Sunday, 17 May 2015

All points of the compass

Sunday April 19 - Friday April 24:

A rather apt title describing a few of the following events to be found in this entry. Namely, how the area got its name, where the wind came from, navigational issues with GPS and where we went seeking or fortunes. What follows is an account of my second ever prospecting expedition for the yellow stuff.

Just prior to Easter, I was chatting with a work colleague (John), an avid detector, asking if he had been out recently. A bit silly really, as I knew the weather had been to hot for anyone seriously contemplating such a task. But benefits came from that. Of course he answered he had not been out but he was interested in going in the near future. His problem being his wife could not go and he wasn't allowed to go solo - (A good decision in my opinion, especially in the light of 2 missing prospectors in the near area).

I happened to mention to John that I have my last week of April unaccounted for and was thinking of loading the car and doing a solo trip through the Goldfields - Yes, I see the irony with the statement I made in the above paragraph. However, I have some prior solo experience up my belt and I do take all necessary precautions, a PLB being at the top of that list -You could hear his marbles rolling over and he told me he would get back to me soon. That he subsequently did and it was locked in - we will go prospecting together. Closer to the date, he had decided we would check out Mt Magnet, a place with a good history of finds. I had my doubts, thinking it had been thoroughly picked over, but still applied my old adage:  It's like going fishing. The enjoyment is being out on the water, catching the fish is just the icing on the cake.

John has decided on the comforts of his camper, I decided on the simplicity of a swag. Leaving home at 0700 for the uneventful 550Km drive to Mt Magnet. We were both surprised at the lack of traffic on the highway. I've never seen it so quiet. Mt Magnet is a place full of rich exploration and mining history. So named by early explorers due to the fact that the hill 5km North West of the current town site was so iron rich and magnetic that it affected the explorers "points of the compass".

An expedition carried out in August / September 1854 by Robert Austin which explored northwards from Perth to 26°S and east as far as Mount Magnet which he described as 'probably one of the finest goldfields in the world'. His party continued north and found Lake Austin 118°45'E and finally traversed the upper reaches of the Murchison River and reached Shark Bay.

In 1854, Mr. Austin, an assistant-surveyor, led an expedition which only added proof of the sterility of Western Australia and of the endurance of her explorers. If the barren honour of naming East Mount Magnet on his elliptic route from Perth to the waters of the Murchison be a title to fame, he acquired it.

A fuel up for John in Mt Magnet and I took the lead (owing to having moving map in the car) to find a track John had given me coordinates for. It wasn't looking promising as the roadside was fenced off. But an opening I did find and in we went. Cresting some breakaways and coming back down in the valley, crossing numerous dry water courses (which would spectacular to see when running), we came across an area devoid of quartz and ironstone chunks. A perfect place to set up camp. I suspect this area has been scraped by machine in times gone past. The whole area was full of the decay of past hills in the form of rocks, it was surprising to see an area devoid of it. So we went about setting up camp. The wind was blowing quite strong, and this gave me some difficulty in getting the cover over the Coleman Event14. The two of us struggled with it, but perseverance paid off and camp was complete. And if the wind wasn't enough to try ones patience, the flies certainly did. Its funny how they can sense the right time to attack - the time when both of ones hands are occupied. Flynets were to be standard fare for the week.

The wind was to become another source for the title of this entry. The 5 days we were here, it didn't let up. One night it dropped off about 10pm, only to return at dawn. It is testament to the quality of the event14. All those nights listening to it creak and groan under the stress of the gusty wind, waiting for it to fail at any moment whilst in my slumber, it came through with flying colours. The only real issue being its assembly and removal. After set up, we had some time to pull out the minelab GPX4500's and have a play in readiness for the morning. A simple affair for dinner and we hit bed to start our adventure in the morning.

John was always up early and I was not. He would have a scout around with the detector for a couple of hours before I peeled back the covers of the swag, Then a coffee and/or breakfast and we hit the ground swinging for yellow. This was the course of events the next 4 days.

John found a target near camp one morning and I happened to be up. So I grabbed the camera and recorded the event.

Lots of effort and little reward unfortunately. This was to be the feature of our trip. We loaded up our packs, fired up the detectors and headed out across the hill for our first exploration. Cleaning the hill of wire, cans, bullets and any other non auiferous material, we came to a vast plain. John cleaned the dry water courses of junk and I did the same in the open expanses. Luckily for me, the plains were relatively free of junk (and unfortunately yellow stuff), but I did waste a few moments (sometimes up to 1/2 an hour wasted) digging targets that ended up being a minute rusty flake of some old bully beef can or other junk the old fella's left lying around. Gee, thanks. The quarts chunks here were quite big and I'm surprised I didn't trip over one or roll an ankle. The ground wasn't heavily vegetated so that made moving around a bit easier.

At times John and I were in visual contact. Other times we were far apart. I set up a sked that we would contact each other via the handhelds at hourly intervals. This worked well. However, John educated me further. He had a whistle and this was very effective, even with the wind blowing the opposite direction. Numerous times I heard it, turned on the radio and spoke with John. Something I need to put in my kit for future expeditions I reckon.

A few hours in and I spotted a nice quartz outcrop in the distance. I decided to head for this higher ground so I could gather an aerial view of the place.

And then the radio sked came up. I found out John was at this outcrop so it made even better sense to head over there. Upon arrival, John had depacked his kit and was having a bite to eat. A good plan. Apart from the flies. If you look close, you will even see one of the annoying buzzards of frustration in the picture.

In the distance, a breakaway was to be seen. We could see something on top of it, John declared they were goats. They didn't seem to move to me upon subsequent visuals, I thought they were not. But by this stage, we were both getting a bit tired and I really couldn't have gave a toss if it was vegetation or goat.

We decided to head back to camp. We had both had enough of the walking, the junk and the flies. I headed back to a piece of high ground I had selected, John went another route. Here is where it got interesting. After some considerable distance, I decided I had better home in on the camp via gps. Fired it up, selected the waypoint and found it was about 600 meters away. Problem being, it was directing me in a direction about 45 degrees from where my mind was telling me. So I selected a point in the distance, headed to it and rechecked the GPS. Although I was now closer, It was telling me another direction. Again against my better judgement. I repeated this a few more times. Then I started to get the doubts. I went with my gut feeling for a bit and rechecked. Now further away and the GPS is telling me what my mind doesn't want to hear. It was at this point the title of this blog came to mind. I recalled those early explorers making their way with no map and only compass during the day, stars at night. The iron rich hills playing havoc with their compass. I also started to get those thoughts about not being able to find camp......not good.

Then I recalled an event I had in Central Australia once at Lamberts geographical center of Australia

A geocache is located here and it involves walking a set number of paces from a gps fix on a particular bearing. I did this and spent considerable time trying to locate the cache. For some reason at this point I took a reciprocal bearing and it didn't tally mathematically. I performed a compass calibration and tried again. I soon had the cache.

So I had thought, what if I perform a recalibration out here. Low and behold, after I did this, the gps kept my gut instincts happy and upon cresting a hill I had camp in sight. John wondered why it took me so long to return. The afternoon was then spent trying to keep out of the wind, beer in hand. We both ached. Dinner done by dark, we both hit the hay early, where I lay in my swag. Anytime I moved, something ached. It was going to be a long night I think.

Tuesday dawned and to my surprise, I could move reasonably well. Still a few underlying aches and pains, but on the whole I felt good. John had done his usual early morning prospect and found no prospect. Over breakfast we discussed the days plan of events. John had a mark of a couple of old diggings he wanted to check out. Coffee and breakfast done and we were hitched up and swinging towards the old shafts.

I had to ascend a low rise. The rise was devoid of quartz but full of ironstone and hot rocks. I know the golden rule is to dig all targets, but these bloody hot rocks make life difficult. You sweep, you get a return ping from the minelab. You try to narrow it down and it disappears. You approach from another angle and one minute a small target, the next nothing. Sometimes you can narrow it down to a singular rock after you have booted it to kingdom come or its stuck to your magnet. Other times you can not. In the end, you use your intellect and decide its just a hot rock and you break the golden rule, don't dig and just move on. Just to repeat the process again a few meters on. Sure makes for slow progress. Such the expert I am.....But it does make me ponder. I didn't really like geography/geology at school. How things change as one matures. I would find it quite interesting to learn more on geology these days. Using that knowledge in the field to conclude those area's best for producing gold. in the mean time, I'll just have to rely on technology and luck.

Eventually I spot an old water tank at ground level so I head towards it. I come across some salt and pepper and then I waste ages magnetically separating the junk from the rock. The Minelab going nuts constantly. Not long after I spy what I believe is a big transportable genset. Then through the gaps in the Mulga, I see a parked vehicle. This must be the old diggings and they must now be active. So I do a u-turn and find John. I tell him my observations and he is keen to make contact, whilst I am not. I tell him to remove his detector and contact me on the radio should he require it, whilst I park my arse in the shade and have my ears ring with the buzz of the flies.

Upon his return he tells me he made contact. A wirey old man, something you could imagine of an old prospector in one of those olden day black and white movie's. He informed us we had gone about 300 meters into his lease, so we head back out and return to camp for lunch. After lunch we head out again in a different direction. More promising looking ground to me, salt and pepper everywhere. I came across some evidence of earlier occupation with what looks like the remnants of an old fire place. Again on approach to it, I am held up by clearing lots of junk from underneath the coil. I crossed a waterway and had a look in there for a bit. The other side had lots less salt and pepper and I tried that for a while without success. I hear John whistle and make my way over. He has had an interesting find:

An old emu nest. I told him it must be quite old as emu eggs are black to very dark blue in colour. If I roll one over you may see what I mean. The dark patch underneath was very small indeed. These have been sun bleached for a considerable amount of time. We head home as I said I need to be home early: tonight I am doing a roast in the camp oven.

Still a couple of hours away from darkness, John mentioned he found some old shafts near the quartz outcrop yesterday and thought we should check them out tomorrow. I said I had noticed a cleared line from that outcrop and I bet it meets the track in. So we went for a drive to check it out. Finding the old shafts, we scouted around a bit and found a lot more diggings, some relatively recent and done with machinery. we decided we would come here tomorrow and give it a good going over.

Back at camp, the aches and pains seem to have gone away. Another nugget less day. I gather some timber have a beer or two and get the fire under way. Once the coals have built, I put the oven on and I get John to do a pose:

Teaching John the fine art of camp oven cooking: You sit in your chair, talk bullshit by the fire, beer in hand, listening to the sizzle and adjusting the coals to get the sizzle just right. In a couple of hours you hope you got it right.

After an hour, I lift the lid and check the progress. Whilst the meat is cooking well, the crackle on the pork needs a bit more heat. So I adjust the coals a bit:

Another half hour goes by and in go the veggies. And that's about as technical as camp oven cooking gets. Just before dinner was served, we were blessed with a most spectacular sunset:

To my mind, the above picture explains just why I love being out here. It doesn't get any better than this - well it would if the bloody wind stopped!

A good feed, a nice fire, a glass or two of red and it was time for nod.

In the morning I finally awoke. Not a good night sleep due to the creaking and groaning of the event14 above me in the night time wind (although John's complaints of me snoring somewhat contradict that). John was returning to camp from his unproductive morning schedule. We put breakfast down, put some food in the car, our gear and shot off for the old shafts. John concentrated around the shafts themselves, I headed for the water course. That's the dilemma with old diggings. They were obviously dug for a reason, but there is so much junk left around them you wonder if its really worthwhile. I guess until I find a nugget nearby one, I will never know the answer to that. The water course was also full of junk and that kept me occupied for a bit:

In particular, old tins. They rust away nicely, break up into minuscule little flakes and get carried downstream when the water seldom runs. Being deposited sparsely and just waiting for some annoyed prospector to sweep his detector over the top so he can waste his precious time finding said tiny flake of rust. At this stage I'd had enough of the water course and moved away. I subsequently hit a big target and removed a brass case of a .22. Then another, then another. I thought I'd get to about 10 and it would go quite. But no, 12 cases later and it was still going bananas. I gave up and moved on. Not long after, sweeping away, would you believe that through the vegetation I spied another prospector. So I went over to John and told him of my find. He went in search of the fella whilst I returned to the car for a break. He returned with "Brian" to the car and we had a good chat for a bit. Brian was a local and was killing some time with a gpx4500 himself. John set his detector settings for him as he was complaining the bloody thing wont shut up. He gave it a try out and was very happy.

 It was during this break we got onto the story of the missing prospectors about 150KM's East of here -  (in fact it was an area I prospected in on my last trip and made a blog entry in August 2014). We all agreed it was rather odd. Then Brian dropped a bombshell. He claims the word on the street is that  the official Police line of no evidence of foul play is false. I wont go into and speculate on the detail he provided other to say I also do not believe what we are being told at the moment.

One prospector has been found deceased, His wife and her equipment are still missing. 12 days ago (at the time of writing this), they have gone back to do an expanded ground search. This time they have taken both Major Crime and Forensics with them. And there has been absolutely zero word since they started the new search. Is it a media blackout?
We are all waiting with baited breath as to the fate of the missing wife. Lets hope they find something this time. The truth will eventually be revealed.

Police expand search

Brian took off with his new quiet detector in one direction whilst myself and John went a different direction, crested the hill, a smaller quartz blow on top, the newer mechanical diggings on the other side.

I spent some considerable time over here and surely walked some miles. I tried everything. Near the diggings, the cross cut trenches, the downward slopes, water courses, open country heavily laden with large chunks of quartz and ironstone, in the vegetation and out of it all to no avail. Although I did find some more newer diggings quite a bit further out from those we found yesterday. Even a plugged drill casing: So I suspect there has been finds here in days gone by as you wouldn't bring machinery in on just a whim?

In the bottom of this digging, the skeletal remains of a Kangaroo:

I had been out here for a few hours and was now not only fatigued, but hungry as well. I decided to return to the car for sustenance. As I was so far out, it took me a while to return as I detected all the way home. Upon arrival, the flies were so bad I couldn't be stuffed to eat so just drank instead. John returned shortly afterwards, unrewarded. The joys of prospecting. But John was enjoying himself, even if all he found was junk. or so I thought:

Back at camp, John revealed that after 3 days with no finds, he had had enough. We would pull the pin a day early. It must have been my snoring....Well we did have finds, some quite interesting, but no gold:

John had found an interesting projectile. Around .300 calibre and quite long. I don't know what it had hit, but there was no mushrooming and the projectile was bent nearly 90 degrees at its mid point. The rifling marks on the copper case was interesting too. That night John pulled out his 12V TV/DVD and we watched the same movie or segment thereof half a dozen times. The TV was playing up, kept turning itself off and we were in a loop of the same movie sequence. We gave up in the end, sat back by the fire and both went to bed early. I think we were both pretty well stuffed by that point.

The last day was to be John's day. First up, when I woke he was telling me the story of some birds giving him grief throughout the early hours of the morning. Getting up in the darkness, he discovered they weren't outside, but inside. And it wasn't a bird. He had captured the source of the commotion and waited till I woke before he released it.

That's right, John, aka "batman", had found a bat in his camper, desperately trying to find a way out. Its amazing the life you can find out here.

A couple of years earlier when John was here, he had found a nice chunk of granite that gave off a very good signal. Its been bugging him ever since. We plugged in the coordinates and drove to it. Funny thing was, it was on the track to the old shafts we had driven to yesterday and the day before. He didn't recognise it at the time, but surely did when we navigated to it. The signal was still there. So with sledge hammer and chisel, we worked our way around the rock and into it. It was hard work, but it had to be done. In the end, once well into its interior and the signal was away from the main body, we declared it was just hot rock. A bit disappointing, but the monkey was now off his back. No doubt a few calories too.

So to finish the day off, we drove past camp and kept going to the site of yet another marked old mine John had found on Google Earth. Once out of the car, John headed for the mines and I had a reconnoitre up the hill. A small quartz blow and to my mind very uninteresting ground. The flat lands surrounding it looked ok though. So we geared up, john hit the area of the mines (which he didn't find incidently) and I hit the flat lands comprised of large chunks of quartz and ironstone. More time wasted digging bits of junk. After a couple of hours I crossed a track and soon after heard a car coming. It turned out to be Brian and his partner Dave in an old Triton. Luck wasn't on their side and as they approached me, he run the new desert dueller into a bit of Mulga stump and pierced the sidewall. Tyre changed, and a whinge about why it was his new tyre that copped it, not one of the three older ones, they were on their way. Brian was very thankful for his new detector settings. They were working a treat - if only they could find some yellow.....

Not long after, I get a call on the radio "do you want to see some gold".......Bugger. I told you it was John's day. Asking for his location, he is about 50meters from the car. I am a long way away, but I head back. Due to the distance to traverse, I emu pick with the minelab, rather than cover by sweeping. I eventually make my way back and find the area where John has had his find is very unremarkable. In fact, its just forward of where I did my initial reconnoitre and I fobbed it off for better looking country. Just proving the expert I am.....Hopefully building my knowledge for future expeditions. A piece of about 1.5 grams. But not enough to convince John to stick to our original plan of staying another day.

Whilst it looks good in the picture above, overall the ground to me was unappealing. You can see the scoop where the nugget was found, forward of the detector if you look hard enough. It might have only been 1.5 grams, and a dirty looking piece, but that was why we came here.

So we decided to grid the area to look for mummy nugget. John took the better looking ground, going down the slight rise. I went up top in even worse looking ground than where the nugget was found. Starting at what I believed was the most unlikely, moving toward more likely. Chaining here was a bit of a challenge due to the vegetation, rock and lack of loose soil, so I eventually just scribed witness marks with the pick at regular intervals.

But alas, some considerable time gridding on the ground didn't produce any more. I decided just before packing up, I would go have a closer look at a breakaway about 200m forward of our position. I left the pack and detector behind. On the way there, there was evidence of a fair bit of activity in the area. Diggings, scrapings and chain marks. So I guess this area has produced in the past. Upon reaching the breakaway, numerous small caves were found at its base. One, particularly interested to the flies had another Kangaroo corpse. I return to pick up my belongings and head back to the car. Interestingly, the ground looks different on my return. Half way back and I know I am not going to find my pack. With no GPS on me, best I can do is head North and make the track we drove in on. Then to decide on an East or West turn. I pass over a grassy flat patch that I sort of remember seeing, but I don't put a reference on it to the vehicle. I have seen a few of these out here. I suspect they are clearings where demountable's have been placed at some stage in the past.

As I get half way across the cleared patch, John calls me on the radio and said he just saw me to the East. So I head West and find him in no time. Which just goes to show how easy it is to get lost out here. I only traversed 200 meters out and lost my way back. Maybe that is what has happened to the missing wife of the deceased prospector? But where is her equipment? We pack up and head back to camp for our last night.

I actually get up a bit early on the last morning as I have a lot of work to do to get on the road. John again helps me with the event14. Its almost as bad to pull down as it was to put it up. Once the nylon cover is away though, it is unaffected by the wind and is just a simple matter of deconstruction. After a couple of hours, we are ready to hit the road for the 550Km journey home.

On the track out, we head towards the breakaway we could see from the large quartz outcrop. And guess whats on top. Yep, goats. Seems John was right after all.

A couple of wrong turns on the way out and we make the highway. Unfortunately, this time around, its back to its usual busy self. And those stupid bloody wide loads you have to contend with. I thought the mining boom was over? Seems its not just yet.

We take a small detour at Paynes Find for another go on the detectors. Lots of junk at the start, but further in it goes quiet. I did get a bit excited at one stage when I acquired a small target. 6" down and its still in the hole. A good sign. However at 7" it is now outside the hole. Sepperating and scooping, I find the target, a small ball of lead. Probably 12 Gauge BB shot. But that proves to me that my technique is ok, I just need that bit of luck to pass over a piece. It is quite unremarkable country here. Very, very little quartz or ironstone. And the ground is highly silica, must like river sand. But the area has had huge finds in the past, so I guess there is no reason as to where to find gold sometimes.

I did spot some interesting ants nests though. From a distance I wondered if they may have been bush turkey nests, but the hole in the middle shows what they are.

From there an uneventful, long drive home. Coming home a day early has allowed me time to unpack properly, so its not been a waste. I've been off work  three and a half weeks now and this is my third trip away in that time. So I have plenty to do to get ready for work in 2 days time.

It may be argued that my fishing analogy is my justification for having zero finds under my belt. To that I would disagree. I know my technique is right and its just a matter of time before I swing the coil over a piece of yellow. Whilst I would be over the moon getting that monkey off my back, I am still more than happy spending a week in the bush, camp fire in the background, glass of red in hand, watching the stars and escaping city life. And on that, I cant wait till I go again. The 2015 tally of nights under canvas is now up to 19.

Trip Stats:

1156Km travelled
127L fuel used
for an average of 11L/100Km
cost of fuel $170


  1. Another three great installments, your certainly knocking up a few nights under canvas this year.
    Thanks for the terrific pic's.


    1. Thanks again Dno. Its comments like yours that make me feel its all worthwhile compiling these stories for others to read. With Regards,

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Annie. Glad you liked it :)