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Australia - Prospecting In The 1980's

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G'day Steve,

I could not locate the booklet about the finding of the Hand of Faith by Kevin Hillier. Anyway I think its now been reasonably established what detector model The Hand was found with. After thinking about it while looking for the booklet, I am fairly sure that at the time the Hand of Faith was found in 1980, the Groundhog was not yet being sold in Australia. In 1980 the Garrett Deepseeker must have been the most commonly used detector by the serious electronic prospectors in Victoria. It was certainly the most expensive detector and thus the top of the range ... like the latest Minelab PIs are today. It was however a detector I never managed to master as it was extremely noisy in Australian soil. I used mine in the Nth Queensland goldfields of Georgetown and Ebagoola where there was quite a few other electronic prospectors at the same time using this model of Garrett detector. A couple of the other prospectors tried to school me in getting the best out of it, but I could not persist long enough. I was too young and impatient in those days to learn how to pick the noise of a good target out from all the ground noise. I sold it to another prospector in Ebagoola who had more patience than me and who had successfully used one before. He told me it was by far the best detector available ... but I was just happy to get rid of the noisy beast of a machine, and he got a bargain.

I got to thinking about Garrett detectors yesterday while looking for the booklet, and I was reminded about the famous story of how the Garrett Groundhog became popular on the Australian goldfields in the 1980s. There were a lot of guys detecting back then who had their wives with them in the bush, and many of the wives wanted a detector for themselves. Because the Deepseeker was so expensive, the husbands were reluctant to spend so much money on a detector that they thought would probably get little use. So a number bought their wives a Garret model which was the cheapest of the then Garrett range ... and that was the Groundhog. What they then found was that the wives were getting more gold than they were! Then the Deepseekers were put aside and the Groundhog became the detector of choice for a time. I was told at the time it was something to do with different frequencies of the two detectors, with the frequencies of the Groundhog better suited to the ground in Australia. But - maybe - it could have been because the Groundhog ran quieter. Then when Garrett started selling so many Groundhogs in Australia they rebadged the Groundhog and sold it as a detector specifically made for Australian conditions. I think it was called something like the A2B.

I had even less success with the detector I had prior to the Deepseeker, which was my first ever detector. In the late 1970s there was a guy based in Newcastle who imported Compass detectors and he was all over the media promoting them as the detector driving the then gold rush. So, as I knew nothing about detectors, I believed the hype and bought a Compass detector from a mining supply shop in Sydney (where I was then living). But, rather than starting off cautiously in a new field of endeavour and trying detecting in a gold field close to home, I decided to go all in. I bought a Toyota Land Cruiser and headed to the Queensland goldfields with my brand new shiny Compass detector. I drove straight through for two days from Sydney to the Nth Queensland goldfield of Georgetown. And on getting to Georgetown I headed to the caravan park. Then, the very first person I spoke to when I got out of my Landcruiser said straight away ... "That detector is useless here!" And I soon found out he was right. I was the only one there with a Compass detector, which I was ridiculed for. Everyone else was using Garrett's and it was galling to see them leave the caravan park each morning and come back in the evening with smiles on their faces. It must have been a bit later when I bought the Deepseeker. And when I bought the Deepseeker I thought I could not go wrong this time as it was the top of the line detector that everyone else was using, and I must have made a good buy.

Luckily I found that there were other means of gold getting to do in Nth Queensland other than using a detector. And a bit later I got into tin mining with a dredge, which I was successful at until the tin price crashed virtually overnight.

Rob (RKC)




Detecting in Georgetown, North Queensland, in the mid 1980's.


My Garrett Deepseeker MD in Nth Queensland ( I also had a much bigger coil!).


My mining camp at Ebagoola goldfield.


Another of my mining camps at Ebagoola.


A woman friend detecting with a Garrett MD on the Georgetown goldfield in the mid 1980's.


Abandoned miners hut, Ebagoola, North Queensland.




Ebagoola, North Queensland




Georgetown goldfield.

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love the FJ45!!!



G'day deathray,


These FJ Toyota trucks were extremely common in Nth Queensland during the 1980's!  And they were used by just about everyone who ventured off the tar seal.




About to head up the Peninsular Development road from Malanda, NTH Queensland.






Even Toyotas get stuck in the mud occasionally. I had to wait most of the day before another Toyota came by and towed me out.



Rob (RKC)

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A visiting American gold dredger bought a Toyota in Nth Queensland ... but he did not get as much use out of his as I did with mine!




As you can see it was destroyed by fire. The American dredger had an LPG fridge with an always-on  pilot light in the back under an enclosed canopy. Also under the canopy were 60 liter drums of fuel for his dredge. He had parked on a slight slope and fuel started leaking from an overfull drum. The fumes built up and the leak was ignited, somehow by the flames from the pilot light. We were all about 20 meters away from the truck when we first saw flames (small flames at first). The American and I ran over to the truck together to attempt to stop it spreading, but the American guy panicked and grabbed a 60 liter drum of fuel, and flames came straight out of the screw top of the drum like a flamethrower and I was hit on one side of my face by radiant heat. He was standing inches away from me but was not hit. We then retreated ... I headed straight into the river and dunked myself under the water to get some relief from the pain.


Once it took hold flames were shooting straight up 20 feet in the air, with drums and the truck tires exploding.


Everything on the truck was completely destroyed except for his gold which he had stowed under the drivers seat and which we managed to recover after it had cooled down. His dredge was in the river ... so that was something he did not lose. All he left there with was the dredge and the pair of shorts he had on (and his gold!). I headed straight to hospital (a good three or more hours drive) in pain all the way ... and only able to see out of one eye!. 







Rob (RKC)

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Somewhere (can't remember where) in North Queensland.




North Queensland ... heading south along the CREB track from Bloomfield (at the first creek crossing after leaving Bloomfield). What was then called the Bloomfield river mission is now known as Wujal Wujal.




Camp at Astronomer Gold Mine, Boonjie, North Queensland.


(ML6625 https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/4000x3000q50/901/nB3vTu.jpg

https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/978x653q90/537/crikOq.jpg )




Main tailrace at the Astronomer Mine, Boonjie, North Queensland.




Camp somewhere on Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland (I have no recollection of this camp at all).




Grass fire on Cape York, North Queensland.




River bed camp on Mitchell river, North Queensland.




About to cross the Mitchell river.




A prospecting trench dug by a mining company with a bulldozer on the Wenlock Goldfield. I went over all of the exposed ground in this trench with a detector but got nothing (not even any junk).



Rob (RKC)

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During the 1980's Toyota Hiluxes became more popular as people found they could go anywhere a Landcruiser could. 




A friend of mine used this ex-army forward control Land Rover in North Queensland. This truck was also used to cart dredges around in New Zealand in the early 1990's ( https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/723x533q90/540/x8ssek.jpg )




We eventually used this Argo to get us places even a Toyota could not go.




A mining camp on Cape York Peninsula. 




Another of my remote North Queensland bush camps.



Rob (RKC)

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Wow Rob what fantastic photos ! remember wishing I could get out there prospecting back then but I was married with kids & in the red big time :wacko:


How old were you in that photo ?


Jack .

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G'day Jack,


I'm not in any of the photos ... I was behind the camera taking the photos. The American passed away just recently in Hawaii, and myself, with the other guy in the photo, are still going strong chasing the yellow but in totally different countries. Both of us were chased out of Australia by the introduction of laws designed to end small scale mining.


The remote bush camp I have at present (in New Zealand) can't be driven to and is a tough one hour walk uphill from a road. And its magic to spend a few nights alone in the green hills of Godzone. My current camps are the exact opposite of the dry country of Nth Queensland where snakes would routinely come into the camps at night. The only wildlife that visits me in my NZ camps at night are fireflies that fly silently and eerily between the trees. 



Rob (RKC)

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I found a photo of myself on that fateful day that I did not realize I had. 




The American is the one with the beard! I don't know why I am smiling ... I should have been angry at him for nearly scaring my face for life. This must have been just before I headed off to hospital and my face was just starting to swell up. My treatment at Mareeba hospital was the application of a lot of a cream to the burn area on my swelling face. After leaving the hospital I walked down the main street of Mareeba  and small kids would scream upon seeing my swollen face with cream all over it as I must have looked like the elephant man.



Rob (RKC)

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