Backcountry gold prospecting is not for the faint hearted

For David Enright, chasing gold isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life.

After a back injury put him out of work 18 months ago, David, from Coffin Bay in South Australia, drove through the outback, metal detector in hand.

“I travel a lot – [to the] Northern Territory, so far to Marble Bar, then I’ll go down to Kalgoorlie,” he said.

David said prospecting provides an addictive thrill.

David Enright travels the Australian outback to prospect. (ABC Regional Campaign: Louise Miolin)

WA Amalgamated Prospectors and Leaseholders Association (APLA) President James Allison said there were around 43,000 registered prospectors in WA.

“We contribute over $350 million a year to local economies, it’s a pretty big industry,” Mr Allison said.

APLA organizes “beginner” camps for first-time prospectors, teaching geology, use of equipment and safety in the bush.

Dianne and Perry Hepton, retirees from Perth, recently completed one of the camps before embarking on their first gold hunting trip through Marble Bar.

“We fish, we travel and look at the scenery, that’s something else to add to our list.”

A couple stands together smiling.
Dianne and Perry Hepton are addicted to prospecting, their latest hobby. (ABC Regional Campaign: Louise Miolin)

Gold Safety Standard

But prospecting is not for the faint-hearted – Mr Allison said people need to be prepared with enough water and supplies, proper communication tools such as satellite phones and personal locator beacons.

“Once you enter these areas, you realize how remote the place is and how far apart the townships are,” he said.

It’s a problem Marble Bar resident Danielo Specogna knows firsthand.

In 2012, he spent a harrowing night alone in the bush after parting ways with his friend while prospecting.

A man with a large gray beard and a red shirt looks at the camera
Danielo Specogna, a resident of Marble Bar, got lost in the bush while surveying in 2012. (ABC Regional Campaign: Louise Miolin)

Danielo buried himself in the sand waiting for help.

“There was this eagle, just above me, circling, looking at me – and I just stuck an arm out from under the sand and gave the finger, and it worked!

“It came in the morning, I heard the sirens, I walked out, I tried to go towards the sound, I couldn’t walk straight.

For David Enright, physical safety isn’t the only concern — prospecting is also a mental game.

“Normally I have my kelpie with me, and this time my kelpie is with my partner,” he said.

“It’s the hardest thing, being alone – it takes its toll.”

But he said the buzz of gold minting was enough to keep him alive.

Tiny gold coins in someone's hand.
Prospectors say finding gold is an addictive thrill. (Regional and local ABC: Jenny Feast)

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