easter gold hunt (13.04.2009)

overview

when: 13.04.2009-16.04.2009
where: Carcoar, Junction Reefs, home
tools: metal detector (GPX-400), $13 pick, shovel
treasure found: yes

details

I'm really not the biggest fan of camping. The idea of roughing it, relying on nature to provide, poisonous wildlife, holes and shovels replacing basic plumbing… I'm not sure why people do it, actually. So this first documented treasure hunt, which began as a family camping trip during the Easter break, was something I felt would be a bit of a personal challenge. There have been a couple of camping trips in the past (which I didn't go on), but this one was different. Seemingly coincidental with my newfound aspiration to be a treasure hunter, my dad had been planning a gold-hunting trip (mostly just for fun, I think we all knew that) and I thought - hey, that's treasure! So I decided to go along.

We left at 6am on a fairly cold Monday morning, arriving at a windfarm camping ground near Carcoar around 9am. Coming along with my family (my parents and my brother) was our dog, Harry, and the newest addition to the family: a rented metal detector, "GPX-400". Amending my expectations of just what camping would be (in a forest, leeches, mud, possums, hungry kangaroos…), the camp site was surprisingly well-equipped. There were really decent bathrooms (complete with SHOWERS), and the area was open and flat among rolling hills, completely the opposite of the encroaching Blair-Witch forest I'd expected. And weirdly enough, I had maximum reception on my phone. It wasn't as far a leap from civilisation as it could have been.

My brother and my dad took the metal detector first, in the afternoon, wandering around the nearby area getting used to it. They came back without anything, telling tales of cans, wire, nuts and bolts. Later on me and my brother went - me armed with the detector, him with the shovel - and confirmed that there was a lot of junk out there. Using a metal detector is fiddly but pretty cool, because it really does work. Depending on the sensitivity settings, it will either be humming annoyingly (it's set way too sensitive) or remarkably silent (a suitable level of sensitivity), and then will make this shrill whine moving into a deep hum when it detects something metal. I claim to do physics, it's true, but I'm not exactly sure how the detector works. It seemed to be a type of induction coil (encased in white plastic), which I presume sends out electromagnetic signals, which induce a current in conducting metals, and then detects where the induced currents are. I might do some research on them later and make a "tools" section with more reliable information :)

In any case, this first foray into the metal detecting art saw a lot of cans, ring pulls, nails, wire… as expected. But among the varying types of junk, some junk was definitely cooler than others - we found two funny-looking fish hooks and half of a who-knows-how-old horse shoe. Despite looking for the other half that day and later, we never found it - but concluded it was possible that only half the shoe came off in the first place. My dad obliviously threw one of my fish hooks into the campfire, hence the singed look. It was once pastel green.

That was pretty much the end of the treasure hunting for the first day, since it was by then getting dark and we had to eat dinner. I found out the next morning that the showers (though their existence was a bonus) only put out cold water - something you don't really want to discover at 7am in the morning in the shower stall. From this, I learned a handy adventure tip:

Check any faucets, knobs, buttons before doing anything else.

There was a family hunt for firewood which took most of the second day, and in the end we ironically found lots of usable wood along Fell Timber Road (if I recall the name correctly). We did some metal detecting along the same road, but didn't find anything. We got back and I went detecting alone armed with our newly bought budget pick (which had and still has a tendency to wobble). No sign of the horseshoe's other half, but an interesting discovery was that, more than once, metal detections lead to ants or ant nests. I'm not sure what to make of that. I found a cool naturally-formed (I think) piece of slate so I kept that. Down near the 'beach', something set the metal detector off insanely and I dug up a big chunky rock, but it turned out to be caked mud encasing some sort of hinge - argh.

So I moved up to the red dirt area again, where I did find one small rock which didn't seem to be a nut, or ring pull, or anything - it could possibly be a fishing sinker with mud around it but this is as yet unconfirmed. I also spent maybe half an hour in one spot, going insane, when the 'treasure' kept moving around and despite sifting I couldn't locate the source. I think in the end it was wire, and little ball bearings, or maybe ants, but nothing worth the frustration! I kept some interesting rocks (one of which is a large nut) and ball bearings.

The next day, I was woken up in time to see a pretty impressive sunrise. After breakfast we headed for Junction Reefs, a fairly famous gold-finding area, but found that the mining industry had beat us there (maybe a decade or more earlier). The art of finding gold is not simple at all - apparently there is a unit for weighing gold called the "pennyweight" and is maybe about 10g or so. A reasonable level of gold extraction from an area would be counting in tens of pennyweights (dwt) per tonne of material. Not exactly a high percentage.

This turned out to be our last day of camping (score, I made it home in time for basketball!). We spent a couple of hours at Baker's Shaft reserve (creepy, creepy place), finding lots of wire, and then headed back to camp to pack up. My brother found a discarded chisel, but despite how old and rusted it looks, it would be hard to say just how old it is. Chisels haven't changed much in appearance over the last 200 years, unfortunately. Still, an interesting find.

Overall, the camping experience wasn't so bad. We didn't find gold at any time but I'm not sure we really expected to. What was made clear was that treasure hunting, no matter what kind, is not something that just 'happens' - it takes time, and patience, and subjectivity as to what exactly 'treasure' is. Clearly, I'm still defining what it means to me. I like the souvenirs we found, despite their little 'worth' compared to big nuggets of gold. It was fun, although roughing it was certainly less enjoyable than not roughing it. And it was a good experience, the first step on the path to becoming a treasure hunter.

I said at the top of this page that treasure was found. But I didn't mean the treasure I've catalogued thus far. There is a little more to this first story. It turned out that we had the metal detector until Friday, despite getting home on Wednesday evening. We thought about going looking around the area we live in, just to see what we could find, but it was already kind of dark. Instead, we remembered the unfortunate story of one of our neighbours - a few months ago, while I was still in Japan, she'd lost both her wedding ring and eternity ring at some unknown point. She'd narrowed it down to either down the sink, down the shower drain or in the garden, but as yet (months later) had had no luck finding them. So on Wednesday evening my brother went over to her garden and had a look around. He came back half an hour later, saying there were spots and things, but basically everything was going off. It didn't look good.

The next day, I went over around midday to have a go at searching. I guess I thought, we have the metal detector and we should search, so that at least we have tried even if nothing comes out of it. I've lost a lot of things in my time thus far, of varying importance, but the kind of sentimental value associated with a wedding ring - that's really tough. They've been married over 50 years. It's not a huge garden, not really, but when all you have is a metal detector, a pick, and not much else to go on… it seemed a formidable task. What made it difficult was that no level of sensitivity setting would quiet the detector (the perks of surburbia), the garden was enclosed by wooden held together by metal nails, and going anywhere within 50cm of the fence just droned like nothing else. If the rings were near the fence, or near the nails, there was little hope of finding them.

After some searching with the detector (to little avail), I had resorted to sifting through the garden methodically, starting with the mulch pile. There was not heaps to go on - she suspected that maybe she'd lost the rings while doing some mulch-throwing, so if anything they should have been near the surface of the mulch. I'd just finished combing through the mulch when my brother and his friend came over to help out. He said that yesterday he'd found a couple of spots on the grass, and after 15 minutes in mulch (worms…), I was happy to switch over to a bit of a grass hunt.

We looked near the clothesline, where the detector had gone off, and spent a while sifting around, digging at the grass. All three of us picking at the ground like chickens must have looked pretty funny! But you know what? It was worth it. Because finally, against the odds, despite what we actually thought would be the outcome… we found the wedding ring. With the help of the metal detector narrowing it down to a small area, maybe a radius of around 50cm, we actually found one of the rings! After staring at each other in shock, we quickly looked through the same area again, hoping to find the other ring before our neighbour came back, so we could surprise her with both the rings. But there was nothing else there. When she came back outside, we gave her the ring - and seeing her face light up was so, so cool.

From there, knowing one of the rings was in the garden, we wanted to keep looking for the other. Maybe it was still a far shot - finding anything had seemed that way - but we'd found one all the same. I donned the detector again, searching only the grass, while my brother and his friend looked at the other area he'd found yesterday. I found a few spots, knelt down and pulled at the grass, but nothing came of it. I told the other two - don't jump to conclusions if you think you've found something, don't say anything unless you know - because it would be no good to get her hopes up. I talked to her again about the circumstances. This is what I found out:

1. She'd started from the left with the mulch bag and worked clockwise around the garden.
2. The eternity ring started out *on top* of the wedding ring.
3. The mulch bag had been sitting close to the clothesline at one point when she was throwing mulch.

From this, I figured that if the eternity ring was anywhere, it should be on the left side or in front of where the mulch bag had been, since the wedding ring probably would have fallen off soon after the eternity ring. This narrowed my detecting down to near the clothesline, close to where we'd found the first but also to the garden. And then, I got a detection (near the wooden planks), I bent down and combed through the grass again, and finally glimpsed a flash of emerald green and gold amidst the blades - it was the eternity ring!

So that was it. Despite the odds, months later, of finding the lost rings, the three of us actually managed a 100% success rate. Our neighbour was so thrilled, and I think we were all really pleased to have found the rings just for the sake of seeing her that happy about having them back. It made me think about the meaning of treasure again, and I think this was one of the best treasures we could have hoped to find. I guess in the end, 'treasure' is something that has meaning to someone, be it monetary value, historical value, or (maybe the most important?) sentimental value. Finding a treasure that had that much meaning to someone else was infinitely better than finding some meaningless lump of gold that we would have sold right away - and I'm not just saying that! It was a really good feeling, finding those rings.

I don't know yet what kind of 'treasure' I'm looking for, but I think I have a better understanding of what treasure might be now.

Note: Thank you to my neighbour for letting me take photos of her garden and rings.

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