MOROBE, especially Bulolo district, has a long history of alluvial gold mining going back to 1910 when a Canadian-Australian, Arthur Darling, first discovered gold in what is now known as the Morobe goldfield.
Alluvial gold mining was mostly dominated by expatriates in the early gold rush days following a major discovery at Koranga Creek in Wau in 1922. But, this changed when local people decided to go into mining for the first time in 1949 along the Wanion River in the Markham.
The transferring of skills and knowledge of alluvial gold mining by expatriates to the local people took place in the 1950s and 1960s when many residents around the Wau-Bulolo area applied for and were granted mining leases.
Up until now, alluvial gold mining remains one of the sources of income for the people of Bulolo, particularly the Watut River communities including the landowner villages of the Hidden Valley mine and the Wafi-Golpu project.
Recently, due to concerns raised by the villagers on the low incomes from gold sales as a result of poor yields, Morobe Mining Joint Ventures (MMJV) initiated a training programme for the communities.
The programme is aimed at improving alluvial mining incomes, and more importantly, in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
Furthermore, the training aims to improve alluvial mining techniques, introduce small-scale dredging and provide knowledge to avoid the use of mercury.
These objectives are in line with the government’s broad policy statement covering the small-scale mining sector, which is highlighted in the Eight Point Plan. The plan emphasises promotion of rural-based industries where participation by PNG citizens is encouraged.
Legally, small-scale mining is recognised as a rural-based cash-generating economic activity. It also stressed that any development activities or industries promoted must be done in an environmentally friendly manner beneficial for both present and future generations.
The training programme is being implemented in partnership with the Wau Small Scale Mining Training Centre (WSSMC), run by the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) with support from the European Union.
To date, MMJV has sponsored 74 alluvial miners from the Watut River region and from around the Wafi project to receive training at the WSSMC.
The basic course covers a wide range of topics including mining history, mining and affiliated laws, geology, mining and processing, mercury, occupational health and safety, HIV/AIDS, environmental issues and running small-scale mining as a business.
Alluvial gold miners in the Bulolo district contribute to about four tonnes of alluvial gold produced by all alluvial miners throughout the country a year, valued at around K100 million.
There are more than 50,000 alluvial miners in PNG.