Lasseters Reef: Australia’s Fabled Gold Mine

In 1929, Australia made Indiana Jones a living. It was Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter, a golden prophet who would become the face of the greatest Outback mystery of all time. Harold claimed to have discovered a gold-bearing rock in central Australia about 30 years ago. His hope was to go back into the vast expanses and find the lost treasure again. Were the claims ambiguous? Yes. Was there any evidence? no way. But did the news make waves among historians and gold prospects? without a doubt.

Huge Australian Outback. visual: Steven Penton / Flickr

Nearly a century later, curious explorers continue to scour the land to locate the treasure, but to no avail. But the person who turned the ball was Lasseter himself. By 1930 he had amassed enough money, and had begun to assemble the Central Australian Gold Exploration (CAGE) expedition to set out in search of gold. He was accompanied by veteran Bushman Fred Blakeley; two other prophets, Frank Colson and George Sutherland; Phil Taylor, the driver of their transport; Investigator Blakeston-Houston (Aide to the Governor-General); and Errol Coot, the pilot of a small plane they took with them. From the start, Lasseter was a gloomy fellow and a vague guide. The group headed to Ilbilba, where an airport was built earlier that year for another expedition. With great physical difficulty, the group reaches Mount Marjorie, when Lasseter announces that they are heading in the wrong direction. Desperate, Blakeley declares Lasseter a charlatan and leaves. Lasseter took the dingo-shooter, Paul Johns, and his team of camels and headed to Kata Tjusa. One afternoon Lasseter returned to the camp and announced that he had moved the gold rock but refused to reveal its location. Johns, who had until now doubted Lasseter’s intelligence, accused him of being a liar. A fight ensued, and Johns left Lasseter to his own devices. Lasseter set off alone, impervious to the obstacles ahead of him, taking with him two of John’s camels. That was the last time anyone saw him. A year later his remains were found in a remote desert cave. A diary of his cold side revealed that he had died of starvation after living among the tribals for several months. Gold remained undiscovered.

lasseters reef 1

Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter

looking for gold

There was enough meat in the story that the media could extract its juice; Lasseter’s rock was a public curiosity until then. His journey in 1931 is told Lasseter’s last ride by Ian Idris. By the 1970s, people were diving deep in search of gold. Years passed and in 2013 a documentary titled Lasseter’s Bones New dimensions of Lasseter’s story are revealed, once again sparking interest in the legend.

while making Lasseter’s BonesIn this, filmmaker Luke Walker reveals pieces of communication between Harold and a Swede named Olof Johansson, who also knew the location of the gold. Harold had invited Olof on the 1930 expedition, but later declined and went ahead with a different expeditionary group, and in doing so, probably avoided the fatal end Harold met. But Olof could not even find the lost gold.

According to Lasseter, the gold rock was discovered on the western edge of the McDonnell Range. Many claimed to have found gold, many claimed to know how to find it. Explorers continued to explore vermilion peaks for years to come, the tiniest clue revealed by accounts from Lasseter’s diary.

Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter

The sensational discovery gave Harold a remarkable grave when his body was found. visual: Katherine/Flickr

By the 2000s, Google Earth and other similar tracking software made it possible to identify mineral-rich locations as well as magnetic activity beneath the Earth. Technology was modernizing, fast-tracking the Odyssey of the Curious Prophet. Many trawled the Outback, seeing the discrepancies and possible tufts of gold, but in vain. It was soon discovered that it is geologically impossible, according to today’s knowledge, to have gold at the location where Lasseter pin-pointed. However, in 1991, an Australian explorer named Bill DeCarly discovered the rock Harold would have always been talking about. According to the law of reciprocal bearings, he went to the eastern side of the ranges and saw the exact sites that Harold spoke of in his heyday. He also came across a milky-white quartz outcrop, known as Quartz Blow.

After 30 years of revisiting the land through modern technology and discovering many of the sites, Bill suggests today that Lasseter may have never seen the rock in real life. According to him, Lasseter had only learned about the reef from Joseph Harding through word of mouth. That, to say nothing of the idea that the rock might actually exist. Bill, and many others, continue to search for the mysterious pocket of gold to this day. In search of value, of treasure, or perhaps just an answer. Who knows?


, australian geographic

, Canberra Times

, Sydney Morning Herald

, State Library – New South Wales

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