New gold fortune hunt is on

DETECTING: Mining Exchange Gold Shop owner Cordell Kent uses his metal detector to search for gold in the Ballarat region. Picture: Andrew Kelly
DETECTING: Mining Exchange Gold Shop owner Cordell Kent uses his metal detector to search for gold in the Ballarat region. Picture: Andrew Kelly

NEARLY 160 years after the first fortune-hunters rushed en masse to Ballarat's goldfields, the rush is on again.While gold pans have been replaced by state-of-the-art metal detectors, the intention of the 2009 prospectors remains the same as their 19th century counterparts - there's wealth in the ground if it can be found.The price of the precious metal rose above the US$1000-per-ounce barrier earlier this month for the first time since March 2008 and continues to soar.With Australia remaining one of the world's largest exporters of gold, Ballarat's Mining Exchange Gold Shop owner Cordell Kent said the number of prospectors heading to the region to try their luck has reached a high."We are seeing prospectors on a daily basis," he said."A lot of local people are out prospecting but we are also seeing people outside the Ballarat region heading up into our gold fields."You could say we are 158 years into a continuous gold rush. It spikes quite often but there's always more interest when the price is up."Mr Kent said though it required patience, gold prospecting could provide a lucrative pastime."We are blessed in Victoria with a lot of Crown land that has historic gold fields on them, so there's still a lot of surface gold to be found."We have had people who have found quite substantial dollar amounts of gold," he said.South Australia-based Minelab Metal Detectors regional general manager Ian Aitken said the reinvigorated gold rush had contributed to a six- to eight-week delay in prospectors getting metal detectors, which cost $6150."It has been extraordinary, right through this year there has been high demand," he said."Once it (gold) kicked over the $1000 mark and kept going upwards, we experienced quite a high demand. Like Mr Kent, Mr Aitken said once equipped, prospectors could gain substantial wealth."A lot of prospectors go to Western Australia for the winter and return for the summer," he said."There are a huge number of keen hobbyists, who can come home with five ounces of gold for their trouble."