Gold hunting with Jack and Wally
It’s the 7th day of my gold hunting trip with two complete strangers and today I decided to stay at our camp base. Severe boil on the back of my leg that I developed three weeks ago and the 1st day of my period was a good excuse to take a day off and stay behind. As both men have already left the camp, I’ve the whole afternoon for myself to type about my Australian, golden adventure that’s still not over.
I met Jack and Wally almost 2 months ago while hitchhiking from Brisbane to Darwin. They picked me up just outside of Townsville and took me 100km until our ways parted. They were heading to yet another gold hunting trip and I had to rush up north to meet my deadline in Darwin. During this 100km drive I learnt enough about them to wanting to meet them again. In my last 8 months in Australia, I got picked up several times by people who were going “gold hunting”, but all of them were amateurs who just recently bought their metal detectors and didn’t really know what they were doing.
Jack and Wally were different. They’ve been gold prospecting half of their life and Jack even made a career out of it. Jack was 69 and Wally was 79. They’ve known each other for many years. As they picked me up it was instantly clear to me they were slightly mad. But mad in a good, harmless way. Type of mad that inspires you and you might learn something from it.
They were very different. Wally was short, chubby and extremely chatty. If there was a time when he was not talking, he was surely singing. Wally loves to sing and the only time he keeps his mouth shut is while sleeping. He’s also a very good mechanic which is part of the reason why Jack brings him to his gold hunting trips. The other part of the reason must be Wally’s funny and very optimistic side that instantly cheers everyone up.
Other side of the team is Jack who talks slowly, tends to think a lot and have a heavy artistic side to him. He wrote several books (one of them about his gold hunting adventures), made a documentary about gold prospecting, several video tutorials on the same topic, recorded a gospel CD in Nashville and painted religious paintings. He is of a Ukrainian origin, but was born in Austrian refugee camp just before his parents managed to escape to Australia. As a young man, Jack was a policeman in (in)famous King Cross, before he discovered God, converted to be a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and finally became a pastor.
Fast forward 20 years and his battle with depression, he gave up his “church” career for gold hunting career. Apart from selling metal detectors as well as gold hunting himself, he often travels to Zambia to buy and sell gem stones.
After reading this colorful description, it’s legit to ask why I would ever accept an offer of two complete strangers to join them on their next gold hunting adventure especially if knowing how brutal Australian outback (a.k.a. bush) can be.
My dear concerned reader, read on…
One of my earliest daydreams, that I could remember, were of going diamond hunting and returning back home with a big stone that will make my parents rich, so they would never fight about money ever again. Even though gold is not diamond and one of my parents has passed away, this gold hunting opportunity was in a way fulfillment of one of my earliest childhood dreams. I didn’t care if I find any gold at all; the fact that I was going GOLD HUNTING in foreign country was already exciting enough!
2nd reason was experiencing in live something I’ve only seen in movies and documentaries.
3nd reason (and slightly less romantic one) was the amazing learning experience I could have if I accept their offer. People pay big amounts of money to have the opportunity to learn a new skill from the expert. Jack is by all means an expert, yet my opportunity came as 100% free – just because both men recognized me as “one of them” with the same life passion.
My gold hunting journey so far:
I hitchhiked across Australia to meet Jack and Wally in Townsville. Jack picked me up in front of the hostel with his 4WD vehicle and a camper-van and we drove to the gas station nearby to meet up with Wally. We drove 4 hours to get to an old abandoned cattle station where we had the permission to set up a camp. Wally drove additional 20 km to meet up with a property owner who gave us a map and permission to gold hunt on his huge property.
The permission in our case didn’t cost anything, but a verbal agreement was made that some gold will be shared with his family in case we find some. The rest of our 1st day passed in setting up our camp and comparing 3 of our maps in order to find a suitable location for gold prospecting. Wally decided that the name “Annie” suits me better than “Ana” and both men called me Annie for the rest of our trip. I couldn’t care less.
Evening passed with Jack and I exchanging countless traveling and gold hunting stories which we both have plenty. Wally’s 4WD has only 1 bed, so I sleep in Jack’s caravan that has 2 separate beds.
Morning has started with getting our gear ready for gold hunting and Jack was teaching me how to use a metal detector, different types of coils for various depths and metals. Around noon, we packed all of our gear in Jack’s 4WD and finally went gold prospecting.
Our goal was to find an old, abandoned gold diggings from the hunters way before metal detectors got invented and detect these old diggings for anything what was left. The oldies searched the surface and found gold, but Jack and Wally rely on a technology to search in depth and find some more.
That was possible by compering 3 different maps in Jack’s possession, an old gold hunting book “Gold and Ghosts”, lots of driving and even more walking through the bush while searching for the clues. There was also a story of the man on a horse who was searching around Black Mountain for years and every few months he would come on his horse to Charters Towers (the biggest town around that area at that time) and bought some goodies with his gold. That went on for years until one day his horse arrived to town without the man. The body was never found. It was suspected he got speared by Aboriginals or got bitten by a snake and died. People suspected he was getting his gold just below Black Mountain and the story was passed on. Black Mountain was part of a huge property we were on and it was called “black” because all of the iron makes it look black.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in poking around different bits of land and searching for the tracks and clues. Jack and Wally taught me what a good ground looks like and where the gold usually gets stuck when moving through the ground. My gold prospecting vocabulary got richer for the words such as the reefs, gullies, cords and patches. All of it was so interesting to me!
We returned back to our camp just before the sun went down and it was time for improvised shower, making dinner, sharing story tales and book reading just before the bed.
After quick breakfast, we packed all of our gear in Jack’s 4WD and drove 20km through the property to meet up with the owner of the land. The property owner lived on incredibly beautiful cattle station. Even Jack and Wally admitted it was one of the most beautiful stations they have ever seen. It was surrendered by the tropical trees, beautiful golden grass, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a helicopter for looking after 6000 cattle and a huge property. The owner was undoubtedly wealthy man in his late 30s with a very friendly wife, 4 small children and 3 dogs.
As we had no phone signal in the bush, Jack wanted to ask the owner if he could ring his wife Margaret who discovered a lump on her tongue just before our trip and feared it was a cancer. As expected the owner understood the seriousness of the situation and offered Jack his phone without accepting any offered money for the call. He also mentioned Aboriginal man who’s been coming to his property and asking for the permission to gold hunt. He assumed the man was finding some gold as he keeps coming back to his property. The owner also helped us in locating old gold mines on his map to the best of his knowledge.
The rest of the day was spent in walking miles and miles and detecting the land. We still didn’t come across any old gold diggings.
Funny fact in detecting with Jack is that due to his sleeping disorder, every couple of hours of detecting, he needs to take a little break to sleep. It usually lasts for up to an hour. It’s quite amusing, because he falls asleep in a split second.
Today is Saturday and because Jack is a member and retired pastor of Seventh-day Adventist Church, today is his day off. Wally is not religious, so we took the metal detectors and detected around our camp today. We found numerous bullets, pieces of wire, metal buckles, pieces of led and an old coin from 1934.
Wally and I sniffed around an old and abandoned house near our camp and found a bathroom that still has running water. We searched for the snakes in the house and found none. I decided that’s going to be my new showering place for now on. The toilet is very old, but seems functional. Every time I flush it, a big green frog gets flushed down the toilet and then it jumps back up to hide underneath the seat. For the rest of my trip, that frog made my jump every time I put the seat up.
Jack spent most of his Saturday praying, reading Bible and resting. In the evening, I made a dinner, we made a plan where to detect tomorrow and the rest of the evening was spent in some serious life debates. 🙂
We detected another part of the land for the whole day and found nothing. No signs of old diggings. We decided to spend 2 more days searching before giving up and returning back to Townsville.
We saw a dingo on the road (Australian wild dog) that followed us the whole afternoon. If they are not hunting in pack, they are usually frightened of people and run away. This one came as close as 10 meters to me and I was the one who was afraid. I called Jack on the radio, but he was asleep in his car due to his sleeping disorder. Wally heard my radio signal, but he was detecting couple of kilometers away from me. He told me not to panic. According to Aboriginals, if a dingo (or some other wild animal) follows you, which is completely out of their character, that’s probably a spirit of an old Aboriginal who died and came back to life in a form of the animal.
When Jack woke up, he was surprised to the sight of a dingo and me in the distance and started snapping photos. That dingo followed our car to another digging location until we finally lost him.
We’ve finally found a new and interesting track that was leading deep inside of the bush among the small hills. We drove for hours in Jack’s 4WD and went through some very rough terrain - the kind my mother would not approve. We were about 60km inside of bush with no telephone signal in a high grass without snake-bite protection on my legs because Jack forgot to take them from his house in Townsville. I spent last 6 months in Northern Territory with the people who worked in the bush and learnt enough about it to know what kind of venomous snakes and spiders can be found there. Without snake-bite protection, antiserum and telephone signal, I could be dead in half an hour if bitten.
Every few hundred meters we lost the track due to the high growing plants and when we finally found it again, there was a huge log across it, so we had to find a way around it. It was a very good sign that we found a track that seemed to be abandoned for years. After the whole day of driving, digging and detecting, Jack spotted old diggings. He was experienced enough to recognize them. It was late afternoon and we had no time to investigate if we wanted to find our way back to our camp base before dark. It was hard enough to find the track during the day; I didn’t want to imagine what it would be like to try to find them during the night in complete darkness. We had only 1/8 of gas in the tank and I suggested to both men to get back the same way we came in, because it was getting dark, we didn’t have much gas and at least we knew what our way back would look like – even if we had to walk part of it.
To my surprise, they both laughed and said “Annie, don’t worry! We do this all the time. We know what we’re doing.”
They measured we were only 4km away from the main road and they believed the unknown track will take us back to the main road which was much faster way out than long and hard way we came in. That had no logic to me, because if our track was as abandoned as it looked – it definitely won't come out to the main road, otherwise it would not be so abandoned. Longer, but familiar way back seemed like a safe way home, especially in a dark. The men didn’t want to hear it!
Being much younger than them, foreign and a woman, my word meant absolutely nothing to them. I was aware of that and it made me angry. I learnt of all the people who were lost and died in the bush. It all looks the same and it stretched for miles and miles in all directions. Once you lose your track, it’s so easy to get lost forever. But what does a young, foreign woman know…
Two hours later and in a complete darkness, we had only little bit of diesel left. Logically, the track didn’t take us to the main road, but much further from it. We were in trouble. It didn’t make me feel any better when both of men said they should have listen to me. Jack apologized and commented he could see the reason why I survived the last 4 years of hitchhiking around the world alone.
Finally, we turned back and focused hard to follow our own tracks in the dark. Our biggest worry was our almost empty gas tank. We all remembered seeing an old, abandoned bulldozer in the grass and we could only hope to find and suck some diesel out of it. We had enough diesel to make it to the bulldozer and the men spent at least half an hour fiddling around it. I took the opportunity to squat down and pee in the grass. As I finished, I could still hear some liquid running that was definitely not me peeing. I came close to the bulldozer and I could hear the sound of running liquid. I asked the men “Can’t you hear the noise? I think you’re losing diesel.” As deaf as they both were, they unscrewed the pipe, but they couldn’t hear a diesel running, so they thought there was no diesel left while in fact we lost few litters of it in the grass. Ay caramba!
Luckily, there was more diesel in the bulldozer and we got about 10l out of it. Jack was screwing the pipe back in the place so no one could notice somebody was stealing diesel out of it. In that moment, I realized I’ve been stealing gas with the retired Adventist pastor. It’s a funny world, isn’t it?
Finding a diesel cheered us all up, because we knew we had a good chance of returning to our camp tonight. Our next biggest obstacle was finding a way around the big wooden tree that was lying across our path. In order to do that, we had to climb a very steep hill in our 4WD. That was hard enough during the day and it was 10x harder doing it again during the night. Wally and I came out of the car and we looked for the right track in a high grass. I was well aware that poisonous brown snake comes out during the night to look for the mice and I was carefully stepping through the high grass. We looked for the big sharp rocks to avoid having another flat tire as well as any gullies covered in grass that could cause more trouble to our 4WD. We guided Jack carefully and 30 min later we were back on the track.
Our only focus was to follow our old, known tracks back to the camp or so we thought until Jack discovered the reverse gear is not working anymore. Basically, we could only go forward, but we couldn’t reverse. That took some more effort out of us as we had to focus extra carefully not to miss our own tracks.
Every meter was planned and often if in doubt, all three of us would jump out of the car and examine the track by foot until we were sure it was the right one for the car.
Fast forward 5 hours of agony and we finally reached our base camp. We all crashed to our beds out of tiredness without much talking.
It’s the day I decided to stay at the camp and type this journal. After yesterday’s madness, I needed a break from the men.
It’s the 1st day of my period and the boil on the back of my leg is still not looking good. I started taking antibiotics for it, but all of that was not the reason why I decided to stay at the camp. The real reason is – I really needed a break from the men. My introverted mind doesn’t cope too well with having people around me at all times. I genuinely enjoy being alone.
Jack and Wally fixed the trouble with the reverse gear early in the morning. They took plenty of food and water with them, the blankets, 2 spare tires and a fuel. They instructed me to contact a property owner if they don’t return by 10 a.m. the next day. They were worried the car will break down again.
They returned back to the camp just before dark with a big smile on their faces as Wally came across a small patch of gold pretty close to the place where Jack discovered old diggings. He found 6 grams of gold.
Motivated by his own success yesterday, Wally woke up extra early and shouted below Jack’s window “Get up! You won’t find any damn gold in that camper-van!”
He was all cheerful and fired up.
The plan was for Wally to take us to the place where he found his gold patch and each of us would take one side of the hill and work it until we cover it all. Both men assumed the pieces of gold got broken off the reef and there might be some more.
We drove along our well known track before we parked and started following Wally by foot. We were walking for few kilometers when Jack got the signal and started digging the ground. Instead of waiting on Jack, Wally stormed off as fast as he could without turning his radio on until the evening. We lost Wally. I believe Wally got a bit of a gold fever and didn’t feel like sharing his gold patch.
After the whole day of walking and poking around randomly, my radio had flat batteries and from now on I only followed Jack, because I was worried of getting lost without GPS and a radio. Following Jack was not much fun as he tends to fall asleep at the randomness places due to his sleeping disorder. The highlight of my following was when a brown baby snake crossed the path between Jack and me. Around 4 p.m. Jack came across the place where Wally found his gold. The land was so mineralized that my detector biped non-stop. Jack had a different coil on and started successfully digging the gold out.
It was getting late and we returned back to the car. Wally was already waiting for us and he admitted of getting lost and not being able to find his patch. He came up with a very lame excuse why his radio wasn’t on. It was pretty clear that he didn’t want to have it on and he was hoping of finding his patch without Jack. It was unlucky for him that Jack came across it 1st by accident.
I wouldn’t think that Wally planned his little mischief if he didn’t tell me few days ago how Jack once went with his brother to dig out Wally’s gold patch behind his back. He was still very pissed off about it. It seems like the men have some unresolved issues from the past and I made sure to stay out of it all.
I told both of men I’ll not go gold digging with them today. They found a gold patch and they can battle over it.
Wally seemed very pleased with my decision and didn’t even try to persuade me to come along. Jack was very surprised by my decision and tried to change my mind. I simply told him I don’t want to be the cause of any troubles and that I won’t change my mind. After all, my main goal for being with them on this trip was one amazing experience and I couldn’t care less of owning any gold. I believe that gold just as money can bring the best and the worst in people.
It’s a true story that old Aboriginals used to spear gold miners who were digging the gold on their land, because they saw gold diggers as the pests. They made their water dirty, so Aboriginals couldn’t drink it they scared off all the animals, so Aboriginals couldn’t hunt, and they made the holes in the land to dig out something that had not use for people. Gold had no value to old Aboriginals.
The men returned in the evening with another 6 grams of gold. That’s not a huge quantity, but enough to cover all of their expenses for this trip and a little bit more.
Wally found 2 more gold nuggets. We’re all pretty tired and decided to return back to Townsville tomorrow.
The men will return to their “golden” spot some other time to try their luck. They still believe there could be some more gold there. It’s a really big area to detect!
Jack invited me to come with him to Zambia for his next gold hunting trip. That’s very unlikely to happen, but I appreciate the offer.
Wally woke us all up very early while singing Elvis. We packed everything up and just as we were leaving the property, Jack had a flat tire.
4 hours later we arrived to Townsville and Jack dropped me off in front of my little hostel. He gave me one of his gold nuggets as the memory on this trip and told me to sell it in case I run out of money.
As we said goodbye, I entered the hostel bathroom to change my period pad. (I know, that’s WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION, but read on!) 😀 ….the brand of pads I bought prints random (and completely useless) facts on their packaging for a women to read while menstruating. This random fact was written on my pad: “The body of a 70kg person contains 0.2 mg of gold.” As weird as it sounds, it gave a perfect ending to my gold hunting adventure.
It seems like everything we search for - we already carry within us.