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The Australian El Dorado

By Simon Caterson - posted Friday, 28 March 2014

It can’t go on. This film has got to end at some point.

The film in question is Lasseter’s Bones, a feature-length documentary about Lasseter’s Reef, the most famous Australian lost gold mine legend. Lasseter’s Bones is due for release on DVD in April.  

The speaker is director Luke Walker, the Melbourne-based independent documentary filmmaker who spent several years trying to establish the truth or otherwise about the reef of gold bearing quartz several miles long.


In 1929, an amateur prospector known as Harold Bell Lasseter claimed publicly to have discovered the reef at a remote location somewhere in the vast desert of central Australia. 

A well-funded expedition was mounted though no reef was ever found. The other members of the expedition gave up looking for the reef, frustrated as they were by the harsh desert conditions and disenchanted by the erratic behavior of the supposed discoverer of the reef.  Lasseter was widely derided as fraud. 

He was a man with a somewhat shady past who was also evidently capable of original thought. Apparently off his own bat, Lasseter proposed the “coathanger” design that was adopted for the Sydney Harbour Bridge several years before the project had officially been commissioned

Lasseter himself refused to abandon the search for the reef, eventually dying alone in a desert cave. He left a book of cryptic jottings in which he affirmed that the reef was real.  The battered diary has been examined ever since for clues, and in the early 1980s was published in facsimile.

Since Lasseter’s death, innumerable searches for the reef have been undertaken, and there is a substantial body of what is known as Lasseteria produced in print and online by witnesses and subsequent researchers.    

About three-quarters of the way through Lasseter’s Bones, Walker expresses his immense frustration as yet another seemingly valuable piece of evidence he has uncovered through painstaking effort merely leads to further uncertainty. 


The film ends – and moreover it does so with a neat twist – though all of the most significant questions are unanswered, and Walker demonstrates finally that every attempt to solve the mystery can only succeed in adding to it. Lasseter’s Bones thus could be regarded as a cautionary tale about presuming to once and for all explain a historical mystery, though the film has much more to offer than that.  Sometimes, posing the question can bring us closer to the truth than supplying an answer.

Walker’s film, which centres on the continuing efforts of Lasseter’s son Bob, who is now aged in his mid-eighties, to find the reef, explores an Australia that is disappearing rapidly from living memory. So many of the interviewees in the film either were alive at the time or else are amateur historians who have devoted many years to researching the story out of personal interest. For his part, Bob Lasseter, who was a baby when his father died, is engaged in a personal quest to lay family ghosts to rest.

According to Walker, the enduring fascination with Lasseter’s Reef has a lot to do with the promise of fabulous wealth, but more to do with the nature of the tale.  “The first and most obvious reason is the appeal of finding lost gold”, he explains.

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About the Author

Simon Caterson is a freelance writer and the author of Hoax Nation: Australian Fakes and Frauds from Plato to Norma Khouri (Arcade).

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