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Gold Mining & Fossicking in Central Australia

Central Australia has a long history of gold mining and fossicking, dating back to the outback gold rushes of the 1800s & early 1900s. There are mining sites all throughout the Red Centre, some preserved as ghost town relics of mining in earlier years and some today which are still very active as Central Australia has a reputation for being a region rich in gold opportunity.

Of the historical sites worth visiting, Battery Hill is likely the most well known, but there’s also Arltunga and Tennant Creek. Then there’s also more modern gold mines, like Tanami Gold Mine, an underground mine which first discovered gold in 1986 and is now the second largest underground gold mining operation in Australia.

And while gold is one of the most famous mining operations in Central Australia, there’s also gem fossicking, something which visitors can also take part in!

 

Arltunga Fossicking Area

Arltunga was officially Central Australia’s first town and is home to the Arltunga gold fields, an area that to this day visitors are able to explore and fossick.

The town was born in 1887 when gold was first discovered in a dry creek bed, giving rise to a massive rush in gold mining interest. While today it’s a remote historical remnant, Arltunga was once home to over 3,000 people, the remains of which can still be viewed today.

The area is easily accessible by most vehicle types and tourists are able to walk around and view the old mines, equipment, housing establishments and township itself. With designated fossicking areas, visitors are even able to pan for and keep gold which they find! Though this is specifically in certain fossicking areas only designated by the Northern Territory government, so make sure you know the boundaries and requirements before getting started. 

Battery Hill Gold Mining and Heritage Centre

Located in Tennant Creek, Battery Hill is the site of Australia’s last gold rush over 85 years ago. While it isn’t currently in operation as a mine, the historical mine has been preserved and now is home to 3 different museum exhibits: Freedom Fortitude and Flies, The Mclaughlin Minerals Collection and 100 Years ANZAC Spirit-Albert Borella VC - each of which hold great depth of detail and interesting facts about gold mining, ore processing and stamp battery at Battery Hill.

On top of the museum exhibitions, visitors are also able to book in a tour of the mine itself and even try their hand at gold panning, with any gold found able to be kept as a souvenir! 

Tennant Creek Mining

In the 1930s, when it was recognised as the site of the last gold rush, Tennant Creek was the third largest producer of gold in Australia. In fact, Tennant Creek did not officially exist as a town (or at least not formally recognised) until large deposits of gold were discovered nearby.

The place has a rich history in gold mining with the largest open cut gold mine in Australia being located here, Nobles Nob, which has been closed since 1985. For those who are really in the mood for gold mining, you’re able to source a fossicking permit from the Department of Mines & Energy and head over to Moonlight Rockhole where there’s no guarantee of gold, but always a glimmering chance!

Tanami Mining

Owned the by Newmont Corporation, The Tanami gold mine (or The Granites) is the second largest underground gold mine in Australia and is still in operation today. Since it was first opened in 1986, the mine has uncovered and produced more than 10 million ounces of gold and is home to a lively population of miners numbering 1,000-1,500.

It’s worth noting that recent estimates show the area of the mine reliably holds more than 33.2 million tons of gold! As it’s a fully operational mine, tourists aren’t able to visit the Tanami Mine or take tours but if you’re out in the red driving along the Tanami Road, you might want to stop and take a picture.

Gem Fossicking

Ruby Gap

In 1886 Ruby Gap became famous as the site of the first mining rush in Australia after it was thought that rubies were discovered in a riverbed.

A man named David Lindsay spent the day sifting through sediment of the Hale River and found himself a series of high grade garnets, which he thought were rubies. The announcement of a ruby discovery was enough to cause a massive rush to the area with hopefuls planning on getting rich from the precious stones. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the ‘rubies’ were discovered to be garnets and the majority left the area. However, a few stayed and wandered further to discover the nearby Arltunga gold field!

Ruby Gap today isn’t a red stone filled paradise, but a remote, naturally stunning wilderness. Visitors are able to camp here and explore the river beds (perhaps look for ‘rubies’!) and there are plenty of rugged walking tracks to keep you occupied. 

Gemtree

Gemtree is known as the ‘gateway to the ancient Centralian gemfields’, and rightly so because still to this day visitors are able to join tours to fossick for red garnets and Mud Tank zircons, many of whom go home with a gem or two.

Located on the Plenty Highway, northeast of Alice Springs, Gemtree is a great location for adults and kids alike to have a day of history and fun. For just $75 per person, tag along tours are available from March to October and depart at 8:30am - but make sure you book in advance as there are a lot of eager fossickers!

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