The best places to find gold in Victoria

Hand with gold

RACV

Posted June 07, 2016


Unleash your inner prospector and hunt for buried treasure in Victoria’s goldfields.

You can find it walking your dog, you can find it kicking a log and, if you’ve got a hard-earned lust for gold, Victoria is the place to be.

About 170 years after the gold rush that made Victoria rich, there is still gold to be found in the state’s aptly named goldfields region.

And as gold prices top $2000 an ounce (about 28 grams), Victoria may not exactly be in the grip of a second gold rush, but there is certainly a revival of fossickers trying to strike it rich.

It is estimated that as much as 75 million ounces of gold remain in Victoria, in meaty nuggets buried deep in the ground or alluvial fragments drifting in our streams and rivers. That’s equivalent to the total amount of gold discovered since the start of the gold rush in 1851.

Sometimes the gold is just lying on the ground, practically in plain sight. Just two years ago, on Mother’s Day in 2019, a girl kicked a 264-gram nugget lying on a well-trod path near Bendigo that had been overlooked by who knows how many passers-by. That same year, a man pocketed $130,000 after digging up a two-kilogram nugget somewhere near Ballarat – he was so surprised by his good fortune he christened his find ‘You Wouldn't Believe It’. 

Now, to help aspiring prospectors try their luck and encourage visitors to explore regional Victoria, the state government has produced a new, free Guide to Recreational Prospecting in Victoria.

Man prospecting for gold

Bendigo Art Gallery. Photo: Anne Morley



Victoria’s past is built on gold, says the Minister for Resources Jaclyn Symes. “With this guide, more people can learn more about our rich history, get outdoors and search for the next Welcome Stranger [a record-setting nugget],” she says.

The guide explains all you need to know about prospecting in the state and importantly points out that unless you have a miner’s right permit, all gold or other minerals found, even on your own land, are the property of the Victorian government. It also lists where recreational prospecting is permitted in state forests and in designated areas within national, state, historic and heritage parks.  

A good place to search is around Victoria’s aptly named golden triangle, a wedge bounded by Ballarat, Wedderburn, Tarnagulla and Ararat. Geologist Jason Cornish, who is state vice president of the Prospectors and Miners Association, says the region’s iron-rich rocks and saline ground water make the perfect geological storm needed to create big nuggets and gold-bearing quartz reefs.

Millions of years ago hot volcanic rocks pushed up through the earth’s surface. This gouged a “pathway” for the gold, carried by saline ground water, to follow. The gold settled in faults in the rocks and as the rocks eroded over time, the gold washed loose as nuggets.

These conditions have produced an astonishing windfall for fossickers since the gold rush. In fact, Jason says Victoria has yielded 90 per cent of the world’s largest nuggets, including the Welcome Stranger found in 1869, in the golden triangle near Moliagul, weighing 72 kilograms. It was discovered just three centimetres beneath the surface around the roots of a tree. Sometimes striking it rich is just sheer luck.
 

Prospecting for gold with bowl

So, where’s the best hunting ground for present-day fossickers?

The trouble is, details of modern finds are usually shrouded in secrecy. Most lucky fossickers are reluctant to reveal the location of their treasure trove, and some don’t want anyone to know about their windfall discovery at all.

“They might hide it in plain sight,” says Fraser Kendall, Australasian general manager of metal detector manufacturer Minelab. “Sometimes they paint it and use it as a door stop or a paperweight, or they run to the bank and stick it in a vault. “And no one will tell you where they found it – ever.”

So we hear about vague locations, such as “outskirts of Bendigo”, which is where a dad, his two daughters and a dog named Lucky were having a stroll on Mother’s Day in 2019. One girl kicked a rock lying on the road. It seemed heavy, a bit different – and it was. It was a 624-gram nugget and a $35,000 Mother’s Day present.

As for the prospector who struck it lucky with a two-kilogram nugget in 2019, he will only reveal that he found it somewhere within 150 kilometres of Ballarat.

The prospector was “shaking like a leaf” by the time be brought his find into metal detector retailer Gold Ballarat. “He didn’t know what to do with it. He hadn’t slept in three days,” says shop owner Mark Day.

Mark says the prospector could have so easily missed his golden opportunity. “He told me the detector made a noise and when he dug down a short way he found a .22 lead bullet and thought that was that,” Mark says. “But the detector kept insisting there was something there, so he dug further and – bang – there it was.”

Old-time prospectors like Lester Fisher, former vice president of the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria, Ballarat branch, have heard it all.

“Sometimes people say they found it on the surface but really they have used excavators and it’s deep down. But then there are times they have just moved a log and found it sitting there.”
 

Large gold nugget

The ‘You Wouldn’t Believe It’ nugget that was discovered in Victoria in 2019.


Five of the best bases for a gold-fossicking expedition
 

Ballarat

One of the richest cities in the world at the height of the gold rushes, Ballarat’s legacy of wealth lives on in its grand Victorian streetscapes as well as the family favourite recreated gold town at Sovereign Hill. Ballarat also has a burgeoning foodie and bar scene, and is an arts hub hosting the Ballarat International Foto Biennale every two years.

Maldon 

Eighty kilometres north of Ballarat, Maldon was declared ‘Australia’s first notable town’ by the National Trust in 1966 thanks to its gold-rush architectural legacy and preserved 19th-century feel. This beautiful town has a thriving artistic community and boasts a full events calendar including an annual folk festival on the weekend before the Melbourne Cup.

Avoca 

In the Central Highlands, 71 kilometres north of Ballarat, Avoca is these days better known for its wine industry. Considered the gateway to the Pyrenees wine region, it’s well and truly on the tasting trail.

Clunes 

This little town is a favourite of filmmakers thanks to its perfectly preserved streetscapes. Home of a nationally significant annual book fair, it also has an excellent monthly farmers’ market.

Creswick 

Creswick is an action holiday epicentre thanks to plenty of walking and cycling trails, and the striking pale water of Blue Waters Lake is a draw for photographers. 


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