Environmental News, Features, Geology

Victoria is as good as gold


Those eager to strike it rich can look no further than new findings from the Geological Survey of Victoria, which reveal all that glitters in the state may indeed be gold.

The Victorian gold industry is experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

Mineral exploration is at record levels in the state, which has produced more than 2,400 tonnes of gold since it was first discovered in 1851. That’s a whopping 32 per cent of all the gold mined in Australia’s history and almost two per cent of all the gold mined in the world – ever.

During 2021–22, state-wide mineral exploration expenditure totalled over $220 million, which is a 20 per cent rise on the previous record financial year.

“We think we’ve got a ‘new dawn’ for Victorian gold exploration,” Geological Survey of Victoria (GSV) senior geologist Ross Cayley said when speaking at the Victoria Gold Mining and Exploration Forum 2023.

“It’s really underpinned by data, technology, concepts and confidence.”

The 170-year-old GSV is responsible for studying and mapping the surface and sub-surface of the state, including its rich supply of resources such as gold, oil and gas, mineral sands, base metals and brown coal. The organisation has in-depth knowledge of Victoria’s geological evolution over the past 500 million years.

GSV recently identified for the first time an extended fault system that could indicate the presence of minerals in areas that have not seen successful exploration to date. What is known as a mineralisation pathway may run from close to the surface to as far down as 35–40km.

GSV aims to provide the industry with sufficient confidence to start testing these ideas.

In presenting some of GSV’s recent findings, Cayley was excited to highlight some of the opportunities for further successful minerals exploration across the Melbourne geological zone.

“One of the important characteristics of the Cambrian igneous rocks that underlie the turbidites is that they are a credible source of lots of gold,” he said.

“On the same scale as the turbidites, the research suggests that they’ve got a capacity between about five and 50 times of turbidites in terms of volume to supply gold, mainly from interflow sediments.

“So the scale of these systems is similar to the one in Bendigo. There’s a lot of potential.”

Bendigo is home to one of the largest gold zones in Victoria, dating back to the gold rush in the mid-1800s.

“We think Victoria has crossed a threshold of data and understanding Victoria’s geological framework through regional geoscientific investigations, particularly to enable the informed and responsible management of state-owned earth resources,” Cayley said.

Just a bit of background for any history buffs out there:

Gold was originally found in Australia in 1839 when explorer Paul de Strzelecki discovered it in the Victorian Alps. In 1850 William Campbell unearthed it on his brother’s sheep run in Clunes – about 36 kilometres north of Ballarat.

Campbell did not announce his discovery until July 1851 for fear of disrupting the local economies in surrounding settlements.

He later claimed he was the first to discover gold in Victoria.

Between 1851 and the late 1860s, during the state’s famous gold rush, Victoria was considered the world’s richest alluvial (as in, derived from alluvium) goldfield. 

For several years its gold output was greater than anywhere else in the world outside of California.

The gold rush brought migrants from all over the world to Victoria. Over the course of a year, Bendigo – which had previously been a sheep station – was a lively town of 40,000 people.

The discovery of so much gold led to a period of extreme prosperity for the Australian colony, during which time Melbourne was dubbed ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, which drew comparisons to London and Paris because of its huge influx of migrants and wealth.

The mass migration – and its economic and cultural impact – shaped the future of Victoria.

Within a year of the gold rush around 90,000 people migrated to Victoria in search of riches.

Twenty years later, Australia’s population grew from 430,000 people to a whopping 1.7 million. •

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