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How to find old gold locations using Google Earth

Posted 01/12/2022 in Gold

One of the best ways to see the extensive footprints left behind by the rich mining history of the Victorian Goldfields is through Google Earth!

Now, I spend a ridiculous amount of time cruising around on Google Earth looking at historical sites.

I know there's gotta be plenty of other people out there who do the exact same thing, and if you're reading this then there's a good chance you're one of 'em, so welcome! You're among friends.

Today I'm going to quickly show you and talk about some of the many different remnants that are left over from Victoria's busy mining days, including what they are, how they appear from above, and what they look like in person.

You can watch the video on YouTube below, or continue reading to learn more.

We're going to start with one of the most characteristic features of the goldfields - and that is the diggings!

The Diggings

There are lots of areas throughout the Victorian goldfields which are densely filled with hundreds of old mine shafts.

A lot of these can't be seen in google earth because they are hidden in forested areas - although you can sometimes spot the discoloration of the ground caused by the mullock piles through the trees. This is the earth that was pulled out and heaped up beside the shaft as the miner dug down to get at the gold-bearing layer below.

In open fields however, these diggings are very obvious.

If you check out the paddocks alongside the main road through Majorca on Google Earth, you'll see hundreds of these old shafts crowded together, as seen above.

Here's another example out at McIntyre, shown above.

It's incredible to think of what this scene must have looked like during the gold rush, with hundreds of men all digging shafts alongside one another, to get at the rich ancient riverbed buried below. 

Next up, let's take a look at paddocking!


Does this barren red landscape look familiar? It's a fairly common sight throughout the old goldfields of Victoria.

During the gold rush, miners stripped large areas of shallow gold-rich ground down to the bedrock and processed all the earth they removed using equipment such as tubs, cradles, and puddling machines.

This method of alluvial mining is known as paddocking, or surfacing, and it's fairly easy to spot from above.

Look for the conspicuous red or orange colour of stripped bedrock. They will be barren areas which are very sparsely vegetated because all the topsoil in which plants can grow has been removed.

These paddocked areas are of particular interest because they tell us that there was gold here, and lots of it, and it wasn't very deep. There's often still gold left in the ground alongside the paddocking.

Hydraulic Sluicing

Image source: State Library Victoria

Another method of mining large areas of alluvial deposits was "hydraulic sluicing", where jets of high pressure water were used to blast the deposits from the surface and wash them down to be processed for gold.

There is a great example of this at Heathcote, as seen above, which is well worth checking out in person as it has resulted in quite a surreal and dramatic landscape.

Another place to check out is the Forest Creek Historic Gold Diggings over at Castlemaine, where you can check out the equipment used in hydraulic sluicing as well as the striking impact it had on the area.

Now let's take a look at mine sites!

Mine Sites

As well as the mine shafts we just saw on the diggings, there were lots of big mines which had extensive capital and equipment to run large-scale mining operations.

The most obvious remnant of these old mines is the mullock heaps. Again, this is the waste material which was removed from the earth in the digging of shafts or drives to get at the gold bearing lead or reef underground. 

These mullock piles are far larger than the ones you'll see alongside shafts at the diggings.

These can in fact be quite massive and can be very interesting to go and check out. Maybe you wanna have a look from the bottom. Maybe you wanna climb up to the top. 

Maybe your kids wanna use 'em as the most uncomfortable slide on earth. Whatever your motive, watch out for mine shafts in the vicinity.

Mine sites will sometimes still have remnants of their machinery foundations, where engines or pumps were installed.

You can often also spot the mine's tailings, which is the waste rock that's discarded after it has been processed for gold. 

This could be battery sand, which is gold-bearing rock that has been crushed to a powder in a stamp battery and then processed for gold. 

Or it could be discarded heaps of processed river rock from an ancient watercourse or lead buried deep underground. 

This depends on whether the mine was a quartz mine or a deep lead mine.

Speaking of tailings, this brings us to our next feature - cyanide plants.

Cyanide Plants

Image source: State Library Victoria

Gold cyanidation is a technique for extracting gold from finely ground ore by dissolving it into a cyanide solution, which was held in a series of vats, and then extracting the gold from the solution. 

This was widely practiced in the Victorian Goldfields to recover gold from battery sand or fine alluvial tailings. Tailings from earlier operations were often re-processed using this more efficient technique.

The remains of cyanide plants can often be spotted from above by what remains of the vats - whether it is complete tanks remaining at the site, or an impression in the ground where the tanks once stood.


You'll typically see several vats lined up in a row, and the site will often be surrounded by the white remnants of the battery sand which was treated here.

Gold Puddlers

Sometimes, but not often, you will even be able to spot gold puddlers on Google Earth, like this one below, in the Craigie State Forest near Maryborough.

A gold puddler is a horse-powered machine used to process large amounts of gold-bearing clay.

In some areas, gold was trapped within hard lumps of clay and in order to retrieve it, these lumps needed to be effectively broken up. 

In the early days, this was done by hand in a puddling tub, but it wasn't long before the puddling machine was invented, right here in the Victorian Goldfields.

Image source: State Library Victoria

A circular trench in the ground, lined with wood, was filled with gold-bearing clay and water.

A horse circled the trench and dragged a harrow through the mixture, breaking up the lumps and turning it into a runny sludge.

The gold and other heavy materials released from the clay would sink to the bottom, and the watery clay would be drained off from the top.

The heavy residue at the bottom of the puddler would then be cleaned up and washed for gold.

The remains of these puddling machines can be found scattered in abundance throughout the region's alluvial goldfields - and once you know what they look like, you see them all the time out in the bush.

These puddlers are an important part of Victoria's heritage, and must not be disturbed.


Dams are another interesting feature of the goldfields. You will spot these little guys all over the place throughout the bush. 

These little water holes are not typically naturally occurring, they have been put there for a purpose.

If you head out and take a look at these dams, you will often find remnants of mines, puddlers, stamp batteries, or eucalyptus distillery sites in the vicinity.

All these places needed water for their operations - whether it was to wash for gold with a puddler, to run quartz through a battery, or for the boilers which provided steam power for machinery.

For this reason, old dams can definitely be places of interest out in the bush.

Today they continue to serve a purpose for gold recovery in alluvial areas, providing a water source for high bankers and trommels.

Well that's all for now, I hope you enjoyed this quick Google Earth tour of the Victorian Goldfields!

More to check out


Established in 1980, the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria is a voluntary body created to protect the rights and opportunities of those who wish to prospect, fossick or mine in the State of Victoria, Australia.

You can support the PMAV in their fight to uphold these rights by becoming a member. You'll also gain access to exclusive publications, field days, prospecting tips, discounts and competitions.

Check out the PMAV website for more information.




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