Thursday, 28 August 2014

There's Gold in them thar hills

We just picked the wrong hills :(
An account of a week long prospecting expedition to Youanmi and Sandstone, WA, August 16th - 22nd 2014

Meeting Greg and Barry at the local supermarket at 0800 for last minute fresh supplies, the 3 of us headed off across the city for the 40 minute run to pick up the 3 x Minelab GPX-4500's from Reeds.

Minelab 4500

Situated in a lovely old heritage building run by Jeff and Jo. Greg filled out the paperwork and paid the hire fees. Once this was done, Jo gave us a demo on how to use the device.

Wow......Jo was nothing short of just brilliant. She knew her stuff from top to bottom and proceeded with the demo. I know you can teach a parrot to talk, but I never imagined a person could mimic a Minelab. She proceeded with the demo without its battery attached. From the auto tune, to the ground balance to the target acquisition, she mimicked tone perfect, every beep and whoop the detector would make during that process. It was just amazing. So much, I would go back to hire one just to see this remarkable demonstration again.

4o Minutes or so later and we left Midland, bound for Paynes Find.

A coffee and cake in Bindoon and we plugged on. The Great Northern Highway didn't let us down. What with road works and wide loads, it was slow going at times. They say the mining boom is over....then why the hell do I keep getting stuck behind all these bloody wide loads?

We got stuck behind a donga for some time. Bloody thing went from one threshold to the other. Oncoming traffic had to stop in the dirt. We got called by the pilot well in advance to overtake on unbroken lines as the route ahead was clear. Barry dropped the shorty into the RHS dirt and I followed close behind. When he showered me with midwest gravel, I backed off and had another attempt once he had gone around. Problem being, once level with the donga and in the dirt, white roadside posts were looming....It was a tight squeeze indeed, but somehow I avoided both the donga and the posts.

I think Barry and Greg were getting over me saying over the radio, every time we were held up - "did I tell you I hate this road". Once past Bindi Bindi, the run got much better and we stopped for a top up at Wubin. No one was keen on taking up the $13 hamburger with the lot I got here 6 weeks prior  as described in my prior blog post. Then as we were fuelling up, another wide load donga passed us. Great!. We got held up for about 10Km's, which slowed us considerably and when we finally got past, calculated the time to Paynes Find and we were not too far out on our ETA. Paynes Find was our meeting point with Keith and Christine who had come down from the North. We had arranged weeks earlier, before they left for their travels, for them to meet us at 1430. We arrived 15 Minutes late, which with all the hold-ups, I thought was a pretty good deal.

Still with an hour and a half to go to the camp, darkness potentially looming, we hit the road pretty quick. The road was excellent, much the same as the upper half of it I travelled 6 weeks prior.

Keith had to do a turn back 10Km's into the trip from Paynes. He realised he had left his reading glasses and a book on top of the camper. As luck would have it, he found the book on the road, now souvenired with Goldfields dirt and the glasses still on top of the camper. Talk about a lucky break.  When he eventually caught up, we plugged on. Unfortunately, it had been 3 years since Barry had been up there, so finding his "camp site" proved to be a mission. We did find an alternative site, but for my liking it was a bit small, inclined and rocky. So we kept looking about and poking our nose down a track, we ended up finding an absolutely perfect site. So perfect in fact, we spent the whole week there rather than the planned move closer to Sandstone midway through the trip. Maybe I should have taken the comfort of the ulti?

We arrived with just enough time to set up camp, gather wood, cook dinner and relax with a few bevvies. It had been a long day. The camp site was situated in a nice little bowl, flat, partially wind protected and far less rocks to deal with.  Plenty of firewood was available at short distance and an old rabbit warren proved to be the perfect spot for ablutions - far less digging to be done. It was all but perfect.

And so concluded day one.

We rise to a beautiful morning, almost cloudless. Over breakfast we discuss the plans for the day. The ground at base camp looks like it holds some promise, so being keen as mustard, we decide to check the ground in the surrounding area. We have 3 Minelabs but 4 prospectors. But Barry has a plan.....He has acquired a detector from a buddy at his local golf club. So he pulls it out and starts to set it up. The 6 P's were obviously forgotten (prior planning prevents piss poor performance), cause as Barry opens the battery case, he discovers it is missing 2 cells. And the blasted thing takes 9 Volters....Like we carried spare ones of those....Not!

Anyhow this event coined the phrase that I'm sure we will all remember for a lifetime....."Mate, Your two batteries short of a detector."

So Barry and Keith decide to share the 3rd Minelab. Greg and myself plunder off into the scrub in different directions, sweeping for that elusive nugget. Whilst we are out there, Barry shoots off in the car to see if he can find the campsite from 3 years ago and also to check out Southern Cross Bore. A couple of hours later and we have all returned to camp for lunch, no targets of interest found. I picked up some junk - a piece of small chain like that found as a retainer for a fold down cupboard door and a bloody staple. Try sorting a staple out of a handful of dirt and gravel. Thank goodness for magnets. Greg found a projectile case. That was pretty special, the copper case peeled back to the base minus the lead. Never seen the inside of a projectile jacket before. Keith found some evidence of chaining (a method of marking the ground one uses when gridding a patch)

After lunch, we decide to check an area of "Salt and Pepper" Barry found whilst out in the car. A good example of potential auriferous salt and pepper country is pictured below:

I have to say, I do love the picturesque breakaways dotted throughout the area. Greg and Myself went one side of the road, Barry, Keith and Christine the other. We all returned with the same results: Junk. In the end I gave up. A couple of old water tanks were lying on the ground nearby and all I would find is small flakes of rusted sheet metal. No doubt remnants of the old water tanks rusting away. Greg was having a great time with reticulation flag stalks.....A wire about 2mm's in diameter and 10" in length. These flag stalks were to be Greg's Achilles heel. The amount he found was staggering. I suspect these flags were used by prior prospectors, marking boundaries when gridding a "patch". The fact that we found them most places we went, suggests to me that the area's had been hit hard prior, so the prospect of finding a good piece was somewhat diminished. But if its been gridded, one would think there have been finds.

I'm not sure where the day went really, cause before we knew it, it was over. Time to return to camp a little early to get all the pre darkness jobs out the way. I decided it was time for Camp Oven roast #1 as we had time up our sleeve to do so. I had a small pork roast to do, far too much for myself to eat alone, so I cooked for all to share. The others supplied some veges as I only had the veggie's for myself.

After little while, the roast was sizzling away. Every now and then, lifting the lid to check the progress and checking the temperature of the oven was good. That is the secret to camp ovens - temperature control. When nearly done, the veggie's were thrown in. New coals on the lid to get the crackling just right and a few more around the base to compensate for the heat loss of the new additions. We sat round the fire, drinks in hand, in the glorious scrub, smelling the wafting odour of dinner from the camp oven. Greg and Barry had some meat to cook and whilst they did this, I warmed the roast pork gravy. Meat now done, gravy warm, its time to check the veggie's. The fork slid like a hot knife through butter into the biggest potatoes, so we knew it was time. Camp oven now on the table, I used Barry's dodgy 4 foot tongs to bring the gravy over. Bloody thing lost grip half way there. So the ants had gravy for dinner. That was a bummer, because if you discount the loss of gravy, the meal was nothing short of perfect. Topped off with apple sauce, it was just brilliant.

We spent the rest of the night around the bush tele, sharing drinks, swapping stories and retelling recollections of past ventures. This set the scene for every night around the fire. Who'd want to be at work? Like I said most nights around the fire - "I wonder what the poor people are doing"

Selfishly, I didn't care less.

We woke on Monday to a crow making all sorts of stupid noises. Half asleep in the swag, busting for a pee but not wanting to open the eyes or relieve the urges. But that bloody crow kept my concentration away from sleep and other duties. I almost got up to throw rocks at the uselessly noisy, black feathered rat, but I knew if I did, sleep time would be over. Eventually it found something else to annoy, sleep ended and my bladder thanked me kindly. I guess in hindsight, I only delayed the inevitable.

We had a cooked breakfast today and decided to hit Greg and Barry's patch, a short drive away. This patch had produced 3 pieces last time they came. So we knew it at least had history.

A couple of hours of detecting and I returned to the vehicle to discover Greg had scored a flake of about 0.46 Grams. Nearly $20 worth! Guess we wont be retiring just yet.

The area very close to the find:

So that's now 4 pieces this patch has produced. At this stage I'm undecided if I'm happy because I know there is something still around, or pissed off because Greg showed me the money. But to be honest, The former is the real deal and I'm happy for Greg. Let the competition begin I say. I have to say both my back and arm was aching from lugging a pack and swinging the stick. It did so every time I went out. I guess I need more practice and training.

The cloud cover had thickened throughout the day and now it looked like rain was imminent. A decision was made to head back to camp and prepare for wet weather. My car was back at camp, I was being driven by Keith. He only had the one position available as his car was chock o block with gear as he had been travelling for a few weeks at this stage. So I hung back at the patch whilst he dropped Christine off and came back for me. Not long afterwards, the heavens opened up. And here is myself, in tee shirt and shorts, stuck in the deep scrub, getting drenched. I sought relief by seeking some shrubbery to little gain. Luck was on my side though, it stopped pretty quick.

Back at camp, I put up my front wall and a tarp on the windward side. Barry erected a tarp over his swag. Greg was alright as he was tenting it, likewise Keith and Christine in their camper. We erected Barry's gazebo with enclosed walls and retreated there for a bit whilst the rolling thunderstorms turned the campsite to mud. As luck would have it, we didn't get a lot of rain, so the mud was under control. Christine had made some scones in the camp oven and we had some warm comfort under Barry's gazebo eating them.

The rain fell on and off for the remainder of the day. Once darkness fell, the rain abated and we cooked and enjoyed the fire in dry comfort, albeit very overcast. Water had pooled considerably in the roof of my awning, so I spent some time removing it and adjusting the slope to allow run off. I mistakenly thought I had removed all the pool. I discovered my error sometime post 9pm, when I stood under the edge and pushed up. About half a bucket load emptied directly over my head. Great....wet clothing and bed with a wet head. Oh the joys of camping. I wonder what the poor people are doing - probably staying dry if they had any sense.

Tuesday morning and we woke to a white out. Remnants of the moisture from the night before. It gave the campsite a whole new feel.

Today was to be the Sandstone expedition. So after breakfast, we set up camp in case of follow up rain and all headed in convoy for the 80 odd Kilometres to the town center. A quick look around and we headed further on and found a track leading into a tenement we had permission to be on. We spent an hour or so having a sniff. To my mind, the ground didn't look to promising, but we were in the shadow of a decent operation, so it was worthy a look. Nothing but more junk was found.

We hit the heritage trail on the way back to town. I bagged a cache I forgot to pick up on my trip 6 weeks prior at London Bridge. Only to discover when I got home, there was 2 more in town I had forgotten about as well. Oh well, another excuse to head back I suppose

We headed back to the pub for lunch. When ordered we hit the bar for drinks. Two Chinese girls were working the pub. They had been there about a week and found the job on gumtree. Guessing they hadn't been in the country long as language proved a bit of a barrier. When all the stubbies were ordered and the bill tallied on the till, I asked if they took eftpos. Se said sure, give me a moment.and walked round the corner like she had when we ordered our individual beer. Coming back with a smile and an outreached hand holding can of Emu Export, we all broke up. Shaking my head and waving my visa card, she said "sorry, sorry" and came back with the machine. I had found my first gold!

It was hilarious. The thick roast lamb roll Barry and Myself had with chips was an awesome deal for $10. Same for Keith and Christine with their fish and chips. Greg went the roast chicken roll, but I feel Barry and Myself made the right choice. Lunch for 5, with a coffee and a beer each for the grand sum of $80. I thought it was a good deal myself.



Barry had used his charm and buttered up the boss lady at the pub for a free shower. Greg and myself declined, we just wanted to be on the ground with the minelab. The shower can wait. Barry and Keith refuelled. Greg found a job add at the shire office.

Plant operator:
Award + 45%. Free rent. Electric allowance.....and so on. When he told me, I wished I was a plant operator.

He also found an interesting sign in the gift shop. The woman looking after the gift shop, also looks after the service station. if she is busy with the fuel, the shop doesn't shut. The sign says take what you wish to purchase and leave the money on the counter. Any change will be given to the RFDS. How's that for country honesty.

The town is filled with interesting old relics. I actually quite like the place. I hope it never see's the fate of some of the other Goldfields communities in the future.

I drove over to the servo and parked well to the side near the old car above to await the others. The fuel lady approached and I dropped my window. She asked if I wanted fuel. I told her no, I was just waiting for the others. She then proceeded to ask me to leave, because they might get busy. Like lady, are you serious? The fuel station is in the shot above. Over run with customers in the middle of gaffa country ( great area of f*%k all)

I had found my second gold for the day. That piece was priceless.

We decided to search some likely looking country we found at Black Range on the trip up. The first place produced nothing of worth, although I did find a file, so we headed south a bit further and searched some country on the other side. This area was channel country (dry of course). Where I ended up (at least) it was a little snakey likely habitat - shin high grasses and no "salt and pepper". So I gave up on the virgin dirt and had a crack at the water courses. I found the spent case of a .44 The case diameter was huge, the length was short. It must kick like a mule when pushing that slug down the riffled barrel.

So again, on the last ground for the day, the result was 0 nuggets but I scored two pieces of verbal gold.

Back to camp, dinner and drinks by the fire and discuss the plan for the following day. Barry asked the question "what do you want to do tomorrow". I replied with not hitting and running an area, but to hit it hard. Spend all day there. Pack lunch and water and return to the car only at the end of the day. It was agreed and we agreed to go back to Greg's patch to truly see what it was made of.

We rose to a partially cloudy day on Wednesday. Cooked breakfast and drove to the patch. Greg headed off in the direction of his find a couple of days back. I chose a different route and headed off between two contour lines on the gps. We took hand helds and set up a sked to contact each other on the hour. My route ended up being a failure. Nearly pushing up against the eastern edge of a breakaway, the vegetation thickened and the ground looked very unlikely. I was about 1.5 Km's from the vehicles at this stage. I decided to head East. Crossing some dry water courses, I eventually came across a huge patch of very promising looking ground. I spent some hours here, going East/West, then North/South then any which way the vegetation allowed me to go. Into the open, under the vegetation, all was up for grabs. The area was enormous.I discovered an exposed quartz vein, running North/South but the Minelab told me it was only quartz. I swept and swept and all I could find was reticulation flags. I suspect the area has been swept clean, but onwards I went. Then I hit a big target. Must have been a meter in length. This spelt a warning, cause I'd either hit Lassiter's reef or found a big piece of junk. I suspected the latter. There was evidence of prior digging beside my target. This also produced a solid sound on the Minelab. But target it is, target be dug.

After I got a hole 12" square and 6" deep, down to hard clay, I decided the evidence suggested it was only going to be junk. I also needed a bigger pick if I was to get down any deeper. So I filled the hole and kept sweeping.

Sometime later, I found another target much the same as above. About 100M due South of the original target. Only this time, it could clearly been seen to be dug prior. It could only be junk, so I didn't bother, I just gps'd their respective co ordinates.

Speaking to Greg, he was back at the vehicles. He decided to join me. I gave him my position and waited under the scant shade of some shrubbery, having my lunch. A bit of a mix up with coordinates

had him describe country I knew was to the East of me. I went over there earlier. I told him to head West and we eventually caught up. He agreed that my target would be junk. From there, we decided to head back to the vehicles and call it a day. The GPS log showed I chalked up 5 Kilometres for the day over 6 hours. Baby step by baby step, sweeping all forward ground as I went. how my back and arm now ached.

I was knackered once back at the car. We all compared our results of hitting the patch hard. Again, a result of nothing but junk. It was time to chill back at camp. As we had time up our sleeve, I decided to prove my mastery of the cast iron by having the second pork roast. Christine got in on the action too and set about making a raisin damper in her oven. I had no gravy to spoil things this time and the roast came out picture perfect, just like the first. Point proven.

later on we dined on wine, port and raisin damper spread with butter and golden syrup. I do pity those poor people.

And before we knew it, another day had drawn to a close.

We decided to head South of Youanmi today, to check out another tenement. This was to be our last day detecting, so someone had better pull a finger out. Over breakfast we discussed the amusing sound of magpies singing in the early hour darkness. What the hell a magpie is doing awake at 1am has me beat.

We shot off and drove past the abandoned homestead and found a likely looking patch to check out. We kept going for a reconnoitre. An abandoned mine lay a bit further to the South. However, it must have become live again, as evidenced by the excavator we spied in the distance. So we turned back and hit the patch we found earlier. Another fruitless search. Greg showed me an old jar he found. It was a Peck's Paste jar. I haven't seen that stuff in years. I think I grew up on it. As I pondered the jar, I recalled the taste of the stuff, wedged between two slices of buttered bread. Oh' the memories of childhood. Greg had never heard of it. But doing some research on the stuff now, I don't know what I used to have. Salmon and shrimp paste maybe? That sort of rings a bell. Although I do recall a purple label, so maybe it was chicken and ham? Does anybody know if there was an original Pecks and all these other types I find are new variants? I'm sure I didn't like anchovies as a child. And I'm sure it came in both a jar or a can with a plastic resealable lid. As I type, how I long for a Peck's sandwich.

For Greg's benefit, here's some images:

Pecks Paste
But I digress. On the way out I asked if we could stop at the homestead for a photo session. And I'm glad we did as shown below:

Its a shame someone removed the bed to have a swag by the fire and didn't put it back afterwards

The old truck parked up outside:

The asbestos shoes is something not seen today though:

So empty handed, we decided on trekking back out to Black Range. We were going to notch up some miles today.

We turned off the road at Black Range and had our Minelabs in action. The direction I headed in wasn't promising. So I crossed the hill to see if the other side fared any better. I found evidence of two shafts on the downward side of the hill, now filled in. So maybe at some stage something had been extracted from the area.

The other side was also barren, but I spied a creek in the distance. I'm amazed how in such dry country, such deep and channelled water courses exist. I guess at times (albeit rarely) a fair bit of water flows. Maybe after the remnants of the North West cyclones decay and make their way inland as rain depressions?

Apart from the South West, Western Australia is really an arid region. I guess that explains the actions of the early day explorers. They would catch a native and keep him hostage until his need to drink, would make him reveal the source of his precious water supply to the captors. Quite a few of these explorers owe their lives to such deeds. I guess in a life and death situation, man will stoop to any measure.

I crossed the creek and found my first target: a 1/4" washer....Great. But I was now in "Salt and Pepper" again, so I spent some time here, sweeping away all to no avail. When detecting, you are taking small steps forward and your focus is on the ground directly in front. Hence I didn't see the bush chook's till they startled me when they ran from behind some scrub:

I decided to return to the vehicles. Every one was back. The only find was from Greg, who found evidence of a makeshift camp. A couple of plastic barrels and a picnic bench left placed in the field. We discussed our next and last area to check. I mentioned I had found potential auriferous ground over the ridge and I also saw a track to one side. I suggested we should drive the track, cause I believe it crosses the creek above and leads to the "Salt and Pepper" I had been searching earlier. We did and I was correct. This was another huge area and we all went separate directions. Sometime later, exhausted, we all returned to the vehicles empty handed. The expedition was over and Greg was the winner with a $20 flake.

Whilst out there, I found another smaller watercourse and for the sake of the blog, took another picture:

Before we loaded the detectors for the final time, I decided we needed an action shot for posterity. Here is Myself in action. I really should have changed my week old dusty shorts for the picture:

And Greg (love the socks mate, you should have been a bus driver):

And Barry. We wont mention he struggled all trip trying to work out which way the harness went (and we wont mention he has it upside down here. That battery must have given him a neck ache)

So now there is only but two things to do for the rest of the last day. A photo shoot at an unnamed bore on the way home Greg suggested, and go to find the magnet Barry lost when trying to crack a sample of crystalline quartz that Christine collected to take home a few days earlier. I took a small piece for my Daughter:

The bore on the way back to camp: (love the colours in the sky)

I thought here was as good a place as any to get an arty shot of Greg's flake:

I explored the area on foot around the bore. I found old watering troughs:

And a shallow dam the bore was feeding:

Interestingly, well hidden amongst the scrub, I spied part of an old shack:

But what shocked me the most was its interior. It looks lie a massacre had occurred. I'm sure its more than one single animal:

Then it was onto finding Barry's magnet. Trying to find a quartz crystal rock, 50 meters from the car, in "Salt and Pepper" country was harder than finding MH370. But I came up with the goods. I found the crystal, but the magnet was not found. Left for the next prospector to find.

We returned back to camp for the last supper. Barry shared his bottled load like he had done all week. Over the week we had sampled multitudes of variety's of red, Benedictine port from New Norcia (and blessed it was too), Tathra plum port from Keith's home town in the south west (I got all the chewy plum bits - eeew) and multitudes of other poisons. Just after we had dinner done and dusted, the rain came back again and we retreated rather cosily to Keith s camper annex. There again, we listened to repeats of Barry's tall tales. They were awesome.

I would just like to make one comment. Barry, I take my hat off to you. Your stories inspired me and your travels excited me. I can only hope that when I make it to your age, I am of such stature. That's not taking away from the great companionship of Greg, Keith an Christine. It was a remarkable week and one I wont forget in a hurry. I may not have made my fortune, but I gained riches you cant put a price on. What a shame I wasn't around 40 years ago when you and Keith travelled the nation, pulling the piss out of each other about your Pissin Nissan's and Prairie Pussies/Pampas Cat (Pajero).

The last day dawns and for Myself, Greg and Barry, its a quick breakfast and fast pack up. We have 7 hours ahead to get home. Keith and Christine would be touring for a few more days yet. Once we were done, we helped Keith get his campers annex packed away. We bid farewell and hit the gravel for the 150 Km's to Paynes Find. Barry let me take the lead. This was a good thing because I had 15 Minutes in Paynes waiting for them to catch up. Sandwiches for lunch made and eaten in the interim. When they arrived, they recalled the close call with a big roo. Missed it by inches. That would have ruined an other wise excellent trip. Wild flowers were starting to poke their heads up. Another month and it would be super.

Next stop was Dalwallinu, where Greg got his fill of hot chips and Barry ate some other greasy morsel. I had my lunch whilst waiting at Paynes Find. We took off South down the Great Northern where we turned off at Mt Gibson to see the Wreath Leschenaultia's Barry had been talking about around the campfire. We were not let down:

As I was passing, a shot of Mt Gibson was in order:

From there it was non stop to home. Time to dry out the wet awnings and using Saturday to pack all the equipment away, whilst Barry took the minelabs back to Reeds. Thanks for that, you saved me 2 hours of stuffing around.

Whilst like those early prospectors "Humpin me bluey" or pushing a barrow, we didn't make our fortunes, we did it in comfort, had food and drink aplenty and had a ball. Thanks fella's (and Christine) for allowing me to share the experience with you. It was a remarkable trip, even if coming back empty handed.


153L of Diesel @ $240
$200 of food
$250 for Minelab hire

All up $700 for 7 days. The experience, priceless.