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Hope for gold at the end of the tunnel

Ian Royall, August 24, 2020 6:45PM The Ballarat News

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Exploration 1km underground in a Stawell gold mine. Picture: Swinburne University media_cameraExploration 1km underground in a Stawell gold mine. Picture: Swinburne University

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Victoria’s goldfields in Ballarat, Bendigo and Stawell are on the verge* of a second gold rush fuelled by high world price of the precious mineral and more productive mining methods.

Almost as much gold is still in the ground in Victoria as was extracted during the 1800s’ golden era, according to state government estimates.

A record number of exploration licences have been issued as mining companies and private fossickers* seek their fortune.

Most of the mineral is extracted by four mines in the Ballarat-Bendigo-Stawell “golden triangle”.

Gold production has almost doubled in the past five years, providing thousands of jobs to the economy in central and western Victoria.

Minerals Council state executive director James Sorahan said previous FIFO* workers in remote parts of Australia had returned to Victoria.

“Mining in Victoria, compared to a lot of other states, nearly all jobs are locally based. A lot of the spend stays in Victoria. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Victorians who are geologists and mining engineers, who’ve worked in industry around Australia or around the world.’’

Ballarat Gold Mine employee Nathan Chappell returned to his home town a year ago after 12 years as a FIFO worker, most recently on an oil and gas project in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Chappell, 37, works as an emergency response co-ordinator and is pleased to be able to transfer his skills back to Victoria.

“It’s great to be home, be close to family. We have two young boys so it’s great for them. And I get to be home every night,’’ he said.

Mr Sorahan said the industry was crucial to lifting Victoria out of the pandemic chaos.

“Coming out of COVID, a key part of Victoria’s recovery, particularly in the regions, has got to be mining. It needs to be a priority industry, going forward – it’s an area of strategic advantage for Victoria.

“It also supports this whole ecosystem* of small and medium-sized mining specialist businesses in Ballarat and Bendigo.’’

More than 200 exploration licences have been issued in Victoria but another 120 applications have been lodged with the government in recent months.

All major gold mines in the state are underground, which meant less impact on the environment, Mr Sorahan said.

media_cameraPart of the above-ground operations as part of the Stawell Gold Mine. Picture: supplied
media_cameraLooking for gold 1km underground at Stawell, Vic. The yellow container is an emergency oxygen supply. Picture: Paul Tucker

The Stawell Gold Mine reopened 18 months ago after it was bought by a company called Arete Capital Partners and is now making a profit.

Arete chief executive Campbell Olsen said 220 people were employed at the site, and he expected the mine to have a long life with new technology making it economically viable*.

“We’ve discovered five new goldfields underground where they thought previously there wasn’t any gold. We’re now pouring* twice a week,’’ Mr Olsen said.

“Gold is pretty hot globally at the moment and Victoria is one of the hottest places in the world,’’ Mr Olsen said.

media_cameraGold bars or ingots and gold nuggets. Gold is melted and poured into moulds for sale, storage or transport. Picture: AP Photo/Newmont Mining

The other main operations are the Fosterville mine near Bendigo — on track to be the third largest gold producer in Australia – plus Ballarat Gold Mine and Costerfield near Heathcote.

Large deposits of gold, as well as other metals such as copper and heavy mineral sands, are located in what geologists call the “Stavely Arc’’, which stretches across the west of the state, according to Geological Survey Victoria mapping.

Peter Mahoney described the potential of a second gold-rush as “very exciting” after his family, including kids, Riley, 9 and Hudson, 7, panned for a nugget.

“The kids enjoy anything to do with minerals and looking at any sort of rocks but the potential of finding any gold is a massive bonus,” Mr Mahoney said.

“They have enjoyed being out and playing in amongst it anyway.

“It’s definitely good fun for everyone and allows for the whole family to get out.”

Last year a retiree struck it rich in Ballarat, unearthing a 2kg nugget, at the time worth $160,000.

Victoria produced more than 80 million ounces* of gold since the 1850s. The Earth Resources department believes at least another 75 million ounces is waiting to be found, much of it at greater depths than previously explored.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed gold exploration spending in Victoria in the first three months of 2020 reached a record $35.6 million.

In June there were protests by residents of Blackwood and surrounding towns in Central Victoria against gold exploration in the Lerderderg State Park. Protesters cited* concerns about a perceived lack of community consultation and potential environmental damage to the State Park and adjoining Wombat State Forest if mining was to go ahead.

media_cameraA worker is pictured beside an earthmoving truck at the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mine in Kalgoorlie, WA, in 2006. Picture: Bloomberg News

GOLD MINING IN AUSTRALIA
Most gold mined in Australia today cannot be seen in the rock. It is very fine grained and mostly has a concentration of less than 5g in every tonne of rock mined.

Whether it is worth mining low concentrations of gold depends on the price of gold.

Sixty per cent of the gold found in Australia each year comes from Western Australian mines.

Most gold mined in Australia is from open-cut mines, rather than tunnels and shafts underground.

Source: Geoscience Australia (an agency of the Australian Government)

GLOSSARY

  • verge: edge
  • fossickers: people who fossick, or prospect, for gold or gems, especially as a hobby
  • FIFO: fly-in, fly-out workers who fly from home to another location to work every few days or weeks
  • ecosystem: network of things that work together
  • viable: able to work successfully
  • pouring: melting gold and pouring it into moulds
  • ounces: weight measurement of gold. One ounce is 28g
  • cited: mentioned as an example to justify or explain something

EXTRA READING

A new gold rush hits Australia

Gold find kept secret before the big rush

Rough journey to the goldfields

Adani mine given green light

Australia’s world-record big gold coin on show in US

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Is the price for gold high or low now?
  2. Name two types of mining experts who could work in Victoria if there was more mining.
  3. What could a gold rush help the state of Victoria recover from?
  4. At the time, how much was the 2kg nugget found at Ballarat worth?
  5. Where is most gold mined in Australia?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Find the Evidence and Benefits
Find the evidence in the article that supports the idea that ‘Victoria is on the verge of a second goldrush’.

For example: a record number of exploration licences have been issued.

The article also mentions how this second gold rush will benefit Victoria and Victorians. Make a list of these benefits. Can you think of anymore?

Do you have any questions or concerns about a second ‘goldrush’ in Victoria?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Sustainability

2 . Extension
The first gold rush in Victoria went from 1851-1860 and brought lots of people from lots of countries to Australia and more specifically to Victoria. It also brought a lot of wealth to Victoria. Use the internet or some of the stories about the gold rush on Kids News to find out some further information about the first Victorian gold rush.

Using the information in the article and your research of the 1850’s gold rush, think about how this second gold rush might compare to the one in 1850. Write your ideas in a chart labelled SIMILARITIES and DIFFERENCES.

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Humanities and Social Sciences – History, Critical and Creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Down-Level It
When you up-level a sentence, you do things to it to improve it: make it more interesting, or more complex.

But sometimes, when we read something it can be too complex and we don’t understand it very well. You ask someone to explain it to you, they do (in a simpler way) and you think, well why didn’t they just say that?

Go through the article and find a sentence or two that is complex, or hard to read.

Ask an adult what it means, or try and look some of the words up in the glossary.

Once you know what it means, see if you can rewrite it in a simpler way- down-level it.

Make sure you don’t change the meaning of the sentence in any way though.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What about gold mining interests you?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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