooler months are peak prospecting season and Les Lowe, WA president of the Amalgamated Prospectors and Leaseholders Association, estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 people have gone bush searching for gold this year.
Many are grey nomads from the eastern states hoping to strike it rich, but Mr Lowe said an increasing number hail from overseas.
“I get the impression that the interest has been there for the past three years or so and I haven’t seen any reduction in the numbers of people out there this year,” he said.
WA’s prospecting resurgence is underlined by a significant rise in miner’s rights being issued by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
The piece of paper costs $25 but gives a prospector legal access to Crown land and the right to remove samples up to 20 kilograms without the need for a mining lease.
There were 21,348 miner’s rights issued between 2013 and 2018.
During that six-year period there has been a 35 per cent increase from 3,199 miner’s rights in 2013 to 4,344 last year.
Golden days continue with hot commodity
Next month marks 126 years since prospectors Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan Shea discovered gold at Kalgoorlie, about 600 kilometres east of Perth, kicking off one of Australia’s biggest gold rushes.
While most of the country’s gold is produced by big mining companies, the allure of the precious metal remains as strong as ever for recreational prospectors using metal detectors and professional small-scale miners who employ heavy machinery.
It has even spawned the popular pay television series, Aussie Gold Hunters, which follows prospectors in the outback and is broadcast in 122 countries around the world.
More than $1.3 million worth of gold was unearthed in season three of the Discovery Channel production.
The weak Australian dollar means gold is trading near historic highs at close to $1,850 an ounce, or just under $60 a gram — an ounce of gold is equal to about 31g.
Gold was worth a tick over $400 an ounce at the start of the new millennium and broke through the $1,000 an ounce barrier in 2008.
It means the prospector who made international headlines this week with the discovery of a 1.4-kilogram nugget near Kalgoorlie-Boulder can expect a much bigger payday than he would if he had found the same specimen a decade ago.
The lucky prospector wants to remain anonymous, which is typical of prospectors who guard their leases like a dog guards a bone.
The find became public after the prospector showed the nugget to Kalgoorlie businessman Matt Cook, who owns Finders Keepers Gold Prospecting.
Mr Cook said the prospector would only say he had found the nugget about 45cm below the surface on salt bush flats within 100km of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
“That doesn’t really narrow it down much … but there’s plenty of gold to be found,” Mr Cook said.
“I didn’t want to let go of it to be honest, but I had to give it back to him.”
Prospectors just scratching the surface
Modern metal detectors can accurately sense gold about a metre below the surface, so a pick and shovel are essential equipment given most of the low-hanging fruit, better known alluvial or surface gold, has been collected over the past century.
However, Mr Cook said the latest big discovery bucked that trend.
“I’ve seen quite a few like this over the years and you’d see them probably 3 or 4 times a year,” he said.
“The difference with this one is the guy was just walking the bush, there was no machinery involved.
“They’re still out there and once upon a time they were a lot more frequent, but you just have to try your luck and use the right equipment.”
Mr Cook said collectors typically pay a premium of 15 to 20 per cent on top of the gold value for rare specimens.
He said today’s gold price makes prospecting a unique money-making hobby for motivated and lucky prospectors.
“At the moment the gold price being so high there are a lot of people out prospecting,” he said.
“A lot of excitement around at the moment and that sort of thing just adds to it, but it’s good to see it coming out of the ground like that.”
Eagle rock still the biggest nugget ever found
Last year a retired man found a 3.2kg nugget in WA’s northern Goldfields worth at least $110,000.
The nugget was found about 80cm below the surface in clay soil and was dubbed the “Duck’s Foot” because of its shape.
The largest gold nugget ever found in WA was the 35.5kg Golden Eagle, which was naturally shaped like an eagle with outspread wings.
It was unearthed by 16-year-old Jim Larcombe in 1931 on his father’s claim near Widgiemooltha in the WA Goldfields.
The Golden Eagle was sold to the State Government and melted down during the height of the Great Depression.
“These finds of the bigger nuggets are becoming scarcer and rarer,” Mr Lowe said.
“It’s a pretty good gold price knocking on the door of $60 per gram, which makes the smaller stuff worth going for.
“A gram here and a gram there all adds up.”