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Fossicking for gold

Definition of fossicking

Download map showing principal gold occurrences near AdelaideMinerals are the property of the Crown in South Australia. For prospecting and mining purposes access to land is obtained through the provisions of the Mining Act 1971, as amended, and the Regulations under the Act (Mining Regulations 2011).

The Mining Act defines fossicking to be the gathering of minerals as a recreation and without the intention to sell the minerals or to utilise them for any commercial or industrial purpose. Fossicking does not include the gathering of minerals by any means involving disturbance of land or water by machinery or explosives.

Permission to fossick

Authorisation to enter onto a property must be obtained from the landowner prior to entry to fossick.

Established fossicking areas

Fossicking areas have been established on part of the Echunga and Gumeracha Goldfields near Adelaide.

Euchunga goldfields

Fossicking is permitted on the Chapel Hill (Old Echunga) and Jupiter Creek diggings near Echunga - these diggings are located on Historic Reserves controlled by the Government of South Australia's Department for Energy and Mining.

Gumeracha goldfields

Permits for fossicking at the Watts Gully Diggings in the Mount Crawford Forest Reserve must be purchased online before fossicking in that area.

Purchase an annual (valid for 12 months from date of purchase) or daily permit via the ForestrySA website. Note that hard copy permits are no longer availalbe from the Mount Crawford Forest Information Centre, and fossickers are no longer required to display their permit.

No fossicking allowed areas

Fossicking and prospecting are not permitted within National Parks, Conservation Parks and Forest Reserves.

You may not enter areas held under current mineral claims, mineral or extractive minerals leases, retention leases, miscellaneous purposes licences or private mines to prospect or fossick unless you have obtained prior approval from the holder. Although such activities are permissible on exploration licences, it is not possible to peg a mineral claim without approval of the licensee.

Information on mining tenure and legislation can be obtained from:

Mineral Tenements Program
Phone: +61 8 8463 3103

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Fossicking equipment

Basic fossicking equipment includes geological and topographic maps, a geological hammer, pick, shovel, sieve, gold pan, and magnifying glass. More sophisticated equipment may include a metal detector, manual cradle rocker or sluice box.

Fossicking may only be undertaken using hand operated equipment. Mechanically operated equipment cannot be used.

Lack of surface water in South Australia severely limits the use of devices based on the availability of water. Such equipment is not permitted in SA Water Watershed Reserves in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

Mechanised devises are banned in the fossicking areas at Watts Gully, Chapel Hill and Jupiter Creek. The use of power-operated machinery and equipment is classed as mining and can only be undertaken on an appropriately registered mineral claim or mining lease.

Gold pan

This is the simplest of gold-saving appliances but, because of limited capacity, is used more for testing materials suspected of being gold bearing than for actual recovery of the metal. Special pans of various sizes are available, although any dish-like object can be used. Any utensil used for gold washing must be entirely free of grease or oil, as contaminated gold will tend to float off and be lost.

Samples are puddled thoroughly in the dish to ensure that any clay is broken down and any contained gold set free. By shaking with a circular motion, the separated gold settles to the bottom. The dirt is washed off gradually until the particles of gold and other heavies, such as iron oxide and rutile, are concentrated in the angle of the side with the bottom of the dish. Clean water is added, and with a swirling motion the non-auriferous material is gently washed from the heavier gold particles, leaving the latter exposed as a ‘tail’.

In testing for gold, the same quantity of material should be washed each time to give a measure of the gold content. Flat, flaky particles of gold, which produce a good showing, are apt to be over-estimated by the inexperienced.

Metal detectors

Metal detectors respond to metallic objects buried at shallow depths including bottle tops, coins, rings, ironstone and gold nuggets, but are not generally useful for the detection of fine alluvial gold or reef gold.

The operation of metal detectors is based on the principle of electromagnetic induction. A variable current is supplied to the energising (search) coil, producing a correspondingly varying magnetic field. This induces a current flow in any conducting metallic object within range. The current will in turn have its own magnetic field and the presence of such a magnetic field in a previously balanced (nulled) system makes a response in the detector.

Hidden ‘treasure’ will not be detected at depths much greater than the diameter of the coil, due to the decrease of magnetic field intensity with distance from the energising coil. This will vary somewhat depending on the detection sensitivity of the instrument and the size of the object responding. It must be pointed out, however, that metal detectors are only an aid to prospecting and that for maximum usefulness many hours of practice under different situations will be required.

The gold pan and metal detector are tools used by the fossicker to detect concealed gold. If a gold-bearing deposit of eluvial or alluvial material is to be tested or worked in a small way, there are a number of gold concentrating devices. Pans, sieves, cradles and sluices are suitable where water is available and dry blowers are used where water is scarce. More detailed information can be obtained from retailers.


Similar to panning except with a mesh base for the water to drain, helping to separate the gold.

Cradling (Cradle or Rocker)

A technique that utilises a wooden box shaped like a babies cradle. The cradle is rocked in a sideways motion as water is poured in, to help work the rocks and sediments through. The cradle has a grate and sieve at the top, which catches the coarser stones and lets the dirt and sediment pass through to be caught by a series of ‘rifles’ (timber baffles). Only the fine material will get sifted through, leaving any potential gold to be caught in the rifles.

Sluice box (hand operated only)

Modern versions of the sluice box are strong, durable and lightweight, being made of plastic and/or aluminium. A rectangular box flared at the intake end and 1 to 2 m long by 0.25 m wide is lined with removable riffles. Below the riffles, matting seals the riffles to aid in holding fine gold concentrate. The box is sunk into the stream where sufficient fall allows water to flow through with some velocity. Where there is no flowing water, a bucket can be used to pour water over the box. Washdirt is shovelled into the head of the box and heavy fragments are concentrated by water flow.

Dry blower (hand operated only)

Where water is not available, dry blowing may be a suitable method of gold recovery. Winnowing is the simplest form, whereby dry pulverised gold-bearing material is poured from one pan to another. The wind blows away the light particles, to concentrate the gold content for subsequent recovery by wet panning.

The dry blower combines a rocking riffle box and bellows. Coarse rock and gravel are removed from the roughly pulverised material by a screen. The fine material (undersize) is fed across an apron plate to the upper portion of a riffle box, on the top side of the bellows. Air puffed from bellows through the permeable bottom of the riffle box concentrates heavy particles of gold, which settle behind the riffles. Associated light waste is thrown up at each puff, and driven forward to pass over the end of the box.

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Fossicking in states other than South Australia

The requirements with regard to fossicking are different in each state.

Contact the relevant department in each state before you fossick to ensure you are aware of the requirements.

Frequently asked questions about fossicking in South Australia

Fossicking is described as the gathering of minerals as a recreation and which does not disturb the land or water by the use of machinery or explosives, and without the intention to sell the minerals or to utilise them for a commercial or industrial purpose.

Before fossicking within designated fossicking areas within Forest Reserves you must purchase an annual or daily permit online from the ForestrySA website

In other areas of South Australia no permit is required to fossick, however you must obtain prior permission from landowners before entering their property.

All minerals collected through fossicking are not to be sold or utilised for any commercial or industrial purpose. They may be collected for your own personal collection.

All minerals are the property of the Crown in South Australia.

Yes, a metal detector is acceptable as are a pick and shovel and a gold pan. No machinery operated by mechanical means is allowed.

There are a number of historical fossicking sites within South Australia which are open to the public for fossicking.

More information can be found in the information sheet M09 Gold deposits and fossicking areas in South Australia

If you want to fossick on private property, you must obtain the landowner's permission before doing so. Details of land owners can be obtained from the Lands Titles office, phone +61 8 8226 3983.

Each State and Territory within Australia has different rules and regulations in regards to fossicking. It is recommended that you contact the relevant State Government department.

Permission is not required if you only wish to fossick. However, if you peg a mineral claim, written permission will be required from the licence holder prior to pegging the claim.

Details of licensees are available from:

Mineral Tenements Program
Phone: +61 8 8463 3103

Yes, but it is recommended that you seek prior approval from the holder of the respective claim, lease or licence as it is an offence under the Act to hinder or obstruct that person in the reasonable exercise of their rights to conduct mining operations on their tenement.

You can obtain details of holders by contacting the Mineral Tenements Program on phone +61 8 8463 3103 and quoting the lease or claim number which is located on the posts marking the area of the lease or claim.