The Pilbara Goldrush

The Pilbara Goldrush, by Paul Garvey.

Mr Attard runs Pilbara Prospecting Supplies in Karratha and for the past few months has been doing a roaring trade in metal detectors as would-be gold hunters try to make the most of the astounding gold nugget frenzy now gripping the region.

There have been far bigger resources booms in the Pilbara than the current gold rush but none has inspired the sort of prospecting fever spreading through the residents of Karratha and Port Hedland.

Mr Attard has been selling at least a couple of his top-of-the-range $10,000 metal detectors each week since Canadian company Novo Resources captured the market’s attention with its claim that it has discovered a nuggetty gold system analogous to South Africa’s world-beating Witwatersrand gold basin sitting at the surface and right on the doorstep of the Pilbara’s two biggest towns.

Despite deep and widespread scepticism about the technical merits of Novo’s find, enchanted investors have pushed Novo’s shares from 80c in July to as high as $8.55 and its market cap has gone past $2.4bn.

Over a dozen Australian-listed juniors have capitalised on the rush, staking ground, dusting off old projects and using the excitement to raise precious new capital. They’ve also attracted some prominent backers, with none other than Sheikh Maktoum Hasher al Maktoum — a member of Dubai’s super-rich ruling family — this week joining the board of Artemis Resources, Novo’s joint venture partner. It’s not just listed companies making the most of the excitement. …

Mr Attard’s shop is enjoying its best trading conditions since the height of the boom. The hardest part has been keeping up with demand — he ran out of stock last week.

“Everyone thinks there’re nuggets out there like jelly beans, that you just go out there with a metal detector, start swinging and pick them up,” Mr Attard told The Weekend Australian.

“It’s not that simple and we tell people that, but everyone makes up their own mind, gets the cash and come and buy detectors anyway.” …

And that’s not all: Mr Attard, a veteran prospector himself, has already been approached with an offer of more than $1 million for some of the ground he pegged in the area a while back. …

Unlike most modern-day gold discoveries, which involve large-scale, deep mineralised systems in which the gold is disseminated through broad sections of rock invisible to the untried eye, the Novo-inspired Pilbara gold rush involves nuggets sitting just below the surface.

Typical disseminated gold deposits can be found only through costly multi-million-dollar drilling programs and can only be processed through large-scale and expensive processing plants, but the companies and prospectors rushing around the Pilbara gold rush are picking gold out of the ground armed with little more than metal detectors, jackhammers and shovels.

It makes this perhaps the most egalitarian and imagination-grabbing gold rush since those in the Victorian and Kalgoorlie gold fields back in the 19th century.