Lasseter’s Gold by Warren Brown

lasseter.pngLasseter’s Gold by Warren Brown is a comprehensive re-telling of the legendary search for a massive gold reef somewhere in Central Australia, by Harold Bell Lasseter and those who believed and invested in his story during the early 1930’s.

Long before Lasseter came along, there were rumours of gold fields in Central Australia, bigger and richer than anything ever found before, however, until Lasseter, no one ever actually provided any proof of the their actual existence, or found any actual gold.

Lasseter didn’t have any actual proof either, other than a handful of gold specimens and a good story, but somehow he convinced a group of investors headed by the Australian Worker’s Union that he had stumbled across a 15 kilometre gold reef, twice, years ago in the vicinity of the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. This area was (and still is) remote, unpopulated and enormous.

Despite the holes in Lasseter’s story, his backers put together a party which included a experienced bushmen, a prospector, an engineer and driver and a pilot to accompany Lasseter into the desert. They also provided supplies, trucks and a plane for the expedition.

The party arrived in Alice Springs, then headed out into the desert, however it wasn’t long until the expedition’s difficulties started to read like a comedy of errors. The trucks got bogged constantly, suffered flat tyres, and overheated, the radio didn’t work, and the plane crashed. The group ran out of water and constantly bickered and disagreed and Lasseter, who was contracted to tell the party where the reef was once they left Alice Springs, never provided this information. As the expedition continued it became obvious that Lasseter’s mental health was suspect. The rest of the party suspected that Lasseter had never actually been in the outback before and that the gold reef didn’t exist.

Eventually, the expedition leader ended the search, and left Lasseter, who he had called a charlatan, to continue his search accompanied only by a dingo-tracker the party had happened across. Lasseter supposedly died in the desert of malnutrition and exhaustion, after he and the dingo-tracker parted ways.

While Lasseter’s body was found later, no evidence of him having found gold or leaving any maps leading to the gold reef ever turned up.

Before reading Warren Brown’s book, all I knew of this story was that a man named Lasseter had supposedly found a gold reef in the desert, then lost it and spent the rest of his life trying to find it again.

The ins and outs of what actually happened were far more interesting though. Lasseter was able to interest investors in the search during the height of the Depression, which puts the whole story into context.

Lasseter’s Gold shows Lasseter to have been a bigamist and a liar, who was constantly trying to interest investors in his designs for bridges, or patents for inventions, or some fool thing or another. The author never actually says so, but Lasseter must have been a nutter. Other expedition members were also shown to be deceptive and very often, inept.

Regardless, there is an encyclopedia of information on Lasseter and the gold reef on the internet, known as ‘Lasseteria’. Every few years there is a story in the news about the reef having been found, or someone heading out to look for it again, although somehow there is never any actual facts or proof.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I suspect Australians still believe (or hope) that Lasseter’s Reef is out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Lasseter’s Gold is well written and interesting. I enjoyed the book very much.