Year 9 and 10 Earth and Environmental Science students find all the glitters might just be gold!

With the 100th anniversary of the founding of PGC just a few weeks behind us, it was a happy coincidence that our Year 9 and 10 Earth and Environmental Science students went gold prospecting last week, 150 years since the first discoveries of the precious yellow metal in quartz veins at Thanes Creek, about 35 km west of Warwick.  Alluvial gold is still found at a State Prospecting Site there, but our little band of optimistic prospectors were lucky to be invited to explore creek beds on the property of Kim Costello (one of our librarians) and her husband, Andrew, that include that location.  Indeed, the land has been farmed by Andrew’s family right back to those earliest days of colonial settlement in the region.

The popularity of the State Prospecting Site with gold-crazy enthusiasts means the river gravels are regularly exploited and re-worked, reducing the chance of anything significant being found on a brief trip with inexperienced explorationists.   Kim and Andrew kindly guided us to undisturbed stretches of river bed, although the drought conditions meant collecting gravels to begin panning required considerable effort, such was the concrete-like nature of the sediment.

We also had to transport all the water we needed in large eskies, on short-term loan from the catering staff, and on arriving in a suitable spot, were quickly surrounded by some of the Costello’s sheep, hoping we might have some extra feed to supplement meagre natural food sources in the dusty landscape.  While our disappointed hosts soon wandered away, we scrambled down amongst the meanders and gravel bars of Thanes Creek to see if we might strike it rich, well, even enough for a Big Mac on the way back through town to school that afternoon!

Having practised the craft of gold panning earlier in the week in the confines of Room 10, it didn’t take long for several students to have reduced a large bucket of gravel from places deemed as ‘having potential’ to a small collection of washed sands in the bottom of our pans.  Exploring dry creek beds requires significantly more skill than the watery version as first the intrepid gold explorer must decide how the river would normally run, and hence where the extremely heavy flakes of gold would settle out behind boulders, under tree roots, or in pools immediately downstream of small waterfalls, or ‘riffles’.  Undaunted, and showing considerable skill, thin crescents of black, iron-rich sand among the pale orangey-beige river sediment soon revealed that the group were proving the presence of minerals associated with gold-bearing rocks.

Of course, we were not there to collect iron!  It was Lincoln McNair, Year 9, who distinguished himself as either the most talented, or the most fortunate (he assures me his success had nothing to do with luck!) gold hunter, locating what was apparently a thin gravel lens in the river bank that showed a significant accumulation of black sand in his pan, plus one or two fine specks of the elusive yellow metal that has driven folks wild all around the world for many thousands of years.

In true gold rush style, Lincoln stubbornly refused to reveal the exact location of his lucky strike!  Despite our pleas, the band of pay dirt’s whereabouts remains known only to Lincoln and those privileged to be in his Circle of Trust!  To his enormous credit, he kept a bucket of gravels from his special spot to bring back to the College and pan his way through over the weekend.

Despite our best efforts, other finds eluded us, but gold panning, in my view, is much akin to fishing in that it is possible to have a great time, even if ultimately the size of, or even the existence of any catch disappoints.

Kim and Andrew rounded out our trip by showing us the rather optimistically-named Eldorado Mine workings nearby, where the surface exposure of gold-bearing quartz veins had been developed and followed underground after their discovery in 1868.  The narrow nature of the mineralised zone, plus, ironically in these drought-ravaged times, the presence of water close to the surface, made extraction of gold challenging and ultimately uneconomic.  Such difficulties did not deter Ben Savidge, Year 9, however, who excavated a metre-wide cavity in the old workings in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to make his fortune before we boarded the minibus for the drive back to Warwick.

Sadly for Ben, and the rest of us, we had to rely on conventional sources of wealth to supplement our diet at the aforementioned fast-food outlet.  Undaunted, the merry band joined all Queenslanders in praying for rain and vowed to be back once Thanes Creek has run again, refreshing supplies of the precious yellow metal and making sure the Costello’s sheep have something more substantial to eat in the coming months.

Mr David Proudlove

Ben Savidge and Sam Harvey