Telfer Campsite


GPS 21 42 47 S 122 13 07 E






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The site was explored during the early 1970s and the mine (that cost $465 million to build) commenced operation in 1977. The name comes from the one time under secretary of mines, A.H. (Bert) Telfer.

Telfer is a 'closed town' which means permission must be obtained if you wish to visit the site. It was originally operated by Newmont mining (an American company) that was also given vast tracts of temporary leases in the surrounding area which effectively blocked out all chance of Australian companies getting in and prospecting.

The mine closed in mid-2000 but by 2002 Newmont (now re-born as Newcrest) had found new gold and copper sources and began to re-open mining operations.

The discovery of the mineral deposits in the area is a subject surrounded by controversy. The official discoverers of the site are Ron Thomson and David Tyrwhitt even though neither of them were first into the area or to discover the gold deposits.

In order to determine what constitutes the discovery of a new mineral field the following questions need to be answered:

1. Is the discoverer the first person to recognise that minerals of some value exist in a new area as with Robert Austin and the Murchison?

2. Is the discoverer the first person to actually locate surface or alluvial deposits as with Paddy Hannan?

3. Or is the discoverer the first person to find underground deposits of the 'mother lode'?

Each in their own way have contributed something to the discovery of a new field but the only one who is truly responsible for a new discovery is the first person into a new area who recognises its potential and who then attempts to interest others in its value.

The man who was responsible for this in Telfer's case was a Frenchman by the name of Jean Paul Turcaud. He was not the first to find gold in the area, in fact he never pretended to have done so with regard to the Telfer mine that subsequently developed. He was naive and trusting and as a result he was cheated out of the credit of making the initial discovery and after years of fighting for some recognition and reward for his efforts, all he received for his trouble was a measly $10,000 while the company that mined Telfer extracted 2 billion dollars worth of gold.

In Jean Paul's own words discovery has been summed up as follows:

"There are 3 stages in a discovery.... First. People say you are mad. Second. People say you are not mad but your discovery has no value. Third. People say this is a great discovery but everybody knew about it."

Others now well known in history books have suffered similar problems. William Dampier wrote about his treatment:

'It has almost always been the fate of those who have made new discoveries to be disesteemed and slightly spoken of by such as either have had no true relish and value for the things themselves that are discovered, or have had some prejudice against the persons by whom the discoveries were made. It would be vain therefore and unreasonable in me to expect to escape the censure of all, or to hope for better treatment than far worthier persons have met with before me.'

There are rumours of a man called Rooney, a prospector and who claimed to have found gold in the Paterson Range region. Rooney appears to have been a real person but he vanished on one of his trips into the wilderness and with him vanished the location of the gold he had found. (Turcaud claims to have located Rooney's find but refuses to divulge its location. If he ever does so it would most certainly put his claim to be the initial discoverer of Telfer beyond any doubt.)

The first individual who probably located gold in the area was a surveyor by the name of Kirkby. He was with a party in the area 16 years before Turcaud started prospecting there and Kirkby found what he believed to be a gold specimen. The others in his party told him is was not gold and he threw the sample away and so there is no proof that the find was genuine.

The first person to actually identify gold in the Paterson Range was a geologist named Koehn. His name too has been overlooked in favour of other more highly placed corporate players.

There can be little doubt that Jean Paul Turcaud was the first to recognise Paterson Range and other nearby structures contained areas of high mineralisation. As a lone prospector he did not have the resources to do much more than locate likely areas and then try to get mining companies to take an interest.

He faced an uphill battle and a succession of companies rejected his find. Some did so even though he took small teams into the area to show them the ground. (Companies he took in included Anglo American and Western Mining. Anglo American even pegged the area that would later become Telfer but failed to register the claims.)

By this time a lot of people in the mining industry were becoming aware of at least the possibility of something promising in the Great Sandy Desert.

In the early 1970s gold was worth only around $35 an ounce and it was other base metals that were of more commercial interest. As a result the samples Turcaud sent for analysis were never checked for gold.

Turcaud approached Newmont who showed no initial interest but a little over 12 months later they were claiming they had discovered the site with the aid of material purchased from another mining operation called Day Dawn.

Day Dawn had in fact been the first company to find gold (they had sent the geologist Koehn out to inspect Paterson Hills) and they even sent a follow up expedition led by Ron Thomson (Koehn's boss).

Thomson claimed that he knew nothing of Turcaud's work and that he just happened to select Paterson Range out of all the other areas in the state based solely on aerial photographs. At the time Thomson had only been in the state, after arriving from Scotland, for a matter of a few months. In retrospect it would have to be said that selecting this site above all others appears to have been incredibly 'good luck'. It seems far more likely that the site was selected based on what was known, or at least rumoured, about Turcaud's prospecting, but the truth of the matter will now probably never be known.

Once on site, Thomson seems to have quickly realised that the site was promising, but the Day Dawn Board failed to act on the matter. Thomson then changed employers, taking a position with Newmont and along with Newmont's exploration manager, David Tyrwhitt, became the official discoverer of Telfer. Soon after Thomson joined Newmont the Paterson Range information was sold to Newmont for an amount reported to be as low as $15,000.

Newmont then went ahead and pegged claims on what was to become one of the richest gold finds to be made in the state. Turcaud heard of the pegging and tried in vain to get some form of recognition for his discovery. His fight for recognition was to last more than 25 years and to date he remains unrecognised as the discoverer of Telfer.

It was 1983 before Turcaud finally gave up his quest for some sort of reward and accepted a mere $10,000. His fight for recognition, however, was to continue.

Like Charles Hall and Paddy Hannan and many more before him, Turcaud did not benefit from what he had uncovered. In Turcaud's case he did not even get credit for the long lonely months of prospecting in a harsh and dangerous area around Paterson Range and the Rudall River. Few people, even in the mining industry, know the name Jean Paul Turcaud but he deserves to be at least remembered for his contribution as the true discoverer of the Telfer deposit.


Telfer mine
(C) Alex De K




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