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The Myth and Legend of Lasseter’s Reef

Harold Bell Lasseter and the story of his rich reef of gold, is the most renowned and persistent of all Australian gold seeking legends. In 1929, Lasseter wrote to Government ministers about a fabulously rich reef of gold in Central Australia, which he claimed to have found in 1911. This approach to obtain funding was unsuccessful. He then approached the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) for financial assistance.
On this occasion Lasseter claimed that he had found the reef in 1897, when he was seventeen, after an unsuccessful excursion to a failed ruby rush in the East Macdonnell Ranges in Central Australia. Instead of retracing his steps through Queensland he decided to travel through desert country to Carnarvon on the Western Australian coast. En route he stumbled accidentally upon a reef of gold some sixteen kilometres long. Not long after the find, his horses died; he became lost and would have perished but for the intervention of an Afghan cameleer and surveyor named Harding. Despite other searches over the next thirty plus years, he was unable to locate the reef.

The 1930 expedition was the best-equipped gold-seeking exploration in Australia’s history. However, it was a failure in all regards. The terrain was unsuitable for trucks, and the airplane he employed crashed; its replacement was unsuitable. There was dissension between Lasseter and the leader of the expedition, Fred Blakeley, and also with other members of the team – many of whom (including Blakeley) had serious reservations about Lasseter’s credibility. At no time did Lasseter tell them of the precise location of the reef. Following the abandonment of the motorised expedition, Lasseter decided to venture out with a dingo trapper, Paul Johns. Again there was dissent, and Lasseter decided to go it alone, perhaps reaching as far west as Lake Christopher in Western Australia. On his return trip the camels bolted leaving him stranded in the Petermann Ranges, where he died, despite constant nurturing by the local Aboriginal people.

Since then there have been many other attempts to find the reef. The main impetus was provided by the publication of Ion Idriess’s 1931 book, Lasseter’s Last Ride. Although accepted as a factual account it was largely fiction, but written with conviction and flair. Seventy-five years later not an ounce, or perhaps even a grain of gold, has been found in the area(s) where Lasseter’s Reef was allegedly located.

Barry McGowan