"to protect under charter to the company, the area in which it is now definitely known the Lasseter's Gold Reef is situated".

John Bailey, letter to Arthur Blakeley. 20/07/1931.

It has been fairly widely recorded in Lasseter literature, that at various times, the Central Australian Gold Exploration Company held exclusive prospecting and mining rights over most of  Lasseter Country, and how the Baileys would very publicly sue any prospector or trespasser found lurking in the Petermann Ranges. The last map in later editions of Lasseter's Last Ride shows a vast circular area within a hundred mile radius, more or less centred about Lake Christopher, "as the area which was held by the C.A.G.E. Company, Ltd." Errol Coote writes that when Whelan announced he had discovered Lasseter's Reef near the Livesey Range, "Ern Bailey, of the Central Australian Gold Exploration Company, threatened legal action to restrain the alleged finder of the field, Paddy Whelan, from making good his claim".

The truth of the matter has come to light as a result of researching Leslie George Bridge and his involvement in C.A.G.E., especially the Second Expedition. It has been a very fruitful exercise, something further can be added to the Invisible Ink story and the reason for Bob Buck's reluctance to sign certain statements has become apparent, and also revealed how Jack Bailey took a convenient assumption and some prospectors permits to defraud Bridge and mislead the public into believing the Company had exclusive prospecting rights over the Petermann Ranges.

In early July 1931, Leslie G. Bridge, a wealthy Sydney businessman and obviously a rising influence in the affairs of C.A.G.E. became quite concerned about rumours from Alice Springs and Sydney, that several prospecting parties had designs on Lasseter's Reef, in spite of the Company's moral claim to the bonanza. To pre-empt these Plundering Pirates as Bridge named them, he insisted that Jack Bailey write to his colleague, Arthur Blakeley, the Minister for Home Affairs and grant to the Company, "the unassailable control of the area set out in the Lasseter document and placed with the Bank of Australasia". Bailey wrote to the Minister on the 13th of July.

Dear Sir,

        I wish to bring before you an application by my company for protective area reservation for mining, covering such territory as clearly defined in a document left by the late L. H. B. Lassetter, who gave his life in his quest of a gold reef there, and such area is further defined in the contents of a letter found with his body, and addressed to his wife.

Bailey enclosed recent correspondence from Bridge to explain the details of the Company's claim, including the map showing the "area that will clearly embrace the anticipated position of the gold reef." The Secretary to Home Affairs left his pencilled calculations on the boundaries of the area shaded red, 95 miles by 49 miles, about 4600 square miles neatly covering the Petermann Ranges to the Western Australian border. In Canberra the wise and cunning considered Bailey's application, it was quite obvious that C.A.G.E. had no idea where the reef lay and Lasseter's last letter and secret directions meant nothing, the Company was buying time and begging protection until finance could be raised for a second expedition to legally peg the reef. That just happened to be in the middle of the South West Aboriginal Reserve. The Secretary wrote to Bailey on the 17th.

        Regarding this request I am directed to state that on no account will the Government countenance any proposal to exclude an area from any Aboriginal Reserve for mining purposes unless and until very substantial and conclusive evidence is made available that gold or other valuable mineral or substance has been discovered within the boundaries of any such Reserve in sufficiently payable quantities as to render the working of such deposits of value to the Commonwealth.

While mining in the Aboriginal Reserve was nigh impossible, for many good reasons, especially in this case; prospecting was a different matter, and only three general conditions need be met. A miners right, permission from the Government Resident to enter the Reserve and strict adherence to the Aboriginal Ordinances. Bailey read the Company's entre to Lasseter Country and no doubt, to his considerable satisfaction, the Secretary had added. 

        As the Government does not desire, in the interests of the natives, that a number of parties should be working through the reservation at about the same time, the Deputy Administrator will be instructed to withhold the granting of further permits, other than to your party, until such time as the Minister thinks fit. Each member of the party should be the holder of a miners right.

It would be a rare moment when the interests of the natives and Jack Bailey agreed, on the 20th he wrote to Blakeley expressing the Company's gratitude for granting a 'Charter' over Lasseter's Reef.

        Dear Sir,

               Permit me on behalf of this company to acknowledge, with deep appreciation, your letter of the 17th instant, consenting under clearly stipulated reservations, to protect under charter to the company, the area in which it is now definitely known the Lasseter Gold Reef is situated.

The Secretary to the Department made a note on Bailey's letter, "This is not correct, no protection over any area was granted" yet Baileys deliberate misrepresentation of the Governments conditions was not challenged. Several days later the Press reported that the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition was gathering in Sydney, raised on nothing more than Lasseter's last letter to his wife and the invisible ink directions to his reef, the Melbourne Argus added that at a recent Company meeting it was announced that, "the West Australian and Federal Governments had given the company territorial rights over an area of ground with a radius of  100 miles in Central Australia and Western Australia". The Canberra Times noted the shareholders vote of thanks to both Governments, "for protecting to them the area within which is situated the Lasseter Reef." Significantly, the Adelaide Advertiser gave the story prominent coverage and this came to the attention of the Premier of South Australia who asked awkward questions about the Company's monopoly to prospect certain areas in Central Australia.

Once again Arthur Blakeley was entangled in the sloppy and devious affairs of the Baileys and their knack for manipulating the Press, the Assistant Secretary wrote to the Premier on the 9th September.

        I am directed to inform you that so far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned, the statement referred to is not correct as no rights over any area of land in Commonwealth Territory have been granted to the Company mentioned.

And no doubt Blakeley hoped that was the end of the matter, six weeks later, Senator Dunn of all people, put the question on notice, "Is it a fact, as stated in the press, that the Federal Government has granted the above Company exclusive rights to prospect and peg claims in a tract of over three hundred square miles of Federal territory in and about Central Australia". In the Senate on 23/10/31, Senator Dooley replied, "No exclusive prospecting rights over any area of land in the Northern Territory have been granted to the Company referred to". It was a Dorothy Dix question, in more ways than one perhaps, Senators Dunn and Dooley were shareholders in C.A.G.E. It was a moot question anyway, three weeks into October and the Second Expedition had already tracked Lasseter's movements through the Petermanns and were heading for Sladen Waters.

The Second Expedition returned to Alice Springs in late November with not a pennyweight of gold, which is not surprising given a mix of Invisible Ink, Bob Buck and the Baileys. What is surprising that Bridge believed such nonsense and charlatans, and he seemed unaware of the obvious difference between the usual rules to prospecting in the Aboriginal Reserves and the Company's non existent 'Charter'. It was very cunning of Bailey to let the misunderstanding go, it helped relieve Bridge of more than 2000 in financing the Expedition to the area under Charter to the Company.


R.Ross. 2009

Errol H. Coote, Hell's Airport, 257.  Ion L. Idriess, Lasseter's Last Ride, Endpaper. National Archives Australia, Title. Central Australian Gold Exploration Syndicate. Assistance to Prospect. Series, A431. Control Symbol, 1948/1143.