Gold Rush—1980’s Style
By “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
GOLD fever has spread among many Australians, rich and poor alike. About a hundred years ago the first gold rush was on. Today, gold seekers, armed with electronic sensors, are back combing the earth, trying to strike it rich—and with some success!
In Western Australia two aboriginal prospectors reportedly were finding $600 worth of gold a minute. Another young man, armed with a metal detector, found a 270-gm (9.5-oz.) nugget, worth about $6,000. Still another person unearthed two nuggets weighing around 285 gms (10 oz.). In southeast Australia a couple with a finely tuned metal detector extracted a ‘collector’s item,’ a nugget weighing 27.2 kg (60 lbs.), with a ‘price tag’ of $1 million. It lay just 15 cm (6 in.) below the surface of the ground.
Before you pack up and head for a goldfield, however, you may wish to know a little more about your elusive quarry. What is gold like? Where is it found? What about fool’s gold? And what will it do for you, or to you?
The Glitter of Gold
In the quest to unearth history, investigators have been awestruck with the legacy in gold left by rulers of the past. In 1873, while searching for the ancient Greek city of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann unearthed 8,700 golden objects, including a diadem made of 16,000 pieces of gold. When the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen was opened after more than 3,000 years, archaeologists found a world of gold, including a gold throne, gold shrines, a gold face mask and a coffin of solid gold.
In recent years gold doubloons worth millions of dollars have been salvaged from Spanish galleons sunk off the Florida coast of the U.S.A. From a watery grave off the coast of Bermuda came a crucifix made of gold adorned with seven emeralds. Its value hovers between $18,000 and $50,000.
Discoveries such as these emphasize one of gold’s most outstanding qualities: its nontarnishing durability. Though having lain for hundreds of years under water, the Spanish doubloons looked as fresh as the day they were made.
Gold is extremely heavy, with a dense atomic structure. It is also malleable. It can be beaten into gold leaf so thin as to let light shine through, reportedly as thin as four millionths of an inch. It is also ductile. Just one ounce of gold can be drawn out into a fine wire more than 60 km (37 mi.) long.
Many an enthusiastic prospector has unearthed nuggets of the right color and luster only to find it to be pyrite, or fool’s gold. Though similar in appearance to the treasured metal, it consists mainly of sulfur. A simple test can be made by scratching the nugget on the back of a white ceramic tile. Fool’s gold leaves a greenish-black streak; a golden-yellow streak reveals the glitter of real gold.
The Search for Gold
There is, quite probably, gold under your feet right now. It occurs in most soils and rocks around the world, and all seawater contains gold. However, the quantities are so minute that the cost of extracting it would be much greater than its value. Even in the modern gold mines of South Africa, five tons of ore have to be treated to yield just one ounce of gold.
In the decade of the 1850’s Australia produced 50 percent of the world’s gold. A fleeting moment of glory that was, though, for South Africa now heads the list of primary gold producers, followed by Russia, Canada and the U.S.A. Even so, many of these operations are not strictly ‘gold mines.’ Instead, the gold is retrieved as a by-product in the mining of zinc, copper and other minerals.
Nowadays, the search for gold by commercial enterprise involves the expertise of geologists and chemists in carefully planned maneuvers. When the location of gold has been determined, either near the surface or deeper underground—some mines in South Africa descend five km (three mi.)—three basic operations are undertaken. First, the ore is mined by conventional methods. Next, the gold is separated by chemical or mechanical processes, or both. Then gold is refined, or purified, and cast into bars.—See Awake! of April 8, 1978.
The dawn of the 20th century found insufficient gold and silver for coinage. So governments, spurred on by the needs of a world at war (1914), began issuing paper money on a large scale. Soon gold coins ceased to be minted, and coinage made of cheaper metals took their place. Now, many countries produce aluminum coins.
Since gold ceased to back the paper money, other areas of a country’s wealth, such as oil or real estate, came to stand in its stead. International trade increased, but each nation had a different money value, making an equitable exchange difficult. Therefore, in 1944 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was formed to establish and maintain a stable rate of exchange between countries. More than a hundred countries took part and agreed that their nation’s currency would relate to the United States dollar, which was ‘as good as gold.’ Foreigners holding U.S. dollars could redeem them for gold at $35 per fine troy ounce.
But in time, the U.S. came to owe more to foreign countries than it could pay for with gold. So in 1971 it ceased paying out gold to such overseas customers. When U.S. currency went off the gold standard, the price of gold soared astonishingly. From 1934 to 1971 gold was $35 an ounce; by early 1980 it had bounced up to $875 an ounce. Today, however, it hovers around $400 an ounce.
When Only Gold Will Do
Estimates are that about 60 percent of all gold sits protected by banks and governments. The remainder leads quite an active existence. Alloys of the precious metal are used in settings for jewelry to create breathtaking arrangements. Gold may be set into fine china, while gold leaf is used to enhance signs on office windows or lettering on book covers.
If you closely inspect any gold jewelry, you will notice three or four tiny marks stamped into it. Some of these marks are trade and handlers’ marks. A hallmark is also present. This signifies the amount of pure gold present in relation to a base metal, such as copper or silver. Gold alloy is measured in carats. Pure gold of 24 carats is rare in such ornaments, being too soft to work. A more common hallmark is 22, which is 22 parts gold to two parts base metal by weight.
When astronauts rocketed their way to the moon, intense heat and radiation from the sun had to be contended with. Since gold is able to reflect up to 98 percent of the sun’s rays, vital parts of the spacecraft were coated with gold. Likewise, during space walks the visors of helmets and the vital ‘umbilical cord’ are coated with a thin layer of gold. Modern jet aircraft also have gold-covered sections to safeguard vital parts, and people, from heat exposure.
Being an excellent conductor of electricity, gold is used increasingly in miniature electronic circuits, computers and in underwater communication systems.
Because gold is germ free and stable it is used in dentistry to repair and replace teeth. If you have a gold filling, it is part of an estimated 75 tons of gold used each year to fill the gaps in smiles. In medicine, gold has been administered internally to protect vital body parts during radiation treatment. Though still in an embryonic stage, gold has been used in arthritis treatment, cancer therapy and surgical repair work.
Recent discoveries of gold in the Australian states have contributed heavily to the spread of gold fever. In the state of Victoria alone, the number of those holding miners’ rights has jumped from 3,500 to 25,000 in a year. Are you thinking of joining the gold rush of the 1980’s?
If you are, be cautious, for it is not without good reason that the word “fever” is used in the hunt for gold. It is all too easy to throw caution to the wind at the smell of gold, to sacrifice standards that have been an integral part of your life, to spend more money than you can afford, to gobble up more time than is wise, and to bring yourself to complete ruin financially, emotionally and domestically.
Two years ago a woman gold seeker and her young son drove off into the Australian outback. It took searchers nearly six months to find the vehicle and the bodies. They still had water in the radiator and plenty of food. And they died within a kilometer (.6 mi.) of a well.
So, if you find yourself attracted by the gold rush of the 1980’s, be sure to take into account not only the gold that you hope to find but also the cost. The price may be higher than you bargain for. At 1 Timothy 6:9, 10, it is written: “However, those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”