CRITERION: At Stawell, gold is the gift that keeps on giving
One kilometre below the Victorian gold rush era town of Stawell, a pristine laboratory is central to the search for dark matter which – if identified – would provide answers on the origins of the universe.
Off the incline of the working Stawell Gold Mine (SGM), the $12 million facility is splendidly isolated to avoid the usual background radiation that mitigates against the discovery of the elusive material.
While the boffins strive for a Nobel Prize in physics – the likely reward for success – investors in the Victorian gold story are coming to grips not so much with dark matter but black holes from corporate failures.
In July explorer Navarre Minerals (ASX:NML) called in the administrators, although the root of its problems was buying a producing Queensland mine rather than its Victorian activities.
White Rock Minerals (ASX:WRM) then called it quits on Morning Star in central Victoria, curtailing the mine’s storied production history of 883,000 ounces.
Owned by Singaporean interests, the private Ballarat Gold entered administration in March.
About the only listed exposure to production is via Kaiser Reef (ASX:KAU) and its historic A1 gold mine near Walhalla, which produced a handy 2940 ounces last quarter.
But there’s still plenty of gold left – not just in the famed Ballarat and Bendigo zones.
While about 80 million ounces have been extracted, a government survey estimates 32 million ounces could be hidden under cover in the north of the state.
Recent setbacks aside, gold bugs have been buoyed by sector talisman Fosterville, a monster 300,000 ounces-plus a year facility now owned by the New York-listed Agnico Eagle.
Fosterville is in the Bendigo zone, which shows how improving extraction and exploration tech can breathe life into tired old mines.
In the neighbouring and under-looked Stawell Zone, the ultimate ‘gift’ is not the town’s Easter foot race but the gold that lies within basalt under unmineralised cover that deterred the old timers.
The Stawell Zone has produced more than five million ounces since the 1850s, mainly from the Stawell Gold Mine at the outskirts of the town.
SGM fell into care and maintenance but was rescued by the private Arete Capital Partners (ACP) in 2017.
Last financial year SGM produced a handy 55,000 ounces from its core workings, which still host an endowment of 890,000 ounces at an average three grams per tonne.
An adjacent development project called Wonga hosts 94,000oz and will be accessible via an extension to the main decline.
Meanwhile, exploration spin-off North Stawell Minerals (ASX:NSM) has consolidated 504 square kilometres near the mine, with the aim of emulating SGM’s “impressive mineralisation”.
Work to date – including 60,000 metres of drilling – has unearthed five significant mineralisation trends and an upgrade to an existing resource, Wildwood, to 87,300 ounces.
North Stawell is chaired by Jerry Ellis, who used to run an obscure miner called BHP. ACP is chaired by former Western Mining chief Hugh Morgan, so there’s more pedigree than a Crufts best-in-show.
Ultimately, the spoils of success will go to the parties that can access established mills and tailings facilities.
There’s a whiff of a pending land grab, with Navarre’s extensive tenements up for grabs.
Given Victoria’s denser population – as in folk per square kilometre – ESG considerations are more pronounced than in WA.
In the Stawell zone, many companies are exploring for rare earths or mineral sands. But mining them relies on open-cut methods on prime farmland.
As with the dark matter, the lustrous metal is there but a good mine relies on deep pockets, a sustained high gold price and – crucially – a social licence to operate.
Unlike the Stawell Gift, it’s also a marathon and not a sprint and investors need a patient mindset.
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