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Image Panning for gold on the Mulgrave River, c1888

TLF ID R7997

This is a black-and-white photograph showing five miners prospecting for alluvial gold on the banks of the Mulgrave River in Queensland. Two of the men hold shovels and stand by a sluice, two others pan for gold and the fifth rests on a wooden wheelbarrow. Several other mining implements are in evidence - a pan, pick, shovel and sluice. The men have rolled up their shirt sleeves and, in some cases, trousers and several are working barefoot. The River is narrow, with rock-strewn banks crowded with thick vegetation.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The Mulgrave River gold field in northern Qld was basically an alluvial one - the gold was found mostly in deposits left by flowing water on or near the land surface - and the five miners shown here were taking a systematic approach to extracting it. They were working their claim as a team, each carrying out a particular role - digging and transporting the topsoil, shovelling it into the sluice or panning it.
  • The two goldmining techniques shown here - panning and sluicing - came into their own on gold fields such as the Mulgrave that had plentiful water. Panning involves swirling dirt and water in a shallow pan to separate the lighter materials from heavier particles of gold. Sluicing involves shovelling earth into one end of a timber sluice box and using the flowing water to separate the fine gold from sand and gravel. The gold is caught in the box's riffles or cross strips.
  • The Mulgrave gold field was located among a mass of ridges and broken country between the Bellenden Ker and Main Coast Ranges and was about 48 km from the port of Cairns. Miners travelling to the Mulgrave field in its early days were forced to zigzag their way over 13 crossings of the River. They travelled through swamps and bogs and they encountered dense rainforests and steep ranges.
  • Conditions on the Mulgrave field, as on most gold fields at the time, were very difficult. The miners had to carry in every item of food and equipment, even to the two small townships of Top Camp and Goldsborough. Humidity and heat made life even more unpleasant, as the area received some of the heaviest rainfall in Australia. The impenetrable jungle and undergrowth created a claustrophobic atmosphere.
  • The Mulgrave River Goldfield was proclaimed in 1880 but the alluvial gold was worked out early and by 1885 only 37 miners remained. Disappointingly for Cairns, the field was never as profitable as the nearby Hodgkinson and Palmer fields, the Mulgrave producing only 124.4 kg of gold by 1886 compared with the Hodgkinson's 1,106 kg in 1878 and the Palmer's 10,544 kg in 1877.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements