Crevicing, panning and sluicing
I’ve never panned for gold, and have only seen gold sluices in movies. Today will be my first attempt to use both. Hopefully we’ll find gold in ‘them thar hills!’.
Nearly 50 kilometres south-west of Calliope is the community of Nagoorin and our little Gold Tour Convoy turns off onto the Marble Creek road just before town.
We pass through several properties, opening and closing gates as we go. Donnie has been given permission to bring us here today by the owners and we don’t want to abuse their hospitality.
We pull up on top of a hill and Donnie announces that this is the area we can go fossicking in. Metal detectors appear out of thin air.
Note: I had arrived late to the starting point earlier that morning and missed Don’s briefing regarding the rules of the day, the first of which was no detecting on private property until we get to this creek.
“We had permission to look on the other properties, but not detect,” Donnie said.
“But I’ve got permission from the owners of this property to go detecting.”
I was quietly impressed at the groups’ self-control. They must have been itching to fire up their metal detectors when we were scouting about earlier in Raglan and Calliope.
‘Good for them,’ I thought as I wandered off downhill to the creek. I’m joined by my daughter and her boyfriend. Someone has been here before… someone with a large excavator judging from the way the waterway has been gouged apart. We do a little exploring around the pool and further upstream.
The water is stagnant in the large pool, but it’s being fed by a small trickle further upstream. The country around us is green and speckled with large boulders.
Before long, Donnie and several other members of the group join us.
Armed with a variety of buckets, scrapers, spades, pickers and pans Donnie shows us how to ‘crevice’. Basically, looking into the cracks of rocks and gouging about for gold.
Crevicing and classifying
Then he explains how gold, being heavy, collects on the downstream side of large rocks and points to a few promising areas which we can split up and explore.
He heaves a large rock out of it’s resting place and says to dig the loose dirt out into a sieve to separate the dirt from the rocks. We pick out the larger rocks and sieve the rest into a bucket. Anything too large to fit through the mesh of the sieve is placed into a pile which we’ll run a detector over later.
It takes a long time to half fill our 20 litre bucket, the result is a mixture of sand and very tiny stones.
Donnie wanders over and grabs a couple of handfuls of the mix and places it into gold pan. Kneeling at the water’s edge he demonstrates how to pan.
His technique looks deceptively easy but, as I soon found out, panning for gold was a tad harder than it looked.
I put too much water into my pan on my first attempt and most of my dirt flows out. I grab some more and try again. Tilting and swirling with a rhythm that’s actually quite relaxing. I could think of much worse ways to spend an afternoon in the bush; digging post holes or being lost spring to mind.
Some of the group continue digging and sieving, while others join me panning at the waters’ edge; all of them having about as much luck as I am. Although I do make an interesting discovery on the bank.
Donnie brings his truck down to the creek and starts assembling a portable sluice. The sluice is designed to speed up the gold separation process considerably and it’s quite interesting for those of us who haven’t seen one in action before.
We toss our pans aside and wander over to help.
The first batch is watched with breathless eagerness. I’m filming Donnie as he explains how the mat in the sluice is designed to capture the heavier gold nuggets as the lighter material is washed away.
He pauses. “Can you turn the camera off for a sec mate?” he asks.
We all peer at the mat thinking he’s discovered something of interest. He has, the mat is facing the wrong way! If you’d like to see that video, along with some good info about the sluice, click here.
Everyone looks at the pile of dirt muddying the pool and wonders how much gold has just washed back into the creek.
After a quick re-adjustment, we’re back in action. With the mat facing the right way we can see the eddying water capturing the heavier fragments.
When the little rills are full, Donnie stops the pump and, carefully rolling up the rubber capture mat, he places it into a bucket of water. The water is tipped out of the bucket and the small amount of residue captured by the mat is transferred into a pan.
Donnie pans again, leaning over the pool and gently swirling the water around in the dish.
After a while, he stops, pulls out an eyepiece and examines the bottom of the pan. There is a speck of gold! Unfortunately, it’s small, microscopically small.
Inspired by this tiny success we drag our buckets over to the sluice. I’m pretty confident we’ll find gold.
Long story short. We didn’t.
Donnie is extremely disappointed for us, but admits that’s the way the cookie crumbles some days. He wanders up to his truck and comes back with some dirt he’d sieved ‘at another location’.
When’s he finished swirling it in his pan we see a slender tail of gold, actual gold, gleaming on the surface of the plastic dish.
Now we know what it looks like, and what a dud creek has to offer.
The sun is dipping behind the hill and some members of the group have to leave. The rest of us help Donnie pack up the gear.
By the time we’ve finished there’s only four of us in the convoy now. We make our way back to the Railway Hotel in Calliope where we find a guaranteed source of gold.
We spend an hour recalling the highlights of our little adventure, and enjoy the richness of mateship, swapping yarns and listening to Donnie’s treasure chest of memories, facts about gold and how he got started in the game when he found his first gold at the age of eight.
But, that’s another story.