Main content area

Lasseter's lost reef

BACK TO ALL STORIES

Nothing captures the Australian imagination quite like the thought of striking it lucky. So it’s no surprise one of our greatest legends involves a search for a mysterious vein of gold.

In 1929 Lewis Hubert Lasseter (1880-1931) began writing to federal and state politicians describing a reef in Central Australia bearing gold “as thick as plums in a pudding”. No politicians were interested in funding a journey to the reef, but two expeditions would set out regardless, capturing the imagination of the nation and its press in the process.

He was described as “a little nuggetty fellow, darkish complexion, flat chubby face with no nose-bridge. He was partly bald and his scalp showed many deep scars. He was a man of jumbled moods and never quite happy…his special pastime was singing hymns, all set to the one tune”

A curious chap

The writer of these letters was a man most commonly called Lasseter, though he also went by a variety of nicknames, including Das and Possum. He had two legal names, two wives and called two nations home. Though he was born in country Victoria, he’d traveled far, spending some time in the US where he married and converted to Mormonism. He later returned to South Sydney, helping with the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In his letters, Lasseter described how he’d been looking for rubies in Central Australia when he was 17 and had stumbled across an incredibly rich reef of gold, which he hoped to rediscover. Though his local member showed no interest in Lasseter’s expedition, a subsequent letter to the Workman’s Union would turn fortune to his favour.

Desperate times

The Great Depression had taken a toll on workmen, which in turn had impacted their union. So when John Bailey (1871-1947), the union president, met with Lasseter and heard his claims, he did so with enthusiasm.

After hearing about his time as a sea captain and his travels in Central Australia during his youth, Bailey became convinced that Lasseter’s tale of a rich untapped mine was worth pursuing. Lasseter was employed as a guide in a forthcoming expedition called the Central Australian Gold Exploration (CAGE) and accepted a salary of five pounds per week.​

Old book open to a page with typed text with title The History of Lasseter's Reef by John Bailey
John Bailey - History of Lasseter's Reef, and an explanation of the two expeditions despatched to the Central Australia of where the reef was alleged to be, 26 Sept., 1947
1947
Bailey, John (Jack), 1871-1947
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1876001
John Bailey - History of Lasseter's Reef, and an explanation of the two expeditions despatched to the Central Australia of where the reef was alleged to be, 26 Sept., 1947
1947
John Bailey, 1871-1947
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1876002
John Bailey - History of Lasseter's Reef, and an explanation of the two expeditions despatched to the Central Australia of where the reef was alleged to be, 26 Sept., 1947, page 3
1947
John Bailey, 1871-1947
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a1876003

This story has been developed with the support of the State Library of NSW Foundation.

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.