|Lasseter’s Lost Gold Reef, Dream or Reality?
Justification for belief that the 1979 outcrop is Lasseter’s Reef
At first all recorded information seems vague and inconclusive but it does assume a new meaning when looked at in relation to local knowledge.
Lasseter mentioned a place called ‘Winter’s Glen’ several times as the main reference point for the start of two of his three expeditions. His feeling of “knowing where he was” once he located Winter’s Glen is significant although it is important to realise that, at that time, maps were rudimentary and place names in a state of flux, often being renamed by the next person to come along. The only map found showing Winter’s Glen places it south of the Petermann Ranges while some other texts place it 128 km east of Lake Christopher, a difference of some 80 km in a westerly direction.
To my knowledge there is no place that fits the description of Winter’s Glen in the locality shown on the map. However, in February 1970, because of a tribal death, the Pitjandjara tribe of Aborigines moved from their camp near Docker Settlement to a camp just south of the Petermann Ranges through the Livingstone Pass. From this it can be assumed that they camped within reach of water but this could be obtained from various marked but unnamed rock-holes in the area and does not mean that a ‘Winter's Glen’ existed there.
East of Lake Christopher 128 km there are two rock-holes that are permanent and fit the description of Winter’s Glen. The fact that two fit the description is not contradictory as they are within a few metres of each other. It can safely be assumed that no other permanent water holes exist in the area as they would have been discovered and investigated by myself and associates during the course of our activities in the area.
Nevertheless, regardless of the actual location of Winter’s Glen, it is recorded that Lasseter travelled from it along the Central Australian/Western Australian border near the desert fringe for several days until he came across an outcrop of white quartz which he recognised as his Reef.
Although Lasseter may not have realised it at the time, there are reasons to believe that the Reef is sacred ground to a tribe of Aborigines. When they appeared Lasseter’s camel bolted with most of his supplies and water leaving him stranded and terrified. That night he managed to befriend the tribal elders and the next day one of the tribesman went off to search for the camel which Lasseter thought he had managed to wound with a pistol shot as it escaped. The Aborigine returned after less than a day without the camel. The Aborigines then left the Reef area to find water and, significantly, travelled for one and a half days before coming to a water soak.
To reach the point where his camels bolted, Lasseter must have journeyed south ‘near the border of Central Australia and Western Australia’. To travel north would have meant retracing his steps because he had staged from Ilbpilla, west of Lake Armadeus. Descriptions of his journey, although vague, verify this direction of travel (sun, shadow, etc.). Apart from this, to travel north along the border would have brought him into the Lake Hopkins area which is one of the most formidable areas of Australia with no possibility of an outcrop, therefore no reef, and the prospect of certain death within little more than a day without water, especially in summer.
The ‘fringe of the desert’ south of the water hole can only mean the north eastern and eastern edges of Gibson’s Desert where it is just over 50 km wide. No mention is made of hills or outcrops and had he been much east of the Northern Territory/Western Australian border he would have seen these features.
In summary so far, Lasseter travelled by camel from a known waterhole towards the south for several days along the fringe of Gibson’s Desert near the NT/WA border until he discovered a quartz outcrop reef within one and a half day’s walk of a water soak.
One and a half day’s walk with the aborigines in that area over that terrain is about 50 km and it can be assumed that, as they were short of water, they would have travelled straight to the nearest known supply. Therefore we can say that Lasseter’s Reef is approximately 50 km from a fairly permanent water soak.
Based on Lasseter’s earlier reports, it is recorded that the Reef is approximately 20 km long and up to 6.5 km wide, greenish white in colour with a yellowish brown cap and containing gold assaying at 3 oz/ton.
As already mentioned, the desert sands shift constantly in that area and it is possible that the Reef became drifted over within a decade of its discovery by Lasseter and remained covered until a change in wind patterns uncovered it in time to be rediscovered by the 1970 crew.
The 1979 Lasseter’s Reef expedition confirmed the 1970 sighting of an outcrop which matches closely Lasseter’s description of his Reef and also established that it is approximately 50 km from permanent water.
It is also important to note that the 1979 outcrop is in an area of proven mineralisation.