|103. GEPP REPORT the.|
|"That the area mentioned by Mr. Lasseter is worthy of full investigation".|
H. W. Gepp, Chairman
of the Development and Migration Commission, 2/12/30.
Albert E. (Texas) Green, the Minister for Defence in the Scullin Government, received a letter from Harold Lasseter in mid October 1929 outlining vast plans to develop Central Australia financed by the proceeds from an enormous gold reef he had discovered in 1911. Green forwarded the letter to Herbert Gepp, Chairman of the Development and Migration Commission, with a covering letter requesting Gepp investigate the matter. At this difficult economic time Gepp might be considered the newly elected Governments trouble-shooter extraordinaire and he fully appreciated the benefit a major gold discovery would bring to the bankrupt country. In company with Dr. Ward, the South Australian Government Geologist, Gepp interviewed Lasseter in Sydney on 14/11/29.
Lasseter was quite unaware that Ward and Gepp immediately assessed him as a very strange fellow indeed, and several years later when writing to a colleague, Ward mentioned that Lasseter "was quite unbalanced". However Gepp saw other possibilities in Lasseter's tall story, with the right publicity and encouragement ways might be found to get the unemployed masses out of the cities and into the field prospecting for gold thus serving a threefold purpose, diffusing social unrest, relieving the strain on the budget and hopefully some lucky prospector just may happen on a bonanza. Gepp couched his report and later correspondence with these possibilities in mind.
DEVELOPMENT AND MIGRATION COMMISSION
2nd December 1929.
Some weeks ago a Mr. Lasseter wrote to the Hon. A. E. Green as member for Kalgoorlie with reference to an auriferous area in Central Australia, and Mr. Green sent the letter to me with a request that I look into the matter. Copies of this correspondence is enclosed, including letters to and from Mr. Lasseter.
Mr. Green now agrees that my reply and report upon this matter should be sent to you officially, and I enclose a copy of this memorandum which I suggest might be sent to your colleague, the Hon. A. E. Green.
I arranged for Mr. Lasseter to meet me in Sydney on the 14th November, and I was fortunate to obtain the assistance at this interview of Dr. L. Keith Ward, my colleague on the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry and Director of Mines of South Australia, and has reported from time to time on various matters, not only for his own Government, but for the Federal Government.
Dr. Ward and I have for some time past been discussing the advisability of recommending, through the next Geological Conference to be held in Brisbane in March 1930, that the Commonwealth Government might consider the advisability of equipping several prospecting parties under scientific guidance to investigate the mineral occurrences in the older rocks of Central Australia where these are exposed. Our idea was that properly equipped parties, supplied with motor transport of the six wheeled type, and fed from time to time, if necessary, by an aeroplane service, would be able to make a much closer examination of the mineral possibilities of the centre of the continent than has so far been undertaken.
Mr. Lasseter advises that eighteen years ago he traversed an area about 250 miles west south west from Alice Springs, and near the western end of the MacDonnell Ranges and came across a quartz-ironstone outcrop about 14 miles long, from which he gathered samples, principally from "floaters". Mr. Lasseter carried a considerable quantity of this sample until his horse died near Lake Amadeus, and he then broke down the sample to about 5 lbs in weight, and carried it himself. The sample was analysed and returns showed about 3 ozs gold per ton.
Dr. Ward agrees that this particular area is well worth detailed prospecting for minerals, but from the above statement of Mr. Lasseter's, it will be seen that the only definite evidence is that there is gold bearing stone in the area, of unknown extent, either in length or width. Mr. Lasseter states that the lode is very wide, but this does not, of course, prove that the whole lode is auriferous. Again the gold content of "floaters" does not necessarily indicate the gold content of the reef in bulk.
Mr. Lasseter maintained to us that he was unwilling to disclose the exact location of the area unless the Government would first of all provide a water supply so that if there were a gold rush, men would not die of starvation and thirst along the route. Mr. Lasseter's proposition is to make a survey of approximately 800 miles between the headwaters of the Gascoyne River in Western Australia, and he estimates that the cost of a wooden stave pipe line would be approximately £5,000,000, but this probably does not include pumping stations at intervals if necessary, and in any case is a rough figure supplied by the Wood Pipe Company to Mr. Lasseter.
We emphasised to Mr. Lasseter that it would be impossible to give consideration to any survey for water supply or any others matters of this sort, pending the most thorough examination of the area to determine whether there was gold in quantity and of a payable nature. We told Mr. Lasseter that we could do nothing more than report the result of our conversation and advise the Commonwealth Government of our joint views so as to provide the Government with all necessary information to enable a decision to be made.
Summarising the position, we think:-
The evidence is too meagre to provide proof that there exists a profitable gold field of material size in the area reported by Mr. Lasseter, and the despatch of a party, based on Mr. Lasseter's information, should be regarded only in the form of a gamble. We therefore cannot recommend it except as a portion of an organised prospecting of certain areas throughout the interior of Australia.
Mr. Lasseter says that he would be prepared, provide that the terms and conditions are satisfactory, to guide a party to the area, and to be paid ordinary tradesmen's rates during the period. He asks that if anything came of the discovery that he should be given work in connection with it.
Dr. Ward and I recommend that the whole question of the prospecting of certain areas in the interior of Australia should be referred by the Commonwealth Government to the next meeting of the Geological Conference in 1930 in Brisbane, probably in June, and the Questions to be asked are:-
As indicative of the order of magnitude of the job, we think that the sum of £10,000 per annum would be necessary for a period of five years.
If you approve, we can prepare with Dr. Ward, a detailed reference for the Prime Minister or the Hon. the Minister for Home Affairs or yourself to send to the state Authority convening the Conference. This should go soon to give time for all States to prepare their story, otherwise a whole year would be lost.
H. W. Gepp
The Minister to whom Gepp addressed his report was Senator J. J. Daly, Minister assisting the Prime Minister and Vice President of the Executive Council, a man of considerable influence in the Scullin Government. Daly wisely suggested that the Government Geologist, Dr. Woolnough should comment on Gepp's report. Woolnough agreed with most of Gepp's conclusions and recommendations and added that , "the central part of Australia, and the tracts thence to the Kimberly region to Western Australia contain those areas in which prospecting for precious and base metals is likely to be successful. All the more accessible parts of Australia have been prospected with extraordinary thoroughness". significantly Woolnough went on to say, "I am somewhat doubtful as to the wisdom of equipping parties of prospectors at Government expense. the results of such parties do not always compare at all favourably with those sent out by private effort. The control of such parties requires very careful consideration".
Gepp and Woolnough's reports were then sent to Arthur Blakeley as Minister for Home Affairs and therefore in charge of the administration of Central Australia and the Northern Territory for consideration. Blakeley did not have to ponder too deeply the wisdom of bureaucratic advise, the rapidly declining economic situation curtailed any plans to finance Government sponsored prospecting expeditions to the interior and Woolnough's suggestion was adopted. Funds were made available to subsidise small parties of private prospectors, especially in the Northern Territory and Central Australia and the state Governments were instructed to use their own funds first in the search for gold. The private prospectors were moderately successful over the duration of the Great Depression, many thousands made tea and tucker money and there were two notable successes, Tennant Creek finally became a handsomely payable goldfield and Western Australia's largest nugget, The Golden Eagle, weighing 1130 ounces was discovered by Jim Larcombe in 1931.
Three significant passages in Gepp's report have been highlighted, and it will be seen that the report was read by the Directors of the C.A.G.E. Company who acquired a Thornycroft six wheeled truck and an aircraft to support their unsuccessful search for Lasseter's reef. And allowing for a misunderstanding on Gepp and Ward's part it seems Lasseter discovered his reef in 1911, somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Amadeus, a considerable variance to other Lasseter correspondence where he states he discovered his reef in 1897 somewhere near the Warburton Ranges. The viability of a £5,000,000 wooden stave pipeline through termite ridden northern Australia is left to the readers imagination.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AUSTRALIA. TITLE, Gold mining Central Australia. SERIES No, A461. CONTROL SYMBOL, Q373/1/5 Part 1. CONTENTS DATE RANGE, 1929-1933. BARCODE, 96408. PAGES, 74-78.