Prospecting in the Pilbara
It would be hard to argue any prospector believes in luck more than Daniele Specogna.
Four years ago, aged 62, Mr Specogna said goodbye to the earth as he lay in a creek bed waiting for death.
The Marble Bar man had been out prospecting for gold when he ran out of water.
Too far from home or his car, Mr Specogna decided his only option was to send a signal and to wait for help.
He set fire to the land and burrowed down in the creek bed.
He lay in that spot for two days and one long night, saying his goodbyes to the world, to his two daughters, and to his home country, Italy.
It’s an uncomfortable memory for Mr Specogna.
“It’s a strange experience,” he said.
“It was surreal, I was prepared to go.”
Mr Specogna is one of many Marble Bar residents who regularly go deep into the Pilbara outback, digging into the rich red dirt with a pick-axe in the hope of finding gold.
Some come across small nuggets no bigger than a couple of grams.
Others make a life-changing find; a specimen as big as your hand could be worth more than $50,000. The finds, and their location, are among the most closely guarded secrets in the small town.
For Lang Coppin, prospecting is no small operation.
He’s not just out there looking for nuggets — he has his eyes set on much larger prizes, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to find them.
It’s with the help of his R44 helicopter Mr Coppin and his associates strike gold.
“This town is sitting on a bloody goldmine,” he said.
Mr Coppin said at one point earlier this year, he believed there were about 200 people out prospecting within a 100km radius of Marble Bar.
A total of 342 prospecting licences have been issued in the Marble Bar area in the past five years and, according to the Department of Mines and Petroleum, overall the number of prospecting licences applied for in the Pilbara has remained fairly constant, apart from a slight increase in 2014-15.
“You fly around and there’s people camping everywhere,” Mr Coppin said.
Mr Coppin is also dipping his toes into the lithium market.
Together with a private prospectors’ syndicate, Mr Coppin recently signed an option agreement with Blaze International to start the first phase of drilling on a deposit near town.
It’s a market few are yet to enter as the world watchesto see how serious the commodity could become.
The deposit, Mr Coppin says, is the first outside of Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora Lithium-Tantalum Project to be drilled and explored.
“Marble Bar is rich in minerals,” he said.
Base metals including copper, lead, and zinc surround Marble Bar, with the oldest copper-lead-zinc deposits in the world found at Lennon’s Find about 60km south-east of the town.
Barite was also mined some 50km west of Marble Bar, but operations ceased about 20 years ago.
For Mr Specogna, the search for gold is not about the money, but more about the small gifts the earth gives him.
“I’m not a greedy person, I don’t work for money anymore,” the prospector and hobby jeweller said.
“I worked for money enough in life . . . I don’t sell my time any more. I’m lucky, you see . . . and that’s it, more or less.”
And anyone who hears the story of how he was found, so dehydrated, that fateful day in 2012, would believe him.
“I was prepared to go in a way,” he said. “But there was no tension, alarm or desperation . . . not at all.”
When asked whether he believed someone was watching over him, Mr Specogna recalls that there was.
“I saw in the morning somebody watching me, it was an eagle, and quite close,” he said.
“I could see her head circling around looking down at me.”
He joked that he promptly gifted the bird to his friend in the sky.
The land on the outskirts of Marble Bar is full of gold deposits.
Lang Coppin likes to get a bird's eye view when searching for gold.