Adventure Travel Western Australia

Gold in WA: A Treasure Hunters’ Guide

Never mind Pokémon Go, this is a much more rewarding way to explore the outdoors!

Prospecting in Australia is defined as searching for metals and minerals. Chasing a metal or gold detector across the ground is included in this definition, and Western Australia has a wealth of gold and minerals that is the envy of the world. Consider the fact that we’ve only been tapping these natural reserves for the last 150 years, which makes prospecting in Australia particularly rewarding.

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Each state and territory has its own rules and regulations, but WA is geared for the prospector and offers a ‘lifelong’ prospecting licence at a nominal cost to encourage the adventurer and investor, so it’s a great place to start. You only have to take the brilliant tour at the Perth Mint to hear all about the state’s short golden history. Here you can watch one of the few pure gold pours open to the public, and it is worth every minute of your time.

A WA Miner’s Right will give you access to prospect on Crown land, pastoral and grazing land, and lands reserved in common, mining or public utility, which are vast regions of the state. There are just over 2.5 million people who live in WA, yet the state covers one third of our continent. In addition to your Miner’s Right, you may need permission to access Aboriginal reserves, or a Section 40E permit when you want to prospect on a granted exploration licence. The several mining registrar offices across WA can help with these permits and will offer invaluable advice for the prospector. This is a good first stop in any region you would like to explore.

Our bush camp near Laverton, WA
WHERE TO BEGIN YOUR HUNT

There are places where you can’t prospect, such as national parks, nature reserves, within town sites and, specifically, cemeteries. But aside from these, treasure hunting or metal detecting can be a rewarding pastime at beaches and other public places as defined differently to prospecting. Here you commonly will find coins, jewellery and other interesting social artefacts, often long lost down through time. It is truly a world full of adventure for the one swinging a metal detector on a treasure hunt and in removing the rubbish you find. You are, after all, performing an invaluable service in removing metal rubbish.

It is worth remembering that metal detectors and gold detectors are two very different animals. Most novice users of the cheaper metal detectors are actually ‘treasure hunting’ and therefore don’t require the Miner’s Right to operate a metal detector. Treasure hunting is a valid and entertaining pastime and offers access to parks, reserves and other public spaces but it is worthwhile investing the $25 in a Miner’s Right in WA, because if you are perceived as being a prospector, then the fines for prospecting without one can be as high as $150,000.

Gold detecting in the WA goldfields is a lot of fun
WHEN FINDERS ISN’T KEEPERS

Detecting without a Miner’s Right is not stealing from the land owner or occupier, it is stealing from the Crown and a very serious offence. So it is essential that you obtain the right to prospect, no matter where you plan to go, before you begin prospecting anywhere in Australia.

Gold is a pure metal and is believed to have arrived with the other elements of the Earth, billions of years ago. It was delivered to the ground surface via volcanic activity, or with the more recent arrival of meteors and comets, some which were heavy in this element. Unlike precious gems such as diamonds, gold doesn’t perish or shatter and it is also highly malleable. Gold has a finite quantity and for reason of its historical value it forms the base of our economies.

Water moves gold, in the process of erosion and in the movement of subterranean, super-heated water, which forces gold into cracks to set, forming a lode, i.e. the mother lode veined within rocks, most commonly seen in quartz.

Obtaining the Prospecting Licence is a necessary evil

However, gold can be found literally anywhere. Western Australia is rich in gold due to the age and sedentary geological nature. Ancient volcanic mountain ranges have weathered down to vast plains and deserts, many uplifted and then scoured by rivers born of these same mountains, which have scored gorges throughout the land, with a little help from our ancient Kadimakara or Dreamtime creatures. These ancient creatures often followed the path of water, as do all living things. Find the path of water, either ancient or flowing, or that which was at any time super-heated, and gold is a possibility.

Deciding on where you are going to prospect is essential before you get out and about. Once you have settled on an area in Western Australia, you can freely visit the Government Tengraph online, which is a mapping service for WA mining tenements. The Tengraph will give you a detailed, accurate and up-to-date picture of land under mining and exploration activity, and makes it easy to determine what land is available for prospecting. Advice on using this mapping program is available at Helpdesk, in an online quick reference manual, or physically at the desk of your area’s mining registrar office. As a novice we found a visit to the office was our best option and infinitely rewarding.

Ruins of a gold mine, near Ravensthorpe
KEEP IT SIMPLE TO BEGIN

Venturing into prospecting can begin with a gold pan, or a cheap little metal detector and a shovel. Bear in mind that you need water to work a gold pan, and people take a dim view of you polluting a precious water supply with sediment when panning. So a little metal detector costing a few hundred dollars is often a great place to start your adventure. For the serious detector, you can spend thousands investing in equipment, so consider well your investment in both time and money. A GPS such as the Garmin eTrex 10, will also track your path into the bush, ensuring you can return to your vehicle or camp. Often an essential piece of safety equipment, the eTrex 10 will save you from wandering off into the wilderness like Mr Lasseter and getting woefully lost. In isolated regions it is always advisable to carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). This piece of equipment will transmit your location to emergency services in the case of a serious incident.

Begin your search in local areas and play with the adventure of it; you will be amazed at what you find. If you choose a public area you will also attract attention, so those headsets are very desirable. We have known people, particularly tourists, to follow a treasure hunter, curious about the whole process and more than once we’ve had a curious group of kids pounce on a noisy reading or hit, ahead of the person holding the detector. But most of all it’s about having fun and enjoying your adventure.

A couple gold detecting on Cobra Station
Checklist

Before you start:

  • Have a current “Miner’s Right” – available at any mining registrar office in WA for $25 (lifelong).
  • Research the relevant sections of the Mining Act that apply to prospectors.
  • Know the land – obtain the necessary permissions if required.

Before you arrive:

  • Have written permissions from any tenement holder if prospecting on a granted mining tenement.
  • Let the pastoralist know if you’re prospecting on their lease. Gain written consent if possible.
  • Do you have that permit? In addition to a Miner’s Right you may need a Section 40E Permit to access specified granted Exploration Licence areas.
Prospecting rules:
  • Do not remove more than 20kg of samples.
  • Do not undertake strip mining,
    i.e. don’t strip off the top layer to access a lower layer.
  • Notify tenement and land holders when you are
    arriving and leaving.
  • Avoid any damage to property and livestock.
  • Protect the environment. Fill holes, remove all rubbish
    and leave things clean and tidy.
Further Info

Information pamphlets on prospecting in WA can be found at the Dept of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) website and the mapping program Tengraph is freely accessible, though you must register as a user (also free).