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Where to Metal Detect in Mining Ghost Towns

By NQ Explorers


19th Century mining ghost towns are scattered all across the Australian Continent, and follow similar patterns to those in the United States and Canada. These towns sprung up quickly as tent camps following the initial discovery of minerals, and usually died not long after mineral prices slumped or the orebodies were exhausted.

These sites can be real treasure-troves for coin and relic hunters! The layouts of these towns in Australia were similar in many ways, but varied with the terrain and local requirements. There would be the Government precinct with the Police Station, Post Office and Court House. The main street would comprise a row of shops, stables, ‘cafes’, billiard halls and the inevitable hotel (or 3!). There would be a school somewhere and a row or several blocks of private houses.

So assuming your research has led you to such a spot (even if it is well known and previously visited by other treasure and relic hunters), where do you start with your metal detector? The following tips come from our own experiences in these places, and apply equally as well to hunted and virgin sites. Not all these tips will apply in all cases (as with gold,  “Treasure is where you find it!”).

Coin & Hunting ‘Hot Spots’:

1. The main street, an obvious place to start, and probably where everyone has gone before you with his/her detector! But there will still be coins and relics lying hidden.  Detector technology (particularly trash discrimination) today is far in advance of just a few years ago. Now we can cut through trash and clutter and pick out good targets the old detectors missed. Try along the back of the footpath (sidewalk), if it is still there, where the shop fronts used to be. Coins will roll down and sit at strange angles, so with a small coil come in from a few different directions! We have found many coins others have missed in this way. Also try inside the old buildings as coins drop through floorboards.

2. Down the back of the shops in the main street will be the rubbish pits and bottle dumps. Lots of coins can be dropped in these areas “taking out the rubbish”. The old dunny (outhouse) was down there somewhere and with pants coming down and skirts being hitched, coins are dropped.

3. Try around the old building stumps, right up against them – often in Australia, coins (mainly the big old Penny or two) were used as ‘shims’ on the top of the posts below the floor bearers, as the building moved in dry and wet conditions. When the place was demolished, the coins just dropped off the top of the post into the grass/dirt below.

4. The railway station (on abandoned lines), can yield a few great finds, but on the track side of the platform, there can be a lot of iron rubbish (dog spikes and bolts etc). Try to determine where the horse and buggy pulled up to drop off the passengers.

5. Private houses. In our experience, there are always a lot more coins in the front yard than the back, and coin ‘spills’ can occur here in old garden beds or under the spot where the front steps used to be. Then there is the old clothesline down the back yard, and the ‘dunny’ site.

6. Choke points for foot traffic. These can be real ‘hot spots’ for coins. One which particularly comes to mind was a footbridge over a steep-sided creek, which took all the foot traffic from the houses and school to the bakery and main street. We found many coins near the bridge abutments on each end and all up the narrow path which climbed the creek bank.

7. Street corners, where the terrain or fences dictated the route of foot traffic (acting as a choke point) can be rewarding to the astute coin and relic hunter.

8. Schools – in our own experience, Schools have not been great sources of older coins in abandoned towns, in particularly the gold towns of the mid- to late-19th Century. Our own theory here is that as people had very little money in those often difficult times, not too many school children set off with their pockets loaded with coins!  However, you can get some great relics, particularly costume jewelry, from old school sites.

9. Hotels and gaming sites – obvious places to start, and most detector operators will go straight to the hotel! But there will still be coins there.  By ‘gaming sites’ we mean ‘two-up schools’ in Australia, but similar gaming or illegal gambling sites will exist in North American ghost towns. These are usually away from the prying eyes of the local constable, and may be under a shady tree or even an old shed site in quiet corner of town! Old books and diaries from the times can give clues to where the men would gamble on a pay day – so try along the creek banks and just go with your ‘hunch’. If it looks like a good spot to you – it probably looked just as good 100 years ago!
We hope some of these tips will help you with your coin and relic hunting. Of course there are no hard and fast rules here, but the main thing is that you just get out and swing the coil and immerse yourself in the history of these long-forgotten places!

Happy Hunting!

NQ Explorers
Colleen and Warren.
Queensland, Australia.