Bob Biggs has had a nose for gold since he was a teenager when he worked underground on Western Australia’s historic Gwalia mine before it closed in 1963.
- Retired pastoralist Bob Biggs describes himself as a self-taught gold diviner
- The 84-year-old began divining for water almost 50 years ago after reading books on the subject
- Sceptics say diviners are “pretty genuine” but all have failed to prove their abilities under test conditions
Now 84, the retired boilermaker and pastoralist is one of only a handful of water diviners remaining in WA.
But Mr Biggs, who now lives in Mundijong in Perth’s outer suburbs, is also a self-described gold diviner.
He readily admits that “99 out of 100” people are sceptics who brush off the bush art as a parlour trick.
“When I tell people I divine for gold, they say ‘it doesn’t work’ or ‘it’s bulls**t’,” he said.
For divining rods, he has used the same piece of fencing wire since 1973, when he was working on the remote Yeelirrie Station in WA’s northern Goldfields.
He also uses a gold necklace as a pendulum which he says helps him to determine the depth of water or minerals beneath the surface.
“Before metal detectors this is what the early day prospectors used … I taught myself by what I read in books,” he said.
“Whatever you’re looking for, you have a piece of that in your opposite hand and you hold it firmly in between your thumb and two fingers and it makes a circuit.
‘Is there any gold below me here?’
Mr Biggs gave the ABC a demonstration in bushland on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a city which describes itself as Australia’s gold capital and is home to the famous Super Pit gold mine.
If the chain swings back and forth that indicates pay dirt below the surface, he said, but sideways means there is no gold.
“When the wire is pointing to my right side that indicates there is gold within a metre and a half of me, on the right side of me, and if it was going the other direction it would be likewise.
“The faster the wire goes the more there is of what I am looking for.”
Mr Biggs said he has practised divining near the Gwalia gold mine and has spoken with geologists suggesting where they should drill in search of the precious metal.
He also hoped he could pass on his knowledge to others.
“If you’re negative the wire or chain won’t work for you … if you’ve got a negative attitude toward something it won’t work,” he said.
Sceptics have tested gold diviners before
Tim Mendham is the Sydney-based executive officer of Australian Skeptics, which was founded in 1980 with the aim of scientifically investigating claims of the paranormal or pseudoscience.
The group has more than 1,500 members across Australia and has a standing offer of a $100,000 reward to anyone who can prove paranormal abilities.
Despite more than 200 tests in 40 years, including many involving water diviners or dowsers as they are also known, the cash has remained unclaimed.
“There are other groups of people that we have doubts about, but we regard water diviners and dowsers as pretty genuine people,” Mr Mendham said.
“They believe they can do what they say they can do.
“It’s a hard one, because a lot of people claim that they’ve seen it happen and a lot of people rely on diviners in the bush.”
Mr Mendham said many of the dowsers claimed they could find minerals from water to gold, even electrical infrastructure under the surface.
One of the tests involved hiding a gold nugget, which the diviner did not find.
Mr Mendham said the divining rods are often manipulated without the dowser’s knowledge.
“It’s often regarded as a subconscious action of the person’s hands,” he said.
“They don’t think about it, it’s not conscious cheating but when you have something that’s unbalanced held in your hand, you’ll move it by unconscious movement.
“It’s very easy to do and as soon as you turn your hand a little bit, the wire will move.
“Try it yourself, and you would have a very hard time holding it straight.”
Did divine intervention discover rich mine?
Veteran mining analyst Keith Goode is a one-time sceptic turned believer after witnessing a divining demonstration at what is now one of Australia’s biggest gold mines.
The Gruyere gold mine in WA’s Great Victoria Desert employs about 350 workers and has only recently completed its first year of commercial production after being built at a cost of $610 million.
Well-known geologist Ziggy Lubieniecki was awarded the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies’ prestigious Prospector Award in 2015 for his role in the Gruyere discovery.
Mr Goode visited Gruyere six months after its discovery beneath the desert sands in October 2013 and he said he witnessed Mr Lubieniecki using divining rods to mark out the location of the ore body.
Like any new discovery, Mr Goode said it took months of drilling to confirm the find but he was nonetheless impressed by Mr Lubieniecki’s demonstration.
“It was one of those moments where you see the wires cross and you go ‘holy s**t’,” he said.
“He walked across the entire structure and the wires crossed at exactly the right position.
“I’m a believer now because I’ve seen it done.”
Mr Lubieniecki, who was contacted for comment, is also said to have located several water bores at Gruyere by using divining rods.
‘Sophisticated methods’ key to new discoveries
Another sceptic is Andrew Waltho, the Brisbane-based president of the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, who said prospecting for gold has evolved well beyond divining rods.
He explained some of the modern techniques being used, including geophysics, where an electrical current is injected into the ground to test if there are any conductive minerals beneath the surface.
Geochemistry involves testing soils for traces of gold, with very shallow drilling into the top of bedrock looking for signs of mineralisation.
Mapping, as its name suggests, looks at the layout of an area and considers the formation of rocks and whether fault lines could host mineralisation.
Mr Waltho, a geologist with 33 years’ experience, said it is usually a combination of these techniques which leads to new discoveries.
He said he had never seen a gold diviner in action but has heard of the practice among geologists.
“I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never come across it, and I’d say I’m more than a little sceptical,” he said.