Gold diggers out in droves in Qld bush as the price is right

With the price of gold climbing above a record US$2000 an ounce, prospectors with metal detectors are flocking to north Queensland — trying their luck in the Cloncurry hills.

Aug 06, 2020, updated Aug 06, 2020
John Walton has introduced a number of tourists to metal detecting and gold fossicking in recent weeks. Photo: ABC

John Walton has introduced a number of tourists to metal detecting and gold fossicking in recent weeks. Photo: ABC

Prospectors have flocked to north Queensland to comb the hills for gold after the precious metal reached unchartered territory last week.

For the first time in history, gold prices climbed above US $1900 an ounce in late July and have been on an upward trajectory ever since, this week breaking through the $US2000 barrier.

Third-generation Cloncurry explorer John Walton said the rising price was good news for the north-west Queensland town, which had experienced boom and bust over the years.

“There’s a lot of hardship and hard drilling that produces nothing,” Walton said.

“But it’s good if you know that the price of gold is that high.”

There is only one public fossicking area in the Cloncurry Shire, and Walton, who enjoyed having the hillside to himself until recently, said tourists had been flocking there since travel restrictions eased in Queensland in early July — and they were asking for advice.

“They all wanted to know where the gold is and they don’t want little bits of gold — they want the big bits of gold,” he joked.

“You tell them the best place to go is a place called wild goose creek — so you send them off on a wild goose chase.”

Metal detectors running out

The gold rush has also been noticed closer to the east coast and Frieda Berry-Porter from Outback Prospector in Clermont said prospectors were buying up metal detectors.

“We have trouble some days supplying detectors for our interested customers,” Berry-Porter said.

“The huge demand is across not just Australia but other countries as well.”

Berry-Porter said although gold prices were playing a part in the renewed interest in prospecting, she also suspected people were looking to go outdoors after the recent lockdown.

“For some physical and mental stress relief in responding to the coronavirus, I think it’s good therapy for a lot of people,” she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of new faces and people who have really never had an interest or tried the activities before.”

Exploration companies revive old mines

The record gold prices have also been a boost to exploration companies looking to start larger-scale mines in the area, like the Tick Hill mine that has been dormant for more than two decades.

Carnaby Resources managing director Rob Watkins said the company’s plans to reopen Tick Hill were progressing a lot better because of the current market.

“In normal gold price environments, a lot of these deposits wouldn’t get mined,” Watkins said.

“But with the gold price having gone up so much in the past 12 months, it’s completely changed the dynamics now.”

The company recently signed a deal to process the gold in Cloncurry and Watkins said the aim was to move into production before the end of the year.

“It’s pretty exciting times and I think we might be at the start of a big gold boom,” he said.

Prospecting requires a licence from the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.

– ABC / Eric Barker

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