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The accidental rock-kicker who spark a Pilbara gold rush

Meet Johnathon Campbell — the accidental rock-kicker who inadvertently kick-started a gold rush.

The ex-FIFO worker and musterer, whose discovery of so-called “watermelon-seed” gold nuggets has sparked an unprecedented run on the ASX, has done the deal of a lifetime to sell his leases to Canadian miner Novo.

But the father of six said he would be “just as happy if I’d never found the f… thing”.

After yet another week of sky-rocketing junior gold stocks — De Grey up 27 per cent, Artemis 39 per cent and Kairos 30 per cent — Mr Campbell confirmed the deal included:

  • $250,000 cash (already paid).
  • 450,000 Novo shares once the leases are granted — at today’s price equates to more than $3.6 million.
  • $1 million discovery bonus in Novo shares or cash if drilling results show 250,000 ounces of gold on site.
  • One per centa year royalty if the operation goes into production.

Toronto-listed Novo is in a joint venture with Artemis Resources whose biggest shareholders are the globe-trotting WA entrepreneur David Lenigas and Dubai-based Mick “Many Names” Shemesian, a wealthy investor and former Karratha prospector.

“It is like the biggest game of chess I’ve ever seen in my life . . . you sign this, and we’ll buy that. People are still offering me millions.”

Mr Campbell, 41, first flew over the leases in a mate’s helicopter when they were counting cattle in a remote area south of Karratha. After spotting a humpy, they landed the chopper and eventually found some man-made holes in rock.

“Initially we thought someone was running from the police … we couldn’t think why someone else was out so far, even prospectors,” he told The Sunday Times.

After teaming up through a Facebook page with a local man armed with metal detectors, he returned to the site and, “hard as it is to believe, we just turned the metal detector on and it was just all go”.

“I just went out there for a day and realised this place was stinking hot with rocks, we just kept going there every weekend … we’d go down there with the four-wheel motorbikes and go for it,” he said.

Mr Campbell said he and his partners took anything between $5000 and $20,000 off the leases on “any given weekend” over a couple of months.

He said he put down Special Prospecting Licenses, which allowed prospectors to work bigger tenements owned by companies who were not doing anything with them, and pegged as much land as he could around the area.

Mr Campbell said the red-ridged spinifex ground had been pegged by two bigger miners, one of whom was Fox Resources which was in the process of having to surrender its ground due to lack of exploration. He swooped on the Fox Resources leases when they became available.

A couple of months later, when he met Artemis geologist Ed Mead — again after putting down the chopper in the back blocks of the Pilbara — he told him there was plenty of gold on Artemis land as the ASX-listed junior had the adjacent leases.

“I don’t think he believed me. That changed when he had another look,” he said.

While he wouldn’t go into details, Mr Campbell said he and his partners fell out over who owned what when “greed came into it”. Under the threat of legal action, he discovered that he could lose his house if the other two decided to sue him.

Even now, after shaking hands with Novo’s chief executive Quinton Hennigh to hand over the licences, the pressure on him to do “side deals” with others continues.

“This is why I hate it … they all seem to think they can get something out of each other. It is like the biggest game of chess I’ve ever seen in my life … you sign this, and we’ll buy that. People are still offering me millions,” he said.

While technically the leases were still in his name until Native Title approval, he said he couldn’t wait until the deal was complete.

“Hand on heart, I would have been just as happy if I’d never found the f… thing,” he said. “I just want to buy some bait and go fishing.”

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