Goldfields of Far North Queensland

The town of Thornborough in 1880
The town of Thornborough on the Hodgkinson Goldfield in 1880. (Modified from original source at National Library of Australia)
The north Queensland region has been the site of voluminous, episodic granite magmatism and associated volcanism ... associated with a period of intense mineralisation.1

The first gold field to be opened up in north Queensland was Cape River, west of Townsville.

West of Cairns are the Hodgkinson, Etheridge, and Palmer River goldfields. Smaller goldfields, and pockets of gold have been found throughout the region. Gold has been found in the Russell and Johnson Rivers, and around Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, and in many other places in tropical north-eastern Australia.

Along with gold, many other precious, semi-precious, and industrial grade metals, minerals, and gemstones are found in the far north.


European Australians, and people from abroad had little interest in tropical North Queensland until gold was discovered by explorers in the late 1860s and early 1870s. When gold was found, tens of thousands of people were lured to the region, not just from the south, but from China, and many other countries.

The gold rushes were a result of finding alluvial deposits that had accumulated over millions of years. There were pockets of alluvial gold that could literally be shoveled out, and prospectors rushed to find those lucrative deposits which could provide a man with instant wealth.

Payable gold was found by Government Geologist Richard Daintree, on expedition with William Hann on the Etheridge Goldfield in 1868, which attracted the first prospectors. By the following year it was estimated that 3,000 people populated the field. In 1870, a significant gold reef was found, and two years later the place was named Georgetown.

Further exploration led to discoveries of payable gold at Charters Towers, the Palmer River, and the Hodgkinson River. In 1880 a quartz reef was found between Mareeba and Cairns on the Clohesy River, and later at the Queen Constance at Mareeba. Gold was also discovered near Cairns on the Mulgrave River, leading to the establishment of the town of Goldsborough.

The Savannahlander train at Lappa Junction
The Savannahlander departs Cairns once a week. In this image it is stopped at Lappa Junction.
Georgetown north Queensland
Georgetown, one of the historic towns of the Etheridge Goldfield

Where to Find Gold in North Queensland Today?

North Queensland is still the site of large corporate gold mines, and an attractive place for fossickers and independent miners prospecting for gold. Gold prospectors today enjoy a considerable advantage compared to the pioneer prospectors. Modern infrastructure, transport, and gold prospecting technology and equipment makes prospecting for gold a viable economic activity in areas previously exploited by people armed with only a pickaxe, a gold pan, and basic provisions.

In 2002, Gary O'Connor, visiting from New Zealand, found a 1.2 kilogram nugget yielding 825 grams of gold at Flat Creek Station near Georgetown, in the Shire of Etheridge.

A chimney stands starkly agains the cliffs of outback Mt Mulligan (Ngarrabullgan)
A chimney from the Mt Mulligan smelter stands starkly against the cliffs of Ngarrabullgan on the Hodgkinson Gold Field outback north Queensland.

Today's gold detectors are far more advanced than the models available a decade or two ago. Even the humble gold pan has undergone a radical redesign with the advent of the 'turbopan', designed by Australian geologist, Kim Hillier.

Fossickers in Queensland must carry a fossicking licence. A fossicking licence can be purchased online on the Queensland Government website. Camping in fossicking areas also requires a permit, which can be obtained along with the fossicking permit. Fossicking and camping permits for North Queensland goldfields can also be obtained at authorised agents which include:

Georgetown Mining District

Mareeba Mining District

Sources and Further Reading