In gold-digging days of yore, the whereabouts of buried riches was a secret kept firmly to oneself. But Doug Stone is breaking with tradition.
The author and prospector has spent the past four years marking out rivers, gullies, trails and old mines where anyone with a pan or pick might strike it rich – or at least cover their petrol costs.
It has resulted in the Gold Atlas of New South Wales – a modern day treasure map that matches known gold seams with accessible public land, which will be launched by Resources Minister Anthony Roberts on Monday.
“There is very little information available on the gold fields of NSW and a lot of people don’t know where to go,” Mr Stone said, adding buried gold was still abundant.
“You can constantly find small pieces, but always in the back of your mind, a bit like gambling, is the thought that you’re going to hit something bigger.”
The NSW government is considering a push by fossickers for greater access to national parks, following claims that restrictions are holding back regional tourism. Conservationists have resisted the push, saying it risks damaging the environment and would require strict controls.
The debate coincides with what Mr Stone describes as a 21st century gold rush, driven by baby boomers and younger international tourists wielding pans and metal detectors.
One man he encountered on the road had “coffee jars full of gold,” Mr Stone said, adding that even a part-time prospector could easily find $15,000 worth of gold a year.
“For a lot of the grey nomads, it’s their recreation and it pays for all their fuel. It’s one of the few hobbies that can pay,” he said.
The resurgence has been helped by the 2012 discovery of the so-called Destiny nugget near Ballarat.
Weighing 3.7 kilograms, it was reportedly found by three men using a metal detector near the side of a road. It sold this month for $292,000.
Colin Adams, 32, of Oberon, fossicks about once a fortnight, often taking his two young daughters.
“It’s really exciting when you find a little bit of gold. It hooks you and then you get gold fever,” he said.
NSW and ACT Prospectors and Fossickers Association president Stephen Dangaard said the atlas offered “no guarantee that anyone will find gold, but at least they will be in the right area and have some fun trying.”
He said about 20 per cent of the state’s national parks could be suitable sites for fossicking and prospecting, which is an “exciting, healthy hobby enjoyed by tens of thousands of people across NSW.”
Mr Roberts said fossicking was an important part of regional economies and small discoveries could unearth large mineral deposits, which “can have major flow on effects to the regional and State economy.”
He said fossicking was allowed in state forests and he could “consider more fossicking districts as required.”