Northern Territory Government

Fossicking in the Northern Territory

Panning for gold

Information as supplied by Prospectors and Detectorists Inc. Assoc. NT (PADIANT).

Old time prospecting methods applicable to both professional and amateur prospectors.

Look at a creek; if it is dry, dig to the bedrock.

Observe bedrock for quartz and ironstone; if present you are in gold country.

There are bars of rock across every creek, find them. Running parallel in that bar are numerous cracks from the thickness of a knife to 2 or 3 cms wide. Pick out the gravel and wash stones jammed by floods deep down in those cracks. If any gold has been washed down that creek some of it has lodged in that bar and has been driven and pounded into the deepest depths of those cracks (crevices). The deeper ones you root out with your pick. You scrape the smaller ones with lengths of narrow iron strap with the end bent as a scraper and fencing wire, the end bent like a hook, the tip flattened.

Sometimes when picking, hardly visible cracks show up. Keep using your pick as there may be specks of gold wedged and cemented into those cracks. You may notice a ribbon of caked mud or 'cement' that was in the crack. Gather it as there may be specks of gold in it.

The results of panning will tell you whether the ground is worth working.

How to pan

When panning away from a source of water, take a ten litre container of water with you and have a large and a small plastic panning dish. Fill the large dish ¾ full with water. Pan material in the small dish whilst from time to time returning the water to the big dish and reusing the water many times.

Fill the small panning dish ½ to ¾ full of material to be panned. Cover the material with 2cm of water. Pick out the larger rocks after washing them clean. Thoroughly dissolve all clay. Stir contents of dish in a circular motion with your hand then give the pan several vigorous shakes from side to side and to and fro being careful not to wash material out of the dish. Change to a gentle circular motion so that the material starts revolving in a circle. Repeat the process two or three times in order for the lighter material to rise to the top and the heavier concentrates to settle.

Tilt the dish slightly away from you. Swirl the water from side to side and with a slight forward tossing motion. With your hand wipe out from the dish the surface rocks and gravel into a bucket. Add water and repeat several times until only a cup or slightly more of the concentrate is left in the pan.

Add a little water into the dish. Whilst the dish is slanted away from you, gently shake the concentrate under the water to and fro then back and forwards until the concentrate forms a small heap which we will call 'A'. If black sands are present in the concentrate use a magnet under the dish in a circular motion to remove the sands away from any gold that may be present. Do not disturb the concentrate when removing the black sand. Thoroughly dry the tips of your fingers of the hand that is not holding the panning dish by rubbing on your clothing. Remove the black sand with the magnet or with your dry fingers.

Gently wash over the concentrate side to side without disturbing the heap. Each wash should remove some of the concentrate.

Keep the middle of the pan clear by gently washing water to the base of the heap with a gentle to and fro motion. When half the heap has been removed to the opposite side which we will call 'B', reverse the pan and with a top and fro motion, remove ¾ of heap 'B' and reverse pan again to the 'A' position. Add a small amount of water if required. Wash each side of the heap with a gentle to and fro motion. If gold specks are present they will start to appear in the corners of the heap. Keep the centre of the pan clear. Specks of gold may wash out but will remain in the clear area. Pick up with a dry finger by pushing down hard on the speck. Place in a small specimen vial filled with water. Continue washing until the concentrate has been cleated from the 'A' position to the 'B' positions.

Repeat the process with the 'B' concentrate.

Keep a small bottle of detergent handy in order to pour a couple of drops into the panning water during the last panning of the concentrate.

Water is precious in dry areas. Pour all washed material from the dish into a bucket. Pour the water from the bucket back into your large panning dish if you are going to continue panning. Do not worry about the colour of the water.

Use sieves to separate rocks from the finer material before panning. ¼ inch (4 mesh) and 100 mesh sieves are suitable.

In the gold bearing areas of the NT, the Wet season storms bring more gold to the surface continually renewing the supply.

Become an expert at panning, there is far more fine gold by weight than there are nuggets.

Panning is very cheap to do and when you become proficient you will become faster.

Best of luck in your endeavours.

The Department of Primary Industry and Resources would like to acknowledge the Prospectors and Detectorists Inc. Assoc. NT (PADIANT) for the providing this information.