By Fred Mason
I had a wonderful time in Australia. I found 72 nuggets. I met many interesting people. I traveled from Kalgoorlie,W.A. to Darwin, in the Northern Territory. I saw Camels, crocodiles, goannas,
dingoes, brumbies, wild donkeys and assorted kangaroos and birds. Along the way we stopped at the Olgas, Ayers Rock and Alice Springs.
After waiting in airports and flying on airplanes for more then 30 hours I arrived at the Kalgoorlie Airport about 8 p.m. Friday night. As I waited for my baggage I kept scanning the crowd for Doug Stone. Doug is tall and lanky and always wears an Australian made Akubra hat so he is easy to find, but he was nowhere to be seen. I don't think well when I haven't slept so I was acting a bit punchy…anyway I realized Doug was detained so I had to find some other way to get to my hotel, fortunately I made copies of all the numbers and name of the hotel. I dug that stuff from my baggage and caught a cab. The cabbie efficiently dropped me off and after checking-in I was able to get some much needed sleep.
Monday, the beginning, we met the tag-along's in Leanora. After Doug introduced everyone we drove over to the Sons of Gawalia Mine and Museum for an interesting tour of their operation. I had been there on my first visit but it was still interesting. When we finished there we headed out to meet again in Laverton and from there we finally headed out to the Lake Carey gold fields. After arriving at Pikes Hollow we set up our tents, turned on our detectors and struck out to find that BIG ONE! But I had no luck the first day.
Tuesday, the real start of the tour. As usual I am up before everyone else, stirring up the fire and heating water for the morning fix. Being up before the sun was a pattern I am cursed with even when I am on the other side of the world.
After the usual sausage/bacon, toast and eggs we set out to seek gold, hopefully big gold! I didn't find the big one, but I found a patch and got five nuggets for my efforts, plus two others amidst my wanderings…very exciting. Everyday Doug would dispatch his little army of prospectors to some area that he felt had potential. The amazing thing is that every spot we worked would yield gold…gold seems to be scattered from hell to breakfast in Australia. The likelihood of finding an un-worked patch is the real attraction to nugget hunters everywhere. The known gold districts are huge in Australia and no one will ever cover all the ground that has gold in it. Even so Doug freely admits that the quantity of gold has declined from year to year. Minelab has resurrected the nugget hunting with their technology advances and hopefully will come up with some new miracle machine. No matter what they do, once dug, the gold is gone and will never grow back.
Finding new ground is the reason Doug allocates about half of the day to areas that are close to existing diggings. If gold is found He will generally stay in or near that spot for the afternoon. One basic rule that Doug follows and should be remembered is this: Never leave gold to find gold. If gold is being dug, keep digging. If you leave it, someone else will be coming and they will be happy to dig it for their own!
The next phase of the trip we traveled to the Duketon gold district. I continued to consistently find gold and at the end of the two weeks had found about 40 nuggets, only one other person found more pieces of gold. Unfortunately none of my pieces were of dream size proportions. Not that I am complaining, just wishing. By the end of the tour I felt like I was being shadowed and chased. Every time I started digging others would start edging in on my spot…I finally had to learn to stand my ground rather than being chased off by the gold hungry hoards. One thing about these tours that is difficult for me to accept is having people so close. I don't enjoy being squeezed…but that is the way it goes when the gold is getting dug.
After breaking camp and fueling up in Laverton we set out for Darwin in the Northern Territory. With Doug Stone, Michael, Don and me in the Toyota and Colin following in his vehicle we went east and north. The first 1000 Kilometers were all dirt roads through Aboriginal lands. Along the way we stopped at Giles weather station and former missile tracking station, it is the most remote weather station in Australia…tough duty for some I expect. We stopped for a quick look at Lassiter’s Cave; Lassiter found a rich gold strike and then lost it. The irony is that he was a surveyor…makes you wonder about his other survey jobs??? While driving we saw many camels and they were grand…much more impressive in the wilds of the Red Center then locked in the San Diego Zoo. We also viewed dingoes and had one come right into camp to visit. She was very pretty and not afraid of us. After we retired to our tents, she came in the camp and chewed on our dish sponges and scattered other stuff all over. Finally, after three or four days of constant rutted, washboard roads we arrived at the Olgas, a very interesting mountain range about thirty miles from Ayres Rock. This was also the beginning of the paved highway, Thank God…or the government for blacktop I was getting a bit tired of bouncing all over the Toyota.
I found the Olgas to be beautiful and amazing too. They were much more impressive then Ayres Rock from my point of view. I was happy to be able to see them on our way north to Darwin because I would not travel that far on my own just to do tourist-y things. The Resort at Ayres Rock was crowded and chaotic so after we showered we traveled on up the road and camped in the bush…much better then all those people.
Friday evening, just as the sun was setting, we arrived at the beach in Darwin. Doug had missed his turn and this serendipitous event allowed me to snap a picture to show proof that I had been to the northern tip of Australia. It was a lovely sunset too.
Saturday we set out for the first camping spot of the N.T gold tour. I had been warned about the spear grass that grows in the NT but words did not convey the reality of that grass. This spear grass grows 5 or 6 feet high and covers every inch of the gold fields. The thought of swinging a coil in that stuff caused my arm to ache and morale to sink. On top of that the heat and humidity was causing me to question the sanity of coming to a place with 85-degree temps and humidity to match…the first day or two I was wishing for a way to go home to Momma. And then I realized that the grass, temp and humidity are all part of the NT experience and so I adjusted my attitude, had a beer and came to terms with the whole package.
Generally the areas are burned off by the Dry season. This is done to prevent huge forest fires from developing. However, the grass had stayed green longer then usual so that burning hadn't been effective in the areas we went gold hunting. The grass was very difficult to swing a coil in. However the positive side off that problem is that the coil swing was slowed and one tended to be more thorough on the open ground. Of course walking through the grass was a bit scary because of what you could not see as your feet hit the ground- but I never did see any snakes. I could see lizards and large spiders running away from my advance. I am sure glad they didn't run up my pant legs…that would have made a grown man scream, for sure!
One of my unfulfilled dreams I hoped would come true was to find a virgin patch of nuggets. A patch untouched by pick or shovel, a place that I would be the first to find and detect. Eureka! I found that patch and the finding became one of the top events in my nugget hunting experience. We were working a remote area that had a history of lode mining. The track into this area was nearly nonexistent, the places the Aussies go in their vehicles was a constant amazement to me. More then once I was wishing I could get out and walk…the attitude ”No Worries, Mate” extends to every facet of the outback life so I had to grit my teeth and hope we survived the trip. Finally we arrived at an old campsite where considerable hard rock work was done. The terrain was steep and rocky and I wondered if I could stay standing while swinging a detector, needless to say I did manage. This was a new area and another instance of Doug using the group to prospect for new placers. I donned my detector, water container and pick. Set my GPS and set off to cover some ground. I went straight up the steep hill, came to the top of the ridge and went down the other side. I dropped down to a saddle and then crossed over a wash and started up the other side of the next hill. Then I got a signal and started digging. As I was digging I looked up and a small female dingo was watching me. She was a pretty golden tan and curious about what all the noise was. I looked around to make sure that she was alone and that I was not about to be lunch…the dingo was alone and lost interest in my enterprise so she left. I renewed my efforts to find the target and was surprised to find it was a ½ gram nugget. Remembering Doug's counsel that nuggets are rarely alone I started working a pattern hoping for the lone nugget to have many friends and neighbors. After about 30 minutes I hadn't found any more so I dropped down about fifty yards and stated swinging again. Much to my amazement I found another ½ gram nugget. At that point it was almost lunchtime. Also, it was time for Doug's head count to insure none of his clients had got lost. I always made sure to be on time to save him the trouble of starting his search for the lost prospector sequence. Plus I never miss a meal, even in the wilds of Australia.
Lunch is a time to eat, drink and compare finds for the mornings hunt. If gold is not found Doug will move to the next spot. This is the reason everyone is expected to declare their finds. I showed the group my two nuggets and Doug thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time around the hillside where my pre-lunch finds were made. So we loaded up and drove down the hill and commenced the search. I started finding nuggets as soon as I hit the dirt. Then I found more and then more. I was excited, hot and unable to stop, every signal was a nugget! Soon I was surrounded by other gold hunters and they were digging my gold. Damn those claim jumpers, I really had Gold Fever. I learned the true meaning of Greed…and then I realized I was losing control and forced myself to take a break. Unfortunately I lost my focus and didn't find anymore gold at that spot. They christened that spot Masons Patch in my honor. The total for me was 18 nuggets and a fantastic memory to keep forever.
The rest of the trip passed much too quick. And now I am home and wondering if I will make it back to Australia, I hope so.