Lost Lasseter’s Reef: Australia’s most famous lost gold mine legend

Likely one of the most well-known and enduring of Austria’s unsolved mysteries, Lasseter’s Reef has entertained and eluded decades of searchers. It started in 1929 (and again in 1930) when Harold Bell Lasseter made a number of conflicting claims that in 1897, he had found a large amount of gold in the desert. Lasseter claimed that he had found a very rich vein of gold on his travels, something he described as a “vast gold-bearing reef in Central Australia”.

The last photograph of Lasseter, taken on his departure to find his "lost" reef on September 15, 1930.
The last photograph of Lasseter, taken on his departure to find his “lost” reef on September 15, 1930 © chrisclarkhistorian.com

According to Lasseter, he had been a young man of 17 when he rode by horse from Queensland to the goldfields of Western Australia. On the way, he came across the reef of gold, somewhere between the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. He believed he was some 1,100km west of Alice Springs, in line with Kalgoorlie. Lasseter got into some kind of trouble, and was rescued by an Afghan camel driver.

Over the next several decades, Lasseter tried on several occasions to raise funds and find the gold reef, but he was never successful. When the gold rush finished in 1930, during the Great Depression, Lasseter was able to secure £50,000 for an expedition to the reef.

Adventurer Harold Lasseter in Australian Army uniform
Adventurer Harold Lasseter in Australian Army uniform © Wikimedia Commons

Their search party included motorised transport, an aircraft, and several experienced bushmen, but they never found it. The myth continues today, but no maps showing the location of the fabled gold reef were ever found, and over subsequent decades the tale of the reef and its discoverer has assumed mythic proportions. It is perhaps the most famous lost mine legend in Australia, and remains a “holy grail” among Australian prospectors.

Popular adventure-story author Ion Idriess, in his book Lasseter’s Last Ride (1931), gives a detailed description of Lasseter’s time with the Aborigines. His diary’s notes were hidden under campfires from the Aborigines. On the other side, geologists have made various statements as to whether or not there are gold-bearing areas in this country.

In 2014 geologists W.D. Maier, H.M. Howard and R.H. Smithies likened the southern part of Lasseter’s search area to the Bushveld Complex in South Africa where gold deposits do occur and said the region has high potential, quoting a 2002 report of copper-gold vein style material found north of the Cavenagh Range.

In the end, the lost Lasseter’s Reef ended up becoming a prominent Australian folk tale, and nobody knows if Lasseter was actually helming the truth, and we’ll likely never know the truth.