Spending on gold exploration in WA hit a 30-year high in the September quarter, with US$126 ($174) million spent on the search for the precious metal as the State’s overall exploration outlay climbed to its highest level in five years.

This week’s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics continue to show the turnaround in Australia’s mineral exploration industry and the continuing interest in gold exploration in WA and around Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Gold explorers’ expenditure eclipsed the June quarter’s US$118 ($162) million result, previously the highest in the 30 years since ABS has recorded the statistics.

The rise came amid an 8.5 per cent increase in gold exploration spending across the country over the three months to September 30. Overall mineral exploration Australia-wide was up 2.5 per cent to US$424 ($582) million, including US$262 ($360) million in WA.

Mineral Economist and exploration expert Richard Schodde said he was bullish spending would rise as companies looked to replace ageing sources.

“I have a medium-term view over the next five years that exploration expenditures will go up in the order of 25 per cent,” he said. “I’m actually quite bullish on the outlook for Australia and actually the world.

“Gold is the main player in terms of exploration so I think Kalgoorlie and the Yilgarn is still going to deliver more fruit.

“The challenge is the next generation of discoveries in the Yilgarn will be under deeper cover.”

Mr Schodde noted base metals drilling was also strong, speculating a US$8 ($11) million rise in spending on copper exploration in WA in the quarter was related to rumours Rio Tinto had made a major find in the Pilbara’s Paterson province.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder businessman Jamie Seed, who employs about 45 people at his Boulder firm Challenge Drilling, warned the rise of gold exploration in WA could be unsustainable if junior companies continued to find it hard to raise capital.

He said though rig use and staff numbers were on the rise, payment rates had not recovered to where they were a few years ago before the downturn hit.

“While the producers are making good money they will continue to spend, but the juniors are finding it hard to access funds,” he said.

“I’m not wanting to say it’s all doom and gloom but those figures can’t be sustained unless the sharemarket turns around.

“Rig utilisation is certainly up but having said that there hasn’t really been an expansion on the margin and rates are still the same.

“Things are better but they have a long way to go before we get back to where we were prior to the downturn.”