AustraliaRare gold specimens unearthed at WA mine compared to 'finding a needle in a haystack'
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They say lightning never strikes twice, but spectacular gold specimens have been unearthed at a Western Australian gold mine for the second time in nine months.
Another pocket of rare visible gold has been discovered at the Beta Hunt mine near the historic mining town of Kambalda, 630 kilometres east of Perth.
Underground miners have recovered an estimated 987 ounces of coarse gold in 238 kilograms of rock since Saturday — worth about $1.9 million at today's gold price.
The Beta Hunt mine made international headlines last year after some of the biggest specimens ever seen were unearthed about 500 metres below the surface — the largest weighing in at 94 kilograms.
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Becoming a 'bit of a regular occurrence'
So far, the new gold pocket is not as rich as the lounge room-sized area which was called the Father's Day Vein, named after the day it was found last September.
Last year's motherlode produced more than 27,000 ounces — the equivalent of about 760 kilograms of gold — which made Canadian miner RNC Minerals more than $40 million and saved the mine from closing.
The newest discovery is about 25 metres beneath the Father's Day Vein and 15 metres to the south as miners work towards the area in the hope of another rich find.
Geologist Emily Cole was one of the first on the scene after explosives were used to break up the underground rock.
"I was called over the radio by the operator of an underground loader, who called me to say that while washing down the rock, he's found quite a bit of gold," she said.
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"I was like, 'I wonder how big it will be this time?'
"There's been quite a few gold pockets now and it's getting to become a bit of a regular occurrence."
Miners picked up gold-covered rocks for hours
Within a few hours of Saturday's rare discovery, the ABC was granted exclusive access to film underground at Beta Hunt.
The ABC watched as miners on hands and knees rummaged through the loose rock looking for gold with only their head lamps for light.
They had been picking up gold rocks for three hours by the time the ABC arrived and had filled three large buckets with specimens.
Mine foreman Warren Edwards was watering down the rock to illuminate the spectacular gold specimens which shone through in the dark.
On two occasions, he yelled "eureka" with the same vigour one might expect from an 1890s prospector.
Some specimens were as big as a fist and other smaller pieces were like a pebble one might use to skim across the water on a day at the beach.
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The single biggest chunk of visible gold was still in the rock wall — about 30 centimetres of sparkling yellow metal containing an estimated 100 ounces — the equivalent of about $190,000 at today's gold price.
"This is the 10th pocket above 30 ounces that we've had in the last two years while I've been here," Ms Cole said.
"Obviously we're under where we found the Father's Day Vein and we're hoping for gold, so to hit it is great.
"To be honest after you've seen a tonne of gold in an area the size of a small car, nothing really shocks you anymore, it's just a nice day."
One large rock with a streak of gold running through it was too heavy to lift.
The workers have learned from last year when one of three miners lifting the 94-kilogram specimen onto the back of a ute injured his back.
As the ABC was leaving the mine, an underground loader known as a bogger was moving into position to dig out the gold.
Hopes of repeating 'once-in-a-lifetime discovery'
Senior mine geologist Zaf Thanos put last year's rare find into perspective when he hailed it a "once-in-a-lifetime discovery".
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But nine months down the track, he said he would happily be proven wrong.
"It might be twice in a lifetime at this rate … it's certainly a special mine," he said.
"Now we've found this gold pocket we'll continue mining to the north and hopefully encounter a few more pockets.
"It's incredibly rare. This is like finding a needle in a haystack — there's no other way to describe it."
Most mines around the world would be lucky to find specks of gold and would need a magnifying glass to confirm it.
Despite the rare nature of the specimens, Mr Thanos said most of the gold will be crushed and melted into gold bars, with only the truly spectacular specimens to be saved.
"Since last year's big find, we tend to get really picky about what we call a specimen and what we crush," he said.
Even with modern technology, Mr Thanos said it is impossible to predict clusters of visible gold like the latest pocket.
"You can't predict where this is going to be … you could put a drill hole anywhere in that vicinity [pointing to gold on the rock wall] and you might hit it or miss it entirely," he said.
"It's just a matter of pure luck. All you can do is target a known area, because there's potential there and there's always a chance you might get lucky.
"Pockets like this are just the cherry on top of our main game here."
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Discovery changed fortunes of ageing mine
The impact of last year's Father's Day Vein discovery is still being felt at Beta Hunt — only last week three ounces of gold was found in the vehicle wash bay after falling off the back of a truck.
The mine had been up for sale at the time and threatened with closure, but the find pushed last year's total production up 99 per cent to 73,801 ounces.
The money generated by the gold discovery has paid off creditors and been sunk back into the mine in the form of exploration drilling, while bulk mining was temporarily suspended.
About 35 kilometres out of a 40km drilling campaign has been completed and results are slowly being released to the Toronto Stock Exchange, with more results due next week.
The windfall has also enabled RNC Minerals to purchase the nearby Higginsville gold operations for $50 million in cash and shares, a sale which is in the final stages of settlement.
The plan is to process gold from Beta Hunt at the Higginsville mill, instead of trucking to third-party processing plants.
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Biggest specimens to be auctioned off
The biggest specimens from the Father's Day Discovery have just landed back in Australia after a world tour and are in the process of being sold to private gold collectors.
In November, the Federal Government approved a temporary export permit for three large stones.
The specimens travelled to England, the United States, China and Canada, where a private reception was held at the Royal Ontario Museum.
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RNC Minerals CEO Mark Selby was literally a rock star on the tour.
"It's amazing to watch people … I've had CEOs of some of the world's biggest mining companies crouching down trying to get a selfie with one of these rocks," he said.
"You see the reaction of hardcore mining people who have never seen anything like it, so it's been great to generate all this interest in mining and exploration."
The biggest gold-encrusted rock, King Henry, weighed in at 94 kilograms and was named after the air-leg miner Henry Dole who discovered it.
King Henry contains an estimated 1,402 ounces, while the second biggest specimen Warren, named after the mine foreman, contains 893 ounces.
"I think Henry is probably the world's most famous air-leg miner," Mr Selby quipped.
Mr Selby confirmed discussions are under way with the Perth Mint and he is hopeful a deal can be done so the biggest specimens remain in Australia.
There will not be a public auction which was initially the plan.
Melbourne-based gold analyst Sandra Close is adamant the stones should not be sold overseas.
"I see no reason why Beta Hunt shouldn't be able to take them around the world and show people and try to get as much value for them as they can," Dr Close said.
"But on the other hand I firmly believe they are part of Australia's heritage and they should remain in Australia whenever they are sold.
"The very nature of them is so extraordinary that I think they're a really significant part of our heritage, given that gold is so important in Australia's history and even today with Australia being the world's second-largest gold producer."
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