PIRANHA infested rivers, running out of fuel flying over dense jungle, gangsters and guerrilla warfare—there was little in Jim Richards’ early life in the UK to prepare him for the dangers of being a gold prospector.
Gold fever bit the Mt Lawley local aged 17 during a holiday job at a Welsh gold mine, and 35 years on he’s still hooked.
He did three years with the British Parachute Regiment and a stint in Ireland being shot at by the IRA, and now armed with a geology degree he packed a bag and headed to South America in the hope of making his fortune.
“Arriving in Guyana with no money, no skills, and wondering how you’re going to skin this cat is daunting,” he tells the Voice.
Over the next 13 years he found, and lost, a fortune in gold and diamonds, living rough, eating rougher and checking his sleeping bag for tarantulas in remote tropical rain forests.
Diving for diamonds in a Guyana river, with a makeshift hose for air, almost cost him his life.
“I was stuck solid. Upside down in a pothole at the bottom of a fast-flowing river – and my air supply was giving out.
“[I] started to struggle, but this just made it worse…Suddenly I was getting no air at all. I sucked and sucked on my mouthpiece—nothing.
“How the hell had it come to this?” he asks in the prologue to his book Gold Rush: How I Made and Lost and Made a Fortune.
It’s a gripping read of the exhilaration of finding his first diamond, adventure, disaster and skulduggery, all told from first hand experience.
Richards found diamonds in Guyana, gold in Laos (kicking off a gold rush in the middle of a war) and a fabulously rich mine in Australia—for someone else.
Which was the catalyst to float his own gold mining company: “I realised if I was going to get rich out of this I had to take the risk and float my own company.”
A theme running through the book is the impact of mining on indigenous communities around the world, an issue everyone shares, Richards says.
“We all use [the minerals dug up], we are all in it together and how we address that moral dilemma is coaxed out in
Executive chair of a publicly listed mining company Richards continues to search for gold and diamonds, just not by diving in rivers.
Printed by Fremantle Press Gold Rush is available at bookstores ($33) including Muir Books in Northbridge.
by JENNY D’ANGER