As the price of gold tops US$1,000 an ounce, miners in the small town of Thames – on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand – are eyeing up their mudflats. Although in recent times the town’s main industry has been a Toyota plant, it was the centre of a goldrush in the 1860s. But Victorian mining techniques were rudimentary, and it’s thought 40 per cent of the gold extracted during the last boom washed down into the Firth of Thames.
One effort to get the gold out of the mud in the 1900s managed to dig up several thousand ounces and in the 1970s, geologist Roger Gregg took core samples of the flats – an effort scuppered by the anti-mining campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, which managed to halt work on the peninsula. Now, Gregg has applied for an exploration permit covering 55 hectares of estuary and hopes to start digging up the mud within five years. “It’s not a new thought,” he says, “but we have new processes now. We know the gold is there.”
Not everyone’s got the fever, though. The site is next to a wetland and is home to thousands of migratory birds. There are fears that, as well as gold, the digging will stir up other heavy metals, including mercury. “They refer to them as mudflats as if it’s just a whole lot of mud,” says Denis Tegg of anti-mining group Coromandel Watchdog. “In fact it’s a highly intense and diverse ecosystem.”
New Zealand’s golden heritage:
01 Rich history: Gold was discovered in New Zealand in 1852 but the first rush started in Otago in 1861. The young colony’s population doubled as miners came from the American and Australian rushes. Production peaked at 735,000 ounces in 1866.
02 Man’s world: There were so many men in New Zealand by the 1870s that the population had an unfortunate gender imbalance, causing the government to recruit women to emigrate there.
03 Tempting offer: With gold prices at their highest since the 1970s, the New Zealand government is controversially investigating whether to allow mining in its conservation estate.
Fiji’s fractious relationship with New Zealand has struck another impasse with its nomination of a banned military spokesman as its senior diplomat in Wellington. Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni, a former army bandsman, played a prominent role in Fiji’s 2006 coup and is ineligible to enter New Zealand as a result of sanctions targeting the coup’s leaders.
Leweni’s nomination has thrown into disarray efforts at rapprochement between the South Pacific neighbours, who dismissed senior diplomats in tit-for-tat expulsions last November and remain at odds over Fiji’s refusal to set deadlines for elections.
Australia has a wine glut. Too many vineyards and falling exports mean wineries are closing and grapes are going to waste. “There needs to be more focus on higher-quality wine,” says winemaker John Cassegrain. “We have too many vines planted for the production of high-volume, low-quality wines.” In the meantime, if Monocle can be of any help...
The discovery of a potentially gold-laden shipwreck has created intrigue in Tonga. Authorities were alerted to the existence of the vessel after a string of people approached dental surgeries on the main island of Tongatapu asking them to smelt down 12cm gold-coloured tubes. The tubes were too large to render down, and the dentists instead alerted the police, who have charged four men, including a local sailor, with removing items from the wreck.
Shipwrecks within Tonga’s territorial waters are classified as government property and those who discover them are required by law to notify authorities. Tongan police commander Chris Kelley says his officers have located the wreck, and recovered an illegal cache of ammunition and other items of interest at the home of one of the accused men. Police are keeping the precise whereabouts of the wreck a secret while they await the results of tests to identify the mystery metal.
The South Pacific isn’t the place you want to get sacked. The region is home to four of the nine countries that offer no mandatory redundancy payment and no unemployment protection: Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau and Tonga.