“There’s plenty of gold there. I reckon we just head down to the creek and try our luck.”
That’s the first thing I hear on Easter Sunday.
I’m politely ignoring my brother in favour of my bacon and eggs. Then my mother chimes in.
“Do you think that’s going to be the best place to find the gold?”
“Yeah, that’s what the guy said yesterday at the festival. He said he got 100 pieces of gold at the creek near Nundle,” he replies.
“OK, well what are we going to use. We don’t have a pan.”
The seriousness in my mother’s tone alarms me. “Hang on,” I say. “We’re not seriously going panning for gold, are we,” I ask, disbelieving.
My mum assures me that we are indeed going prospecting.
“Down Fossickers Way, Pen, that’s where we’re heading,” my brother declares, referencing a local road that has obviously taken his eye.
It’s always alarming when you are forced to wake up before you are ready, but it is even worse when you discover your family fancy themselves as nugget hunters.
There will be gold, my brother assures me. There’ll be plenty to go around. It’s just waiting for us to find it.
Yeah right, I think.
He fancies himself as some sort of modern-day pioneer.
I wanted to say something witty and cynical, but the savvy part of my brain stopped me. What if we actually found some gold? They’d laugh and say they told me so and I’d be gold-less and they’d all be rich.
This is what happens with gold fever, it sucks you in like a half-price packet of donuts at the end of a long day
My brother’s enthusiasm, as usual, is contagious.
And so the search begins for appropriate tools. We do not have a pan with the proper ribs on the side for jiggling the gold around, but a barbeque pan and a water filter will suffice.
A quick Google search reveals that plenty of optimists have tried their luck around Nundle. The prospects have even evoked the ire of a notorious land-owner enigmatically named Nundle Guy. He is not a fan of prospectors and has a history of threatening people wishing to cash in on the 160-year record of gold finds.
The hunt has become even more ridiculous as we concoct stories of what Nundle Guy will do when he hears about our nugget. Surely enough, I’m pulled into the expedition.
We improvise a few tools and head off to have a quick barbeque on Chaffey Dam, which is between Tamworth and the gold-hunting spot, before our days as middle-class folk are traded for a nouveaux rich status.
The snags are lovely and as I’m sitting amongst the gum trees quietly reading Mao’s Last Dancer and, of course, enjoying the serenity, I begin to think of how exciting it would be to find a large gold nugget.
Earlier today we had discussed some famous discoveries, such as the Welcome Stranger Nugget that was found in the 1800s in Victoria. It weighed about 71kg.
I imagined myself really excited, like when a Mangrove Jack is on the end of my line or when I find an eggplant in the fridge that I had forgotten about. If those sorts of events make me scrunch up my face and jump up and down, what would happen when my brother and I dug up a big nugget?
I could not even imagine how many dumplings such a nugget would buy.
I find in luck-centric money-raising ventures, the money is often spent before it is found. Mum had already picked out her camper van and dad was purchasing a winery in the Hunter for me to play on. Naturally, I would trade in my old car for a sexy motorbike.
On the way to the creek it was peak hour at Nundle. “You guys look like a pack of dudes traipsing off to the creek with your shovels, a barbeque pan and a water filter,” my mum commented about our crude equipment.
Indeed, we were a ragtag bunch.
Snake-fear was paramount as we waded through knee-high grass to find a suitable creek bank.
We fell down the narrow, muddy banks straight into the icy water. With high spirits, we waded across the jagged rocks, sensing gold just beneath our bloodied feet.
My brother and I could barely keep our excitement at bay. Concentration levels were akin to eating fish with bones in them.
We panned and panned with little idea what we were doing. The rocks bounced about in the big old water filter and I was certain I was propelling a large nugget to the bottom of the pan.
I’d scour the bottom of the makeshift pan as if I was searching for a $2 coin in the bottom of my bag. As usual, the search was fruitless.
We did not find any gold on Easter Sunday.
We returned to find mum and dad in their deckchairs on the side of the road. People had stopped to ask if they were ok, “yes, we’re just waiting for our kids. They’re down panning for gold,” my mum told the friendly strangers. Wickedly, she said to us later; “they probably thought we were very irresponsible parents, leaving their kids to go panning alone.”
“The might not have expected to find a 30-year-old and a 24-year-old by the creek,” my dad remarked, ever so proudly.
And so we ended the day laughing at each other for heralding such child-like, hopeless ambition. We were jovial, but, ultimately, defeated.
For now, anyway. I suspect the gold may not be so elusive next Easter.