Hi PMAT Crew,
After getting home on Saturday I’ve had a few days to reflect on my WA gold prospecting experience. Let’s just say it was an eye opener, and after only taking up gold detecting early last year, all the YouTube research doesn’t prepare you for the unrelenting heat and flies.
In the Pilbara region most of the vegetation is out to get you, and the snakes are never far away. Luckily, I only spied a couple of Browns, but fellow prospectors started mentioning the occasional Death Adder towards the end of the trip as things were warming up.
The days consisted of early starts, everyone usually gathering at the campfire around 6am to discuss the days strategies and locations and we headed out prospecting by 7:30am. We all worked on UHF channel 21 through the day in the event we had issues.
Most of the crew had already been in Nullagine for a couple of weeks and had worked their way up the highways acclimatising to the heat and types of ground as they went. For me I jumped straight into the Nullagine out of the airconditioned car without a clue of what I was getting into. Luckily there were plenty of mentors at hand and more than willing to get me started. On the first afternoon Colin had me out on some ground close to camp to give me time to get my ear in and learn the ground. No gold for me that day, but the master mopped up about 2.5 grams in no time that afternoon.
By the time 4pm came around the rest of the crew meandered back to camp and the stories of riches were abundant. Howards 56-gram nugget, Colins 1 ounce patch and 24-gram nugget and many other gold conquests from Lindsay, Andrew, and Kevin. I hadn’t met Peter yet, but heard he was going extremely well with his 2300. I was up early the next morning and ready to fill my jar. It took a few days to get into the swing of things and by the end of prospecting from that region I managed around 15 grams over about 2 weeks.
I had a little mishap on about day 2 whilst following Colin around for a familiarisation tour of the region. I reversed back onto the track and busted my front left CV joint. It was a totally random issue with no reason at that point. Luckily for me I was able to limp back to camp. After speaking with the camp mechanics and social media mechanics I decided the only way I was going to get this sorted was to tow my Hilux to Newman, nearly 200km’s away. Friday morning, Dusty the tow truck driver came to the rescue after finishing at 1am in the morning and arrived in Nullagine by 8am, a 2-hour drive from Newman. The stories of his towing conquests and ability to drive on the heavily corrugated roads and book in several more tows on his tablet were worrying. Just a cheap $2100 tow and a $600 repair bill followed. This was something I couldn’t have prepare for before leaving Tasmania and had to cop it on the chin. I had the car back in camp Friday night.
Lindsay, Howard, Andrew, Kev, and Peter headed out further for a few days and left Phil and I at camp. Colin headed for the coast to get away from the heat to find some much-needed fishing therapy. I managed to find a little patch on a hill side and cleared out the spinifex, finding a couple of nice speccies and around 4 grams of small nuggets. I was about halfway or more to my target of one ounce.
On that morning we noticed a few puffs of smoke out west from our camp, the others had left a couple of hours earlier for the new location. By about 1pm, Phil and I were getting concerned. We made the executive decision to get out of camp as the fire was moving fast and getting within a kilometre or so. Phil’s words still ring in my ears, “Its several hours away, we have plenty of time”. We had a lot less time than that as the black smoke began pushing up the hill just west of us, and the relaxed packing and relocation became a bit rushed. We ended up leaving a few non-essential items behind. We towed our vans out to a cleared quarry near the road and new we had to go back in and get Lindsay’s van as he was 2 hours away and had no phone range. Those of you who know Lindsay, would know that this is his home. Lindsay and the others were oblivious to the fires until they got back two day later.
After all that excitement the fire crew arrived and began burning a buffer around our vans of which we were very grateful of. See pictures attached.
Phil and I sat in our new camp watching the fires rage over the hills near our vans and were certain the old camp would be ash the next morning. We went up to have a look and to our amazement the fire changed direction and missed our camp by about 100m.
The very next morning we made the most of the newly exposed ground and detected some areas we had not been able to detect before. It wasn’t long before we were asked to leave the leases by the lease holders for safety reasons.
Some of the locals (WA local prospectors) have a thing for Tassie and Eastern States coming over and taking their gold. So, Tassie was blamed for lighting the fire, me mostly, but I was 10km away from the region it started in with Phil. A fella by the name of Andy thought he owned all the Nullagine and was bullying people including me to leave his patches and using a drone to see where we were all prospecting. When I wouldn’t leave, he obviously had it in for me and made up his story (It poses the question who actually lit the fire). He would later come in and work our patches. He barged into our camp on the day we were leaving and reckons he had video evidence of me starting the fire, but this hasn’t been seen to this day and doesn’t exist. The first night of the fires he swung into our new camp like a maniac and was fully amped and very excited. We should have known to give him a wide berth after that. Big lesson learnt here for me, is to distance myself from “Num Nuts”. We did not tell him of our next plans and Lindsay and Phil headed south to Leonora to escape the heat and we decided to return to the area that the others pioneered in the days before.
It’s apparently common practice for prospectors to burn the Spinifex and we did see lots more of this further out in our new area.
This was the start of my next adventure with Howard, Andrew, Kevin and Peter. Was I the guinea pig? I think they wanted to see if it was possible to tow a van into the new area. As it turned out I had no problems getting the van in but had a big problem getting it back out the track a week later. A combination of a faulty pilot, my lack of attention, tiredness and a big hole in the track was to blame. The rut edge caved in causing the van to slip sideways into the hole. With a jack and lots of digging, Andrew, Peter and I were able to get the van upright. We hooked Andrews Isuzu onto the front of my Hilux and she popped out of the hole relatively easily. I broke some outlet plumbing on the van, but that was all.
Most of the country was narrow quartz and ironstone tracks, dry river beds and a few steep hills. Andrew and Howard were the masters at replacing flat tyres over the few weeks in the Pilbara.
We settled back into the routine of detecting and every day we found gold. It wasn’t overly productive for me, but I did learn a huge amount and I know if I went back to the areas I found gold, I would find more. I tended to cover a lot of ground, and as it got hotter through the day, I would get lazy and walk over areas I should have spent more time in. Even after walking many kilometres a day most of my gold was found not far from the car. Looking for a shady spot with ounces of gold doesn’t work apparently.
On the second last day in the new region, I heard a plea for help on the radio. It was Andrew on a hillside not far from where I was. His words on the radio “You better get over here, I think I have something special going on”. I’ll let him tell the story…
I managed a few more speccies and smallish nuggets over the next two days and had cracked my ounce. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I had until I got home and crushed some of my rocks.
After leaving the new location we headed back to Nullagine, had a good clean up, had a good feed at the pub and sadly all parted ways the next day. This short time in the Pilbara will stay with me many years to come, sadly I couldn’t stay longer. I made many new friends and so grateful for everything I learnt. Every night we had a campfire, drank a few beers, and even dragged out the rum occasionally. This is where the learning happens.
On Saturday morning I headed south to Leonora via Meekatharra, Sandstone and Cue to meet up with Lindsay and Phil for a few days before joining the Pirates Prospecting Tour. Next time I’ll take the North Wiluna Road to save a few hours.
Lindsay had lined up a few leases a guy wanted information from. We worked hard in many locations for a few days. Once again, the gold wasn’t really flowing that well. Most days were zero for me, but I found 2 grams on the first day. Lindsay managed a 7-gram nugget and several smaller nuggets.
Once again it was time to say goodbye and head off to meet the Pirates crew at the old clay bird shooting club.
I did find around 5 grams of gold on this tour. It was in microscopic pieces and in heavily detected areas. I met some great people but until the operators find new leases I won’t be back. Aspects of this tour need a big rethink and as a tour operator myself I would feel ashamed taking peoples money.
Back home now, 10850kms later, a van and car full of red dust and still packing things away.
I managed over 11 grams in fines and small chunks of gold out of the specimens and still have two that I won’t crush. One has approximately 7 grams and the other around 2 grams. So that’s 20 grams of gold in specimens and the 28 grams in nuggets. I snagged another 8 grams in Leonora. 56 grams, nearly 2 ounces for me. Which was a surprise as I was thinking a lot less. I also bought 1 ounce off a mate in Leonora at a very good price as his car was broken down and he needed a few bucks to get it fixed and get home to QLD.
Between all of us at camp I believe over 30 ounces of gold was found.
I’ve left lots out of this little story. Let’s just say it was a very sad day for Andrew when Colin towed his bed to the coast. What happens in the Nullagine stays in the Nullagine.