The disappearing gold of Rocky River and why the tweezers mattered

Susanna Freymark

I’d heard stories of gold in the rivers near Drake.

Not so much stories, more like tall tales.

I’d never been gold panning and the historic goldrush area of Drake seemed the perfect place to have a go.

My neighbour had the equipment and most importantly, the coordinates of where to find the gold.

I punched the coordinates he gave to me into Google maps – it was one hour and 14 minutes drive from my home. Not far.

My partner in crime was my friend Ruth. Like me, she had never panned for gold.

We headed off, dogs panting in the back, the gold panning equipment ready and the car filled with enthusiasm.

Panning for gold.

We each had a panning dish and small hand shovel to scoop the gold from the river floor. At the last minute we remembered the advice of a friend to take a small glass jar for the gold and tweezers.

I grabbed a jar but forgot the tweezers, which proved to be the most vital piece of equipment we would need.

The scenery on Long Gully Rd was stunning. From valleys of ferns and winding creeks to open farmland and panoramic views of the wide Rocky River, it was quite a drive.

The mainly dirt winding road was covered with potholes. The cows and horses roaming freely by the road seemed unperturbed as the car bounced by.

There were a few campers at spots along the river. Most of the time, access to the river was blocked by wire fences with signs – Private property. Keep out.

We faithfully followed the instructions from the vocal Google Maps advisor.

“You have reached your destination” the voice said far too cheerfully.

The long and winding road to gold.

We stopped the car. There was no river in sight. Soft green mounds led down into bush, the river felt close but we couldn’t see it.

We drove another 10km, still no river access. From the top of the hill, we could see the streaming waters but just couldn’t get to it.

We turned back. Our coordinates had failed us, maybe there was a place close by.

We saw a ute parked by the side of the road. A short walk down the riverbank and we were there. I dipped my toes in the water. The dogs jumped in.

The smooth, grey rocks made perfect stepping stones across the river. The water flowed fast in some places and wilfully slow in others.

“Are we more likely to find gold in the fast flowing or slow water?” I shouted out to Ruth.

She didn’t answer, she was already swishing the pan around in her quest for gold.

What a stunner the Rocky River was. I scooped across the rocks and found a deepish spot to swim. Clear waters ran over slippery rocks until rock formations turned the river into mini waterfalls.

I took too many photos. My camera eye seduced by this wide river and its natural beauty.

Snap, swim, snap.

Don’t ask me to look for gold.

Ruth had already collected a jar of yellow stones when I got to the business of finding gold.

On my first swish of the pan, I saw a glittering speck. I got one, I shouted.

What? A gold nugget? Ruth said.

I showed her. It sparkled like a piece of glitter. We checked out the yellow stones Ruth had collected in the jar. They weren’t gold. They were yellow stones.

“This is what gold looks like,” I said proudly pointing to my fleck.

I found my gold – a big stick.

Our expectations were as big as Rocky River itself.

We could see specks of gold on the flat rocks of the river bed.

When we tried to pick them up with our fingers, they seemed to disappear.

This was where we needed the tweezers.

Each speck was too tiny to pick up.

A falling down shack on the roadside.

Gold prospecting made us hungry so we sat on the rocks eating lunch as the dogs romped in the water.

We studied our gold collection. We were sure we could see shiny specks in the jar of water. Or was it dirt? We held it up to the light.

I don’t know if we actually managed to get any gold into that jar. And we certainly wouldn’t be quitting our day jobs because of our prospecting talents but we didn’t care.

Trees on Long Gully Rd. Photos: Susanna Freymark

We were a little sunburnt but satisfied with our adventure. We drove back home, bouncing back along Long Gully Rd, never tiring of the scenery.

We stopped in to check out the most unlikely general store along the way. Then home.

We did see some camper vans and tents along the river.

Glamping on Rocky River. Photo: River Tent North

I couldn’t find a map though. Drake Resource Centre doesn’t have one. If there is a map out there of places to go prospecting, do let me know. Email

Here’s what I found on the internet about staying at Rocky River.

Glamping at Rocky River is $200/night.

Places to camp along Rocky River starting at $20/night, you’ll find a list of places here. And more here.

This fella in the video below is at Rocky River but he has a much more elaborate gold prospecting system than we did.

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