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NT Gold Panning Championships in Pine Creek Attracts Locals and Tourists

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Knee deep in a muddy stream and an age-old chase, prospectors have battled it out at the Northern Territory Gold Panning Championships.

The annual event was held Saturday in the Top End town of Pine Creek, about 220 kilometers south of Darwin, and attracted about 40 participants.

Gold-digging judge John Fisher said there were a few tricks that could give competitors an edge.

“The secret is, make sure there’s plenty of water in there and get rid of all that sand,” he said.

Mr Fisher said it was undeniably exciting to see newcomers – especially younger competitors new to gold prospecting – find even a small amount of gold.

John Fisher smiles at the camera in front of a tree.
Mr Fisher says there is still a rush to see people discovering gold.ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk

A sport of speed and precision

In a gold prospecting competition, a participant enters the river with a bucket of sand.

There are a few small pieces of gold hidden in the bucket.

A person squats with a gold pan in their hands over a muddy river.
Competitors must be scrupulous or be penalized.ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk

When the contestant puts the sand in a pan, his time begins.

When a piece of gold is discovered, a competitor takes it out of the pan and places it in a vial.

A hand holds up a vial with pieces of gold in it.
All participants get gold to start, but their job is to find it as quickly as possible.ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk

Once a panner believes they have found all the gold in their bucket of sand, they stop the clock.

However, if gold flakes are missed, a time penalty is given.

Paul Watkins, who took part in the event, said that after 35 years of panning, he had developed a nice little gold collection.

“You see the gold in the pan and you think, ‘Wow, I actually found it,’” he said.

“I’ve got enough to melt down to about the size of a 20-cent piece.”

A gold nugget in a container on a table.
Each year, a gold nugget worth about $200 is given away at the championships.ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk

The biggest show in town

Pine Creek’s population, now about 400, peaked at 750 in 1895.

At that time the population of the city was mainly made up of Chinese prospectors looking for gold.

Gaye Lawrence smiles at the camera.
Gaye Lawrence says the city has preserved its cultural heritage from the 19th-century gold rush.ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk

Gaye Lawrence, a volunteer with the Pine Creek Heritage and Tourism Association, said the city’s traditions and Chinese heritage were highly valued.

“We thought a festival for our city would put us on the map a little bit,” she said.

“To celebrate mining history and Chinese heritage. It’s important.”

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