As featured in the 2019 Oct/Nov Pick & Shovel Gazette
By ALIX BERNAUD
On June 9, 1858, a group of 22 miners discovered a nearly 69-kilogram (152-pound) gold nugget of exceptional purity in the hills near Ballarat in Central Victoria, Australia. The Welcome Nugget, as it was named, remains the second-largest nugget ever discovered. Ballarat was one of the centers of the Victorian gold rush in Australia, and the region has been consistently exploited for gold ever since.
The gold fever may not be what it once may have been. However, Ballarat and the surrounding area are still very much on the radar for prospectors, professionals and amateurs alike. Despite more than 150 years of intensive exploitation, there are all the indications that big nuggets remain to be discovered in the region.
In fact, a lucky retiree recently discovered a 63-ounce (1.8 kilogram) gold nugget in the outskirts of the city, in old pastureland within 93 miles of Ballarat. The nugget was found hidden below 11.8 inches of wash and about 6 inches of very hard clay. The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, did not disclose the exact location. It should come as no surprise that he intends to go back and prospect in the same place in hopes of striking big gold again.
The anonymous prospector is a long-time customer of Mark Day, who operates the Gold Ballarat, a local prospecting supply store. When the prospector realized the magnitude of his discovery, Day was one of the first people he turned to. He even asked the retailer if he was interested in purchasing "big gold."
"I said I wasn't a buyer and asked him what he meant by big. He said two kilos and I just said, 'You've got to be kidding! When he showed me the nugget here in the store, he was shaking like a leaf. He didn't know what to do with it. He hadn't slept in three days," Day said. "He told me the detector made a noise, and when he dug down a short way and found a .22 lead bullet (he) thought that was that. But the detector kept insisting there was something, so he dug further and — bang — there it was."
It was not the lucky finder's first attempt at gold prospecting. Before his significant discovery, he had been updating his equipment. "He uses a Minelab GPX4500 and recently came into our store to upgrade his coil to one that was a touch more sensitive," Day said. "It certainly worked for him because he came back with 42 grams of nuggets, which made him pretty happy."
Unsurprisingly, the first thing he did after finding the massive nugget was to purchase a top-of-the-line metal detector, the Minelab GPZ 7000. According to Day, the finder is already enjoying further success thanks to his new equipment.
Such an exceptional find is synonymous with a lot of money for the finder. The price of gold has been on the rise. At the time of this writing, the nugget could reach over $100,000 thanks to its sheer weight. But it could go for an even higher price thanks to its rarity.
“People collect nuggets, they don’t want them melted down,” said Day. “And this one has real character to it. We were in awe when he brought it in. It really looks good.”
The finder would already have received premium offers for his treasure. "He has already received offers of $160,000 [AUD] for the nugget, which he’s named ‘You Wouldn’t Believe It,’” reports Day.
As exciting as it may be, such finds only happen once in a blue moon.
"I've been in this business for 25 years, and this is the biggest find we have seen by one of our customers — that they've told me about anyway," laughed Day. Nevertheless, Ballarat and the surrounding region are as good a place as any to try your hand at finding "big gold." A couple of years ago, in January 2013, another anonymous prospector discovered an even more massive nugget, a 5.5-kilogram monster, in a bush near Ballarat.
The goldfields region of Victoria has certainly seen its share of treasure hunters in the past couple of centuries. Nevertheless, the advances in technology make it more and more likely to discover exceptional nuggets in areas that have already been combed through by previous prospectors.
“History tells us that big finds like this have happened in this area before, and even though they’ve been digging gold in this region for 150 years, it’s still out there,” says Day.
For the happy prospector, it is certainly not the end of the story. “He certainly thinks there’s more gold out there,” Day said. “And after this, who can say he’s wrong?”
Minelab press release: https://www.medianet.com.au/releases/177703
Alix Barnaud is a travel writer based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire