Prospecting is the stuff of legend and fantasy, and plenty of people dream about finding the precious metal synonymous with wealth.
Gold prices are up around 15 per cent so far this year, making now a tempting time to have a crack at searching for gold.
But for some prospecting has become a way of life, regardless of the gold price.
Bill O’Connor, who has created a detailed website called Gold Prospecting in WA, has been prowling for gold since retiring from his job at Australia Post in 2005.
“When I was a young guy I always wanted to be a geologist, but I got married and had children and unfortunately did not go back to university,” Mr O’Connor told Vanessa Mills from ABC Kimberley.
“I worked for 40 years for Australia Post and when I retired I decided I was going to go back to my love of prospecting.”
Mr O’Connor said when he started prospecting there was very little information available about searching for gold in Western Australia.
“We started travelling around and finding out from the old timers where to find gold.
“In doing that we discovered there are ways that you can get gold quite simply.”
But a good metal detector that is able to find gold in WA comes at a significant cost, he said.
“It can be quite expensive, it could be $3,000 and up to $10,000.”
Also you need a pickaxe, map, training and a $25 Miner’s Right — the type of licence required for gold prospecting, which is available from WA government agency, the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP).
Students on a three-day prospecting course he and his business partner runs in WA’s Goldfields routinely find gold. They teach participants where to target gold, how to do it legally, and how to find gold using metal detectors.
“We had a seminar last week and took them out to a place where we have found gold, and four or five of them found about seven or eight pieces of gold but not big pieces, the bigger pieces are harder to find.”
Mr O’Connor said, for him, getting into prospecting had not been a story of quick riches.
“My best nugget is not that big, about three ounces, but my partner’s [gold] that we show at the seminar is a 22 ounce nugget.”
According to Mr O’Connor, many gold seekers are grey nomads, who enjoy travelling around Australia and fossicking for gold at the same time.
“It is a real bucket list item for retired people.”
Safety while gold prospecting in remote areas of WA
For many Australians, fossicking for gold can be the ultimate getaway, but there is also an element of risk involved.
The activity can take people to areas just outside regional centres to remote parts of the State, and for a day trip to weeks away at a time.
The death of New South Wales prospector Michael Graham, and an increasing number of rescues of prospectors across the Goldfields, prompted a dedicated safety campaign targeting small-scale miners in 2014.
Mr Graham, who was originally from Lake Macquarie in NSW, was last seen at a makeshift campsite just outside the small WA town of Menzies, 700km from Perth in January 2013.
The search for the Lake Macquarie native was one of the biggest land search operations in WA’s history.
While messages from the 46-year-old father of two were found scratched into the earth, his remains have never been found.
More recently, in January this year, a man, aged in his mid-30s, who was prospecting on tenements near the mining town of Ora Banda, about 80km north-west of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder, became disorientated and walked in the wrong direction to his camp.
While he was carrying a GPS locator, the device malfunctioned when exposed to wet weather.
He was eventually found about 20km from his camp and had survived a day and night drinking water from puddles.
WA’s DMP has a range of advice on its website about staying safe while prospecting, including the recommendation that prospectors carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) and a communication device with them at all times.