Research, Hints & Tips

Locating abandoned settlements.

1.  Exotic Flora.

Google Earth is the most powerful tool to come the way of relic hunters for a long time. Many of the ghost towns, abandoned homesteads and mining camps are visible on Google Earth due to the exotic species which were planted by the original settlers and survive to this day. In North Queensland the most obvious pointer is the Mango Tree. These are not native to Australia, and along with Frangipanni and Bougainvillea were planted on old house sites as part of the garden. Mango trees in particular show up well on Google Earth, as they have a dark green foiliage in contrast to the more usual green/grey of native eucalypts. Once you have located the site on Google Earth, make note of the co-ordinates, punch them into your GPS, and off you go. Bougainvillea, whole not visible from the satellite, are easily spotted on the ground due to their bright (usually) pink, prolific flowers. Frangipanni trees survive long after the human inhabitants have left and also produce bright white, pink & yellow fragrant flowers.


Where to Metal Detect in Mining Ghost Towns

By NQ Explorers


19th Century mining ghost towns are scattered all across the Australian Continent, and follow similar patterns to those in the United States and Canada. These towns sprung up quickly as tent camps following the initial discovery of minerals, and usually died not long after mineral prices slumped or the orebodies were exhausted.

These sites can be real treasure-troves for coin and relic hunters! The layouts of these towns in Australia were similar in many ways, but varied with the terrain and local requirements. There would be the Government precinct with the Police Station, Post Office and Court House. The main street would comprise a row of shops, stables, ‘cafes’, billiard halls and the inevitable hotel (or 3!). There would be a school somewhere and a row or several blocks of private houses.

So assuming your research has led you to such a spot (even if it is well known and previously visited by other treasure and relic hunters), where do you start with your metal detector? The following tips come from our own experiences in these places, and apply equally as well to hunted and virgin sites. Not all these tips will apply in all cases (as with gold,  “Treasure is where you find it!”).

Coin & Hunting ‘Hot Spots’:

1. The main street, an obvious place to start, and probably where everyone has gone before you with his/her detector! But there will still be coins and relics lying hidden.  Detector technology (particularly trash discrimination) today is far in advance of just a few years ago. Now we can cut through trash and clutter and pick out good targets the old detectors missed. Try along the back of the footpath (sidewalk), if it is still there, where the shop fronts used to be. Coins will roll down and sit at strange angles, so with a small coil come in from a few different directions! We have found many coins others have missed in this way. Also try inside the old buildings as coins drop through floorboards.

2. Down the back of the shops in the main street will be the rubbish pits and bottle dumps. Lots of coins can be dropped in these areas “taking out the rubbish”. The old dunny (outhouse) was down there somewhere and with pants coming down and skirts being hitched, coins are dropped.

3. Try around the old building stumps, right up against them – often in Australia, coins (mainly the big old Penny or two) were used as ‘shims’ on the top of the posts below the floor bearers, as the building moved in dry and wet conditions. When the place was demolished, the coins just dropped off the top of the post into the grass/dirt below.

4. The railway station (on abandoned lines), can yield a few great finds, but on the track side of the platform, there can be a lot of iron rubbish (dog spikes and bolts etc). Try to determine where the horse and buggy pulled up to drop off the passengers.

5. Private houses. In our experience, there are always a lot more coins in the front yard than the back, and coin ‘spills’ can occur here in old garden beds or under the spot where the front steps used to be. Then there is the old clothesline down the back yard, and the ‘dunny’ site.

6. Choke points for foot traffic. These can be real ‘hot spots’ for coins. One which particularly comes to mind was a footbridge over a steep-sided creek, which took all the foot traffic from the houses and school to the bakery and main street. We found many coins near the bridge abutments on each end and all up the narrow path which climbed the creek bank.

7. Street corners, where the terrain or fences dictated the route of foot traffic (acting as a choke point) can be rewarding to the astute coin and relic hunter.

8. Schools – in our own experience, Schools have not been great sources of older coins in abandoned towns, in particularly the gold towns of the mid- to late-19th Century. Our own theory here is that as people had very little money in those often difficult times, not too many school children set off with their pockets loaded with coins!  However, you can get some great relics, particularly costume jewelry, from old school sites.

9. Hotels and gaming sites – obvious places to start, and most detector operators will go straight to the hotel! But there will still be coins there.  By ‘gaming sites’ we mean ‘two-up schools’ in Australia, but similar gaming or illegal gambling sites will exist in North American ghost towns. These are usually away from the prying eyes of the local constable, and may be under a shady tree or even an old shed site in quiet corner of town! Old books and diaries from the times can give clues to where the men would gamble on a pay day – so try along the creek banks and just go with your ‘hunch’. If it looks like a good spot to you – it probably looked just as good 100 years ago!
We hope some of these tips will help you with your coin and relic hunting. Of course there are no hard and fast rules here, but the main thing is that you just get out and swing the coil and immerse yourself in the history of these long-forgotten places!

Happy Hunting!

NQ Explorers
Colleen and Warren.
Queensland, Australia.



47 thoughts on “Research, Hints & Tips

  1. Hi Guys,
    Love your videos 🙂 new to metal detecting here and live in cairns so any hints where to go to start my hobby? I know of a lot of old ww2 sites but not easy to go to seeming there house on sites now or parks (where i think your not to search)
    any ideas would be great

    Graeme White

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  3. Hi Guys
    Enjoy your YouTube Posts immensely.
    Have been getting into a bit of relic hunting, would like to do loads more but it’s always time & tide that holds us back down here in Singleton Hunter Valley. Actually we (no.1 wife – Fran) are heading up to Cairns on Thursday for the Armour Display Weekend (I’m x-army) and staying for a week, should be great. Have packed my Garrett Atpro already, Would love to check out False Cape, does anyone run trips out to there or maybe you could point us in the right direction for a bit of detecting ? Any info would get greatly appreciated.
    All the best Ron.

    • Thanks for contacting us Ron. No one does tours to False Cape, its ownership is under question/dispute, but you can get there as long as you have a high-clearance 4wd. The track is pretty rocky and there are a couple of steep pinches. Once you get there, you can easily walk to the upper and lower emplacements, and if you are really energetic, up to the Battery Command Post on top of the ridge (no track – just bush bash). The ammunition bunker is also at the bottom before the emplacements proper. If you give me an e-mail address, I can send you a mud map of how to get there. I haven’t been for around 12 months, there were locked gates at one point, but it is pretty popular with the fishos so shouldn’t be a problem. Cheers mate. Warren.

  4. Hi NQExplorers,
    I’m a subscriber and always “tune in” to your YouTube videos.
    I have a IMF button with the backmark partially obscured. Can you assist in
    IDing the maker?
    The button reads partially “PER” and “PLAT” (possibly “PLATED”) and “LON” (most likely “LONDON”).
    Kindest regards

    • Sounds like a great find. When you say IMF button – do you mean Imperial Military Forces? Would like to see a photo of that, you can send a photo on our Facebook page if you like. Always enjoy seeing those old military buttons. Cheers. Warren.

  5. Hi Warren, Caught up with a mate the other day who has shares in a lease in the Palmer River area. He has a minelab 7000 and uses a ferrite ring to ground balance. Could this be used to ground balance a garrett atx or is there different circuitry involved ? We find we are always having to ground out minerialised soil/rocks which can be every few meters in some places. Cheers Greg & Trish

    • Greg, you won’t need the ferrite ring for the ATX as it is unique to the GPZ ‘zero voltage’ technology. You should be easily able to ground balance out any hot rocks etc, unless there is a great variability in the mineralisation as you move about. You could try some tracking but this usually comes at the expense of some sensitivity. Cheers. Warren.

      • Thanks for that info Warren, another question for you and Colleen, do you have any way of cleaning old timers brass buttons, just found 13 today and put them in Coke,there was some fizzing. I’ll soak overnight. Found them in black soil in a creek flat. Cheers Greg Kruckow

        • G’day Greg – we only soak ours in soapy water and wash with a toothbrush – all depends on how much the soil is clinging to them. That black soil is like glue though! Some still have the silvering on them so we don’t clean them in case it peels off. Sounds like you found a spot where someone’s shirt bit the dust!

  6. Hi guys, great videos and a lot of helpful info gathered following you. I live in Cairns and have just started getting into gold prospecting with my 15 year old son. At present we just have pans, but in the near future will look at investing in a detector, Until then we will just persevere with the pans. What I’m looking for is any general areas where rainforest creeks and streams may hold gold for panning close to Cairns. I have been to a few locations north of Mossman, that looked promising with Quartz, clay and black sand but haven’t found any specks yet. We are only new to it all and maybe I’m looking in the wrong spots, knowing the main gold fields are located on the other side of the ranges, but with the wet seasons and creeks with plenty of water in them during this season, I would have thought that rainforest streams and creeks would hold some of the gold from over the ranges when it flowed down. Any info would be appreciated, it doesn’t take long for a teenager to get bored when I’m out panning if we aren’t finding anything and want to keep him interested. I’ve camped at Kingsborough recently with him and he enjoyed it, but would love to find somewhere a little closer to Cairns as we both love exploring the rainforest.

    • G’day Cliff, thanks for contacting us mate. The best spot close to Cairns for panning fine gold is the upper reaches of the Mulgrave, in the Goldsborough Valley. There are a lot of old ‘shows’ above the river, on the tributaries coming from the Tablelands around Topaz. Of course areas are National Park and World Heritage. I have managed to pan some colour from sand/gravel samples near the road crossings before you get to the National Park at Goldsborough. There is gold being shed down the river every wet. The critical thing is good sampling – look for your low pressure zones and get down in the cracks and crevices for your samples. You should be able to get some colour up there. Other alternatives are on the Gillies as there are a lot of old gold workings up there (once again National Park!) Most of the streams from Gordonvale south will produce some colour if you sample the right spots. Hope this helps mate – Happy Fossicking! Warren.

  7. G’day Warren,

    Hope you and the wife are well.
    I have been doing some research for my wife and I as we are going on holidays next year and I would like to do a lot of gold prospecting along the way.
    It looks like the Palmer River gold fields are very restricted these days, is there still anywhere left decent to prospect?
    Any information would be greatly appreciated.
    Cheers Russ

    • G’day Russ,
      Thanks for contacting us mate. As you point out, the Palmer is pretty much ‘off limits’ – Palmerville Station is still no go and the entire goldfield is covered with various leases and there are some angry leaseholders to boot. The good news is that the Etheridge Goldfields offer quite a few options, with ‘pay and detect’ on Flat Creek Station and Western Creek Station, these cattle stations both have good hot water (donkey boiler) showers and toilets. You can also detect on Long Gully and Mt Talbot (fees also apply). You will need to ring in advance and book as they can get crowded. Your other option is Clermont in Central Queensland, where there are 9 Government General Prospecting Areas (GPAs). You need to purchase a ‘Clermont Kit’ from the local council (or Clermont Detectors), in addition to holding your Fossicking Licence. The Hodgkinson Goldfields are completely closed as the new owner of Mt Mulligan Station will not allow visitors at this stage. Hope this helps mate. Best of luck and keep us updated on your trip. Cheers. Warren.

  8. Hi Warren. I have now been the happy owner of the Garrett ATX for about 2 months now and absolutely love the unit.
    It has produced some good finds on the beach for me, but I have struggled a bit in the Goldfields. Probably due to my lack of knowledge more so as I have only really become involved in Metal Detecting over the past 2 years. Next time your in Victoria, drop me a line as I would love to tag along. BBQ and a cold beer on me.
    Cheers mate

    • Thanks for your comment Travis, sorry for the slow reply we were ‘out west’ for a couple of weeks. Keep persisting and you will be rewarded with your first gold with the ATX – just have to listen to what it is telling you and, of course, walk across the gold! Happy Fossicking mate! Warren.

  9. Hi Warren,

    We are interested in purchasing a Garrett ATX and would appreciate any advice on extras available for people with arthritis to make operating easier, as it is much heavier than my current detector and if there were any Garrett sellers in the Townsville, North Queensland area.

    Many Thanks for your Time.

    • Thanks for registering and contacting us Laurie. There are no Garrett dealers in Townsville, your nearest would be George Mayer at the NQ Miners Den in Cairns. George does mail order and is very easy to deal with. There are some nice extras with the ATX until Christmas, including a free Propointer, Pouch and digging tool. With regard to aids to swinging the ATX. Many detectorists have arthritis in the shoulder/elbow/wrists (and knees and hips of course). The ATX is relatively heavy. It comes with the Garrett sling, which is not bad, but a great deal of users have adapted there own bungee cord system so that the ATX is ‘weightless’. You might ask George about the ‘Hipstick’. Not sure if you can use it with an ATX, but it makes swinging a detector a lot easier. If you are buying the ‘Deepseeker’ with the big Mono and the hard case, you really will need a bungee/helper system if you intend doing long hours with that coil. I think you will be able to adapt your own setup that suits your own requirements – some detectorists us a back pack with the bungee attached to the shoulder straps, this has the added bonus of you being able to bring a long a snack and a first aid kit! Hope this helps mate, please keep us up to date on your finds. Please tell George you contacted me and he will be more than happy to help you. NQ Miners Den is on Freecall 1800 805 728. Best wishes mate. Warren.

  10. Hello Warren and Colleen again and a Happy relic hunting year,
    I wanted a pointer or two on how you start your research and who are the better people to contact in regards to say relic hunting. I have spent many hours going through maps and e/mailing people of interest and am slowly getting some results. I know it does take time but any assistance would be appreciated because time is important to us all.
    Once again thank you for your time and videos.
    Mark & Theresa Atkinson – morteasersagin

    • G’day Mark and Theresa,

      Hope you are heading off on your big trip soon! The usual sequence of events for our research is:

      1. We hear or read about a place. Old books (the out of print type you get in second-hand bookshops are brilliant). If we are travelling to a particular area in Australia, find out as much of the history as you can (when the town was founded, why, old hotels, stage runs, mining camps etc.).

      2. Google Earth all the locations of interest. You may find that a ‘ghost town’ you are researching is now where a homestead for a cattle station exists – so they probably won’t want you digging up the front yard LOL.

      3. You can usually see evidence of old sites from Google Earth (exotic flora, for example – an old tree or foundation outlines.

      4. Field operations – you have to physically find the place, often there are no roads, even if you have a GPS co-ord, there may be a lot of legwork to do to find the spot, and you may have to leave the 4WD well behind.

      5. If private property is involved, you need to contact a landowner, most are very helpful – some are not at all!

      6. We always have a ‘backup’ location to fall back on if the primary spot goes pear-shaped, that way you usually come home with something of interest.

      Hope this helps, stay in contact and we will help out however we can.

      Best wishes

      Warren and Colleen.

  11. Hi Warren and Colleen.

    I think I’ve seen all of your videos (twice, driving the wife nuts) managed to get hold of an ace 250 but I’m wondering if I should have kept saving for a more expensive model as this model feels a bit like a toy? No offence to anyone using this model.

    I guess I need a bit of reassurance on whether I’m going to be able to relic hunt with it? Love our history. My father was a 23 year British army career man. We came to Australia in 1967 when I was 16. Hated the first two years, now anyone slinging off about ‘my’ country has an argument on their hands.

    Now I’m waffling, I’m 62 now and looking forward to finding some of our past.

    Please keep up your excellent uploads!

    Kind regards,


    • Chris,

      Thanks for taking the time to watch our videos – we appreciate the feedback! And well done on the purchase of the ACE250 – certainly not a toy, it is a top line coin and relic machine for a great price. You may be interested to know that the ACE250 is the world’s largest selling metal detector. Colleen used her ACE250 for years and literally found thousands of predecimal coins and old relics with it (including a 1900 Half Crown in a ghost town). We have an ACE150 purchased for our youngest daughter several years back that I used for a long time as a coin hunting machine with a lot of success. The reason is that the ACE machines are rugged and simple, and using a minimum of discrimination, you tend to dig everything – hence you get most of the ‘goodies’. I suggest that you use the 250 in ‘Jewellery’ rather than ‘Coins’ – as you may notch out desirable targets in the ring pull/foil area in Coins mode (such as rings and gold chain). In the old NQ ghost towns, the ACE machines were brilliant, coin after coin with that great belltone feature – and the 3 tones on the 250 give you even more info along with the screen display. Occasionally you will find a 50% silver Threepence (pre-1946) will give a medium tone and surprise you when you dig it – but don’t forget a Half Sovereign will probably also give a medium tone – don’t just dig the belltones. All in all a simple, rugged machine that is in no way a toy and is brilliant on relics and coins. If you can stretch to a 4.5″ Sniper coil, that is a great accessory for the 250. Hope you make some great finds mate.

      All the best

      Warren and Colleen.

    • The ace 250 is a coin magnet!every time I turn it on,I find coins(also found the only 2 pieces of gold jewelry I have with this machine)practice with the pinpointer,you can virtually trace out the shape of the target with it.small target,high reading,start digging!(depth reading very accurate on coins esp 5c!)(the real secret is finding somewhere without too much trash,RESEARCH!)

  12. Hi Warren i am in Tassi and travel to cairns once a year for about 5weeks in a caravan to visit our son,and have just got into the detecting game.Can you give me some clues on places near cairns that i could possible try when i next visit,
    still very much a novice but my wife and i are getting the hang of the gear(at pro,xterra 705).

    • G’day Dale,

      Thanks for checking out our website mate and welcome to the hobby! There are quite a lot of spots you could visit in our area when you get up here – depends if you are searching for old relics, or if you like the goldfields are a few hours drive west of Cairns. Beaches are not as populated as down south but can still turn up some great finds. If you e-mail me on the ‘contact’ button on our main page, I can give you some more detailed information, depending on what you are interested in. Look forward to hearing from you.

      Happy Hunting! Warren.

  13. Hello Warren I thought I would just give you info on that ghost town just in case you can use it. It was called Ebagoola Lat 14 18’37 s Long 143 15’54 e by the looks of it the nearest road is the Peninsua Developmental Rd the town was surveyed 20th sept 1900, It was a gold bering area, By 1901 there were 300 people by 1910 101 by the start of ww1 the town was all but deserted. Tom miller the last resident died in 1958 his hut is still there it say’s let me know if this helps you.
    Keep up the good work
    from Clayton

    • Clayton,

      Thanks for that great info on Ebagoola. Actually I have visited that place twice in the past – very difficult to find – I had to ask a couple of drovers which way it was! On both occasions the grass was so long that it was ‘undetectable’. Timing is everything with some of these NQ ghost towns as the best time to visit is usually just after a grass fire has been through. I plan to return there one day – but every time we get a big ‘wet’ – the grass becomes impenetrable. All the best mate and thanks for your help.

      Happy Hunting


  14. Hello Warren I am a big, big fan of your work and I am a fellow detectorist as well but where I live all the best places are on private land do you ever knock on doors and if so what do you say?
    I would like to give you a possible site to research to detect up your way that might be a winner for you so please email me back and I will give you everything I have on it to you.

    Thanks from Clayton

    • Clayton, thanks for the comment mate – sorry for the delayed reply as I was out of town. With regard to getting permission – I personally haven’t had a lot of luck with that up here – most of the old ghost towns are on cattle stations – and I have done lots of research on some sites, located where I need to go – contacted the owner by phone and on 3 separate occasions “No way – we don’t allow anyone on”. Some are in goldfields but most are not – such as Cobb and Co horse changes – but cattle station owners up our way, by and large – of course there are notable exceptions – don’t like visitors on their leases. The sites you see us on are always on Town Commons – Crown land and are accessible to the public. A few places are happy to have us on and will share a cup of tea in the bush when they come across us there, but it is still difficult to build up a good relationship if other idiots are going on illegally (trail bikes etc – which is unfortunately common). People light fires and leave gates open – closed to everyone. All you can do is ask politely, and I always offer to show what we have found before departing the place – as a courtesy. Hope this helps mate. Best wishes – Warren.

  15. Hi Warren, Just watched some of your vids on youtube, Great stuff.. Just wondering if you have heard of an abandoned town near Lake Elphindtone in Central Queensland. Could be interesting to wave a detector around and see what comes up.

    • G’day Ken, thanks for watching our videos – I have not heard of Lake Elphindtone but will research it – sounds interesting. Will get back to you if I dig up any interesting information. Happy Hunting mate! Warren.

      • Sorry Mate , Slight TYPO, Lake Elphinstone. Google Earth just north of lake is town of Elphinstone, Not sure how old but have been told was maybe a gold mining town.

    • Gday everyone. The old townsite is about 200 yards or so down the road to the lake. The first right bend in the road cuts pretty well through it. Cant see anything left from what I recall, and its on private cattle property. Type Elphinstone into Google Earth.. Hope it helps. Dan

  16. Love the Videos on you tube. Since my discharge from RAAF 1997 I have made it my hobby to self study Australian Military Service. I must have over 200 books ..

    I so wish Me and my wife and 4×4 troopie AND metal detector (Mine lab sovereign GT) could be up there with you and plot finds on the peninsula site(s) and bring that lost history back to life for us to truly understand what has been done for us.

    • G’day Ron, thanks for taking the time to watch our videos and your great comments mate. Both of us are ex-R.A.A.F. and we enjoy researching our military history. The great thing about metal detecting is actually finding the history and objects, some of them personal items, that those blokes left behind during the war. We could never repay the debt we owe to that generation – but keeping the history living is one way! Hope you get up this way one day, plenty of WW2 sites to explore, many ‘undiscovered’, and most unvisited and forgotten by the current generation – all the best mate and Happy Hunting. Warren.

  17. Hi folks, I love your website and videos. I especially like the history you discuss with each video. I am relatively new to detecting. I bought a Garret Ace 250 and live in an area where several battles of the War of 1812 were fought in, Ontario Canada. I’ll try using Google Earth, but can you advise on other research techniques please? I would love to visit Ausrailia and detect the same areas you folks have. Thanks again for an excellent resource!

    • G’day AL, and thanks for your great comment mate – welcome to the hobby, and you have got yourself a great machine in the Ace 250. With regard to research, ‘Googling’ works well, here in Australia, a lot of old newspapers from the 1800s have been digitized and are available on line, these are a fantastic resource. But you local library is usually crammed with great info – scan their data base for what you are seeking, say an old stage coach stop or something, you will be amazed what comes up, and will often find that many of these old sites are long forgotten and not well documented – these are the best ones! You may be the first metal detector in there for the relics and coins. Hope this helps and look forward to hearing of your finds and adventures. HH mate! Warren and Colleen.

      • Just saw that comment on the mutiny.I have heard a few times over the years(mostly from soldiers)of a battle between us and aust soldiers.Apparently,two trains were stopped next to each other(one going to syd,one to bris)and the us soldiers were taunting the aussies on what they were going to do to the aussies wives when they got to sydney.Supposedly after a couple of hours of this,the aussies fixed bayonets and charged!This story is always followed with a wink and a comment,”Course it never made the papers”.Ever heard of this?supposed to be near nsw/qld border.

        • G’day Davo,

          Thanks for your comments mate – I reckon there would have been a heap of incidents between Aussies and US troops that were never released to the public. The so called ‘Battle of Brisbane’ was just too big to cover up so that was well reported. All interesting history that shows just how complex WW2 was. Happy Hunting mate! Warren.

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