The Prospector

7 May 2021

Norseman, Western Australia

If you’ve never held raw gold in your hand before, it’s something worth trying. How exactly you do that will be different to how I got to do it. But here’s a start: head to the Goldfields region of Western Australia.

Norseman is the first or last stop of your trip if you go across the Nullarbor. It was the last stop for me. Five days without real food or a shower meant that it was an easy decision to book a single room at the pub for $50. The creaking wooden stairs and fireplace leading to the pub’s rooms makes you wonder what it would have been like in the old days. Nowadays here’s stained linoleum flooring and an old sign saying there’s a “novel virus” The sign advises if you’ve been to mainland China in the last few weeks go to the doctor.

Norseman is an old gold mining town. There’s just a couple of hundred people because all the gold’s gone. But there still is gold. Warren says you just have to look harder.

Warren and I met outside the pie shop. There’s no bakery in Norseman, but there is a general shop that sells about a dozen meat pies per day. I bought the second last pie, and Warren bought the last one. Carrying around my helmet is good for 2 reasons: It’s a security thing; my helmet costs $800 and the mounted camera is another $300. It’s a conversation starter - people want to know what I ride. Warren said I’d only be able to go down the dirt roads if I had an adventure bike. That’s what I’ve got. And then the usual conversation of where I’m from and where I’m going. I don’t think I was ever going to buy the swag he offered but it felt rude to not at least go around to his home and look anyway.

Warren lives on the main street of Norseman. If you live anywhere in Norseman there’s a pretty good chance you live on the main street; there’s only as many streets as there are pies made pay; a dozen. At Warren’s house, my boots crunched on red dirt where a grass lawn would normally be. We sat down out the back sandwiched between 3 BBQs, a fireplace, and stacks and stacks of firewood. Warren put the kettle on and Charlie, his little Terrier, dropped his fetching ball by my feet. At this point I didn’t realise that I’d be sitting in that exact place for 4 days.

The swag was, of course, too big to fit on the back of my bike. We were in the garage where Warren’s 2 motorbikes are parked. The huge Kawasaki cruiser is for sale, so Warren will only have his Honda agricultural motorbike. The Honda goes in his camper trailer when he goes out gold mining. There was a glint in his eye when he mentioned prospecting for gold. Or it might have been his glass eye.

I asked more about his prospecting hobby. Instead of describing things, The Prospector preferred to take me for a tour around his backyard and house. Everything in the backyard serves a purpose for when he drives hundreds of kilometres into the outback looking for gold.

“Is there anything you haven’t custom made here?” I asked. He looked around. “Nothin’”

The garden hose is wrapped around a car wheel bolted to the shed wall. The fireplace is an old beer keg; you put wood through a hole he made with an angle grinder. He built his entire camper trailer himself. As we walked around clouds came over. Then it started raining.

“You’re welcome to stay in the camper tonight. Bet you’ve never stayed in a prospector’s rig before!”

So we sat out the back of the house by the fireplace and drank cheap beer past midnight. Between prospecting stories, Warren would stand up.

“I’m gonna piss out the back of the shed. It’s just easier.”

But really I knew that it’s becuase his toilet doesn’t work so well and he saves water by pissing in the dirt.

It rained for 3 days. That meant a lot of sitting around listening to gold prospecting stories. Prospecting stories are just like fishing stories. There’s always a bigger gold nugget out there. And the more you go out prospecting, the luckier you get. The gear doesn’t matter, until you realise you have a shit metal detector. Warren has tried all the gear there is, but what he finds works best is being “on the hunt”. On the hunt means following river beds that dried out a hundred years ago. It means taking hours to sweep a football field sized patch of outback dirt. It means being in the middle of nowhere, living off-the-grid for 1 or 2 months at a time.

I’m still not really sure what “on the hunt” means. But it works for Warren. Warren bought his house, cars, motorbikes, all with gold he’s found no more than a metre deep in the ground. The largest he’s found is a 40 gram nugget. One night he showed me some small gold nuggets he uses for testing his gear.

Warren went under his bed and pulled out a toolbox. Inside were 35mm film roll containers. He popped open the containers and poured a few hundred dollars worth of gold into my hand. It was all smaller than a $2 coin. To untrained eyes, the only thing telling you you’re holding something valuable is the weight. It was hard to see what I was holding as his indoor lighting isn’t so strong. The house is lit with a couple of strips of LEDs directly attached to an old car battery.

I put the gold back into the containers, ducked under the loose 12-volt wiring, and put my torch on so I could find my way back to the prospector’s camper trailer. A cynic would say the poor house lighting is so that the holes in the collapsing ceiling aren’t obvious. But they’d be wrong. It’s because he just couldn’t give a fuck about the house. When I walked into the camper trailer, it was spotless. The wiring from the solar panels into the charge controller, and out again to the lights were tucked and clipped away. There was no squeaking as I wound the windows open since it was all oiled up nicely. The insulation was behind clean laminated walls. There were 4 nights in that trailer.

The break in the rain one day meant we could go for a ride together to a nearby lookout. Warren noticed I had a problem parking my bike in soft ground. So on his 65th birthday, he spent hours grinding down and welding steel plate to my side stand. The next day I spent hours fixing up his laptop computer.

The day after that was clear. It was time for me to go - after one last ride together. Noseman is a bit of a T-junction; there are 3 roads going out of town. One goes back across the Nullarbor, another goes north to Kalgoorlie, and the other goes south to the coast. We ended up taking none of those. Instead we took the closed dirt road towards an abandoned town. At the end of the track is a junction where the town used to be. That’s where we said our goodbyes. For each goodbye there were even more thank yous. We shared a lot without a single dollar or gram of gold exchanged.