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Panning was by far the most common method of mining on the goldfields. Rocky material was loosened with pick and shovel. After it had been broken down, this rocky material was taken by wheelbarrow to a creek where it was carefully washed and swished around a shallow metal pan. As the water separated the particles of dirt, rock and pebbles, small deposits of gold sank to the bottom of the pan. This was successful for yielding small nuggets. A persistent prospector could find a considerable amount of gold over time. This method was popular in most parts of the country except for Western Australia where the acute lack of water made panning methods impossible. See image 1


Another water-based method, cradling was more complex than panning. This method was introduced by Edward Hargraves. Cradling involved a wooden box with a handle on one side and a ridged bottom covered with hessian cloth. Large pieces of rock were sorted through and discarded if they did not yield any gold. Finer rocks and pebbles were then be washed with creek water across the ridges (known as riffles) in the bottom of the cradle. This method was more successful than panning in that it meant that greater amounts of gravel and dirt could be examined. See image 2

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Dry blowing

Different methods were developed in response to different conditions. Dry blowing was a simple, if less effective, method that was employed in the drier, more arid parts of Australia such as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. Dry blowing involved the use of two pans. Fine, dust-like material would be poured from a pan held high, into the second pan which was positioned on the ground. As the material was poured down, the wind blew away the dust and fine particles of rock, while the tiny nuggets of gold fell into the pan below. While the method was sound in theory, the winds meant that tiny particles of gold could be blown away with the rest of the dust and dirt.

Shaft mining

Once the surface deposits of gold began to dry up, prospectors had to find new ways of sourcing the gold they knew existed. One of the most popular, if laborious, methods employed was shaft mining. To source the veins of gold that apparently led underground, miners dug a shaft of up to 50 metres deep. As the majority were only equipped with a pick and shovel, this was a long and tiring task. It was usually undertaken when the prospector was fairly confident of finding gold. As with shaft mining today, it yielded substantial deposits of gold, but the absence of sophisticated mining equipment meant that, for most, discovering gold was more a matter of luck than good judgment. See image 3


This was another very simple method, involving the separation of gold from clay. In its natural state, gold is often mixed with clay. Small amounts of clay/gold mixture were dumped into a large container and it was then filled with water. As it was stirred with a paddle or wooden stake, the clay would dissolve and the gold particles would sink to the bottom. This, like many other methods, did not yield huge amounts of gold, but persistence meant that reasonable gold deposits could be found over time.


This method was used towards the end of the nineteenth century. A huge bucket at the front of the dredge would scoop vast amounts of sediment from the river bed. This material would then be carefully sifted and sorted. After the sifting was completed, waste material was returned to the river bed. This method was quite effective in that it could sort through greater amounts of material, however, the yields varied widely.

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Question 1/5

1. Why was panning not used in drier parts of Australia?

Because the equipment was not available

Because other methods were more popular

Because miners could afford other equipment

Because there was very little water


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