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The Nugget from Whitehorse Gully

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By Olderthanwiser

The blood dripped freely from my hand and fingers and stained the handle of my pick. Not a propitious way to end a June day in the Australian bush. But that is jumping to the end of the story. Here is how the morning began . . .

The wind was cold and the air was filled with the aroma of spicy eucalyptus leaves. The elliptical leaves littered the forest floor and released their fragrance with each crushing step. The wind, blowing strongly from the frigid south, hinted at rain as the sky was ash gray. I was high up on a mountain gully in the Castlemaine Forest Bush Reserve. The road, not much more than a washed out gully of its own, wound upward toward the crest where the "gold reef" pours nuggets into the downstream flow of soil. The plan was simple. Follow the flow downward and try to pry some "yellow" out along the way. It was also a bit dangerous.

There were abandoned mine shafts everywhere. I was a little uncomfortable "fossicking" alone. No one knew where I was and any number of bottomless shafts could have swallowed me whole leaving no trace of my whereabouts. The most deceptive were shafts that appeared to be no more than 3 or 4 ft deep, which upon closer inspection were shafts of unknown depth covered over by a thin layer of gum leaves held in place by a fallen branch or shrub.. As I descended into the ironbark filled gully there was a tattered faded sign that said, "No Trespassing, claim no. 2285, expires April 5, 2002." The site was long abandoned, a sad reminder that gold was present, but very elusive. The nameless gully was strewn with signs of human labor . . . deserted camp rings and old bottles and cans from a bygone era. The gully near the summit was only about three feet deep. I jumped down and began examining the geology of its walls for clues as to the whereabouts of hidden treasure. I surveyed the gully and noted a seam of burnt ironstone that intersected the gully, directly under the protruding roots of a spreading wattle tree. I was certain that no prospector of yesteryear had noticed this possible hiding place of the "Lost Becker Nugget". I was pleasantly surprised when the detector let out a loud "golden ping" indicating that what lay just below the surface was solid and substantial and not iron-based. The tone signaled a positive ID of mineral wealth under its coil. The earth around the vein was natural and undisturbed. It was clear that the rock vein had never been tooled by human hands. I dug carefully, so as not to damage the unseen nugget because an unspoiled nugget is worth more literally "than it's weight in gold." . The rocks came loose in handfuls as the pick pried the ironstone from its nest. A small pocket in the face of the gully was formed as I hammered away at the ageless stone. After a few minutes I looked into the pocket and was rewarded by the sight of a three inch long yellow nugget lying in the yellow clay of pulverized ironstone.

There are gum leaves and branches lining the bottom of every ore bearing gully. Sometimes the decayed vegetation is several feet thick and teeming with alien life. It is said, that acre for acre, Australia has more venomous snakes than anywhere else on earth. The Australian Brown snake is three times more venomous than the Tiger snake, but would rather run than strike. The Tiger makes up for his less lethal venom by aggressively chasing and attacking humans that invade it's territory. It's not just the snakes that are venomous, but several species of spiders that lurk under rock and leaf. The Redbacked's bite is painless, but later festers into a boil that destroys all the living flesh and muscle within a two inch radius. I came home the second day and noticed a series of four pairs of fang marks just under my collar bone. Fortunately they were not Redback bites. Just the day before I had knelt in the soft moist vegetation and noticed that my hand was resting next to two minature "hobbit holes", each about the size of a silver dollar. Both doors were surrounded by a funnel shaped web and I knew that Shelob's kin were just inside their winter home, hopefully, sitting snugly by their fire and not worrying about the giant knocking on their door.

I had no sooner stretched out my hand to grasp the dull yellow nugget when I felt something crawling up the outside of my sock . . . just under the denim pants leg. I quickly slapped my leg and crushed the intruder before it found a "warmer climate" above the sockline. I knelt down to see what manner of life it was. My mind immediately flashed back to earlier in the day when I turned over a large white quartz stone only to discover it was home to a very big black millipede with huge pincers on its snout. The lifeless insect fell to the ground. Alas . . . it was only an Australian Bush Ant . . . that is when I really became concerned!! An Australian bush ant is about 1 inch in length and packs a nasty bite. It lives in colonies of 10 thousand or more. I had encountered them several years ago when I first took up this pleasant hobby. We have fire ant mounds back in Georgia which can be 8 to 10 inches high and several feet across, the Australian bush ant has no mounds that rise above 1 inch, but the mound can be ten foot or more in diameter and the soil underneath is like stepping into quicksand up to your knee. I fear the ant more than snakes and spiders combined.

I looked around to see where the colony was. I couldn't see it and had to get out quickly by retracing my steps. I felt like Indiana Jones in the Search for the Holy Grail . . . be careful where you step (the steps off the righteous are ordered by the Lord)! I grabbed my detector and pick with one hand and reached for the nugget with the other. I was immediately enthralled by the heavy weight and rounded edges on this "melted candle" of a rock, it had to be at least 5 or 6 oz. At $1200/oz, I was quickly counting my "chickens". I hurriedly stuffed it into my left jeans pocket and looked for a way out of the ant infested ravine. The gully was only about 4 feet deep, but with near vertical sides. I realized that I had jumped down, but had made no plans for getting back out. The walls of the gully were overhung at the top and were a mixture of rock and gum root. There were many suspicious "hobbit holes" lining the walls and large white quartz rocks jutting out from the face of the wall. I carefully examined the gully floor for signs of activity just under the loam. After what seemed like ages, I rounded a corner and saw a narrow bridge spanning the gully. Some bushwise "fossicker" had sawed down a 4 inch diameter gum tree and placed it across the 6 ft wide gully as an emergency escape route from man-eating ants. I threw my pick and metal detector up onto the bank and tested the old gum trunk to see if it would hold my weight. It looked promising. The only concern I had was that it was only 6 ft 6 inches long and it looked like it was barely supported by a three inch section of wall on either side. Talk about a "Leap of Faith". I hoisted myself up onto the aging log. I had one leg . . . my left leg resting on the top of the wall when the log gave way. Fortunately there was a clump of tall bright green grass within easy reach. I grabbed it with my left hand as a drowning man reaches for a lifebuoy and clawed my way to the top.

The human reflex is an amazing thing. One will automatically do whatever the situation requires in order to avoid danger. Throw a drowning man a lifebuoy and he will instinctly reach for the item that represents his rescue. He doesn't reason that the lifebuoy might hurt him if it is thrown with force. My mind saw the clump of grass and immediately grasped it with enough force to hoist me safety to the top of the ravine. My mind was curiously absent during the process. Australia has an abundance of tall grass. Phalaris is a particular favorite with the local stockmen. It is drought hardy and can go long months in a brown dormant state only to turn green at the first rainfall. We had HAD NO rain. It wasn't phalaris that I held tightly in my hand, but Australian razor weed. I have no idea what its scientific name is, I know it as "razor weed". I should have known better than to touch anything so out of character with its surrounding flora. Everyone learns quickly that the brightly hued flora and fauna hold the most danger. From caterpillars to Amazonian tree frogs . . . if it's bright . . . DON'T TOUCH IT!!!!

As its name suggests each blade was like a flexible band of razor-sharp steel, slicing and dicing my hand and fingers before my mind registered the pain. I sat up and tried to staunch the bleeding. I couldn't believe the amount of damage a clump of grass could inflict. And then as the pain increased, the thought came to me that this was Australia, everything else was poisonous . . . why not the grass? I stumbled back to the car and cleaned the multiple cuts with bottled water, fearful that I was going to drop dead any minute. My hand didn't swell up and I felt fortunate to have escaped the ants and the snake and spider infested gully with a fortune in gold resting securely in my pocket. There was only one problem . . . my left hand was cut and bleeding and the nugget was in my left hand pocket. Have you ever tried to remove an object from deep within your left jeans pocket with your right hand? Try it sometime.

Now I know what you are thinking . . . somewhere during my escape from the Temple of the Gully of Doom . . . I lost my nugget! It took me a while, and to any outside observer it would have appeared that this crazy American was engaged in yoga exercises on the top of a mountain in the Australian bush. I was able to reach into my pocket and withdraw a perfectly formed, very heavy, 3 inch nugget of dull yellow metal. It was in every respect the perfect mate to the copper nugget that is currently sitting on my computer shelf.

Wait a minute . . . gold is BRIGHT yellow, just like the Amazonian tree frogs. Surely, this was just covered with crushed ironstone. I uncorked my bottled-water and quickly gave it a baptism. The more I sprinkled it, the greyer it became. Just at that moment the heavens parted and the sun shone through the gray mantle revealing a perfectly formed, very heavy, 3 inch nugget of naturally occurring . . . . LEAD! In truth, I was a lead miner.

With wounded hand and heart and soul I quit early and drove home a "sadder, but a wiser man" having truly experienced the Australian version of "all that glitters is NOT gold."

I sneezed all the way home and am now running a slight fever. I don't think it is a latent poison from plants or spiders that is causing it, but just a common cold caught in the middle of my SUMMER vacation.

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Ah....I see you have been burning up the boards all across the web eh? Looking for keyboard glory are we?

hmmm....what a waste.

No glory seeking, just plain simple fun sharing with my grandkids back in the States. I cut and pasted this from an email back in 2008. Trying to instill in them a sense of adventure. It must have worked because three of them were with me when I found the 33.1 g in 2009.




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Those are some beautious nuggets!

Ant Man

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