SOME time ago, I was startled to come across a life-size replica of a giant gold nugget on display. It was during Tocal Field Days and the colourful exhibit was in a geological resources tent showing the wonders of nature's rock strata, both humble and highly prized.
It was the famed "Holtermann Nugget". My sighting meant nothing at the time, but it meant more recently after coming across news of the largest single gold find for a while in the former gold rush town of Ballarat. Here, a Victorian retiree unearthed a 2-kilogram nugget which he named "You Wouldn't Believe It" and joyfully rushed off to buy himself a brand new metal detector.
The prospector was quickly offered $160,000 by other gold enthusiasts who wanted bragging rights for the impressive find, which fits in the palm of his hand.
More than 2 million tonnes of gold is believed to remain underground in country Victoria, the scene of a massive gold hunt in the 1850s. Victoria is in the midst of a gold rush revival, with mines doubling gold production in the past five years.
But all of this makes the iconic gold find by Bernhardt Otto Holtermann back in 1872 at Hill End, near Bathurst (not Victoria) all the more remarkable.
Standing 1.5 metres tall and weighing 286kg (the mass of gold was embedded in quartz) it was not a nugget, but rather a rather massive gold specimen.
The rock was melted down for the 93kg of gold it contained. This might be worth at least $5million today - it's regarded as the biggest gold specimen ever found in Oz.
This impressive composite photograph even today still tends then to eclipse the fame of Edward Hargraves (1816-1891). Novocastrians might remember being taught at school about Hargraves as the official discoverer of gold in NSW, rather than Holtermann.
Edward Hammond Hargraves found payable gold at Ophir, near Bathurst, in 1851, but it was rather paltry compared to later finds. These days Hargraves is best described as a gold rush publicist, as other people were involved in his find, sparking an inland gold stampede.
People flocking to goldfields resulted in the discovery of another huge nugget, "The Welcome Stranger", weighing 65kg, found north-west of Melbourne in 1869.
Hargraves remains a notable figure in Australian colonial history and received reward money and a pension for his trouble. The legend persists of his fame to this day.
Hargraves, however, must have thought digging for the precious yellow metal was a mug's game and retired for a second, more unlikely, sort of fame years later at Norah Head, near Toukley.
For we have him to thank, in part, for the campaign to erect the 28-metre tall Norah Head lighthouse on a rugged spear of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean.
The Central Coast's famous beacon has operated as an ocean landmark protecting mariners since opening in November 1903. Electrified in 1961 (replacing a kerosene burner), it was finally automated in 1994.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
With his gold reward, Hargraves erected a fine, single-storey house of cedar with a veranda on three sides down there with sweeping views of the Pacific. Built between 1856-59, the homestead was named Norahville.
Today's Central Coast suburb of Noraville is named after it.
Built on a grassy plateau above the sea cliffs, it's near Norah Head and overlooks Hargraves Beach.
It's a rare, surviving residence of the period and remains there today, privately owned and screened by trees, in Elizabeth Drive, Noraville. In 1981, the NSW Government made it a place of state significance.
Much of the property, however, including orchards and vineyard, was subdivided and sold off from the 1920s.
During Hargraves stay there, many ships were wrecked off today's Norah Head. Later, in 1894, the vessel Gwydir even sank on the reef in front of Noraville homestead.
Earlier, Hargraves campaigned to have a coastal warning light, a lighthouse, constructed to protect mariners. He equipped many wreck survivors with supplies for the long trek to Sydney.
The chorus of complaints finally led to the now famous lighthouse being erected years after, in 1903, using pre-cast concrete blocks. The tower beacon shines with the light intensity today of 1 million candles and daily flashes about 54km out to sea.
The Norah Head area was a remote spot when Europeans first established themselves there. Cedar cutters were the first white regular visitors with the aromatic wood cut out within a generation.
The rocky headland, named "moroh" or "norah", after a large flat stone there used for sharpening tools, was associated with native guide Bungaree. He had helped exploring colonists from the 1790s. Aboriginals named the headland Bungaree's Norah in his honour.
Mrs Elizabeth Hargraves, the wife of the gold discoverer, was reportedly the first white woman to settle in the remote locality. Elizabeth Drive is named after her.
Interviewed in 1931 (at age 83), she said: "The blacks were wonderful fishermen with their long spears, pointed with a cluster of hardwood spikes, secured at the end with vines and a gum named Tuggerah obtained from the grass tree."
The natives were adept at gathering wild honey, large quantities of which they bartered with Hargraves.
He regularly supplied more than a ton of honey a year to a Sydney customer, she said.
For ages, the best way to beat the extreme isolation of Norah Head was sea travel, using nearby Cabbage Tree Bay wharf. Initially it was used to export cedar cargoes (from 1830), then to take fish and lobsters to market, bring village supplies, steamship passengers in the 1890s and finally materials to build the lighthouse and cottages.
Edward Hargraves had championed for a coastal safety light. Supporting his argument: after his death, 10 ships were wrecked offshore between 1894 and 1903.
Lighthouse tours these days are a goldmine of information. Besides highlighting the Hargraves connection, guides also point out the whitewashed tower's oddities, including the hidden message of the original superstitious artisan paving the floors when the now historic light was being built.