Monday, 16 January 2012

Perth Mint

Today Maurice and I went to Perth Mint.  This gave a bit of history about gold prospecting in Western Australia and told of some of the biggest nuggets found.  The first really large nuggets were melted down for their gold value, but the second biggest ever found, was found in the late 20th century by a man with a metal detector.  He had the sense to realise that its novelty value was greater than the gold itself and auctioned it.  It sold for approximately twice its metal value, for c$1,000,000 to the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas where it is now on display in the entrance hall.

We watched a gold pour, which was fascinating.  The gold is heated up until liquid, and is in fact heated to a higher temperature than this, because it cools so quickly.  The furnace worker removes the crucible of liquid gold with crucible tongs, places it on a surface beside the ingot mould, lifts the crucible with the pouring tongs, and pours it into the mould.  Instantly the gold starts changing colour as it rapidly cools.  Quite quickly he plunged the ingot mould into water where it briefly, (but only briefly) boiled, then removed it, tapped it upside down and showed us a lovely sparkly solid gold ingot.   The cooling process only took about 2 minutes from pouring gold, to solid ingot.  Amazing. 

We had the opportunity to lift a gold bar in the vault, and it was unbelievably heavy.  There was also a display of ingots from various national mints, and they varied from bars the size of your little finger that were only a quarter inch thick, to the Perth Mint size of c 7"x2.5"x1.5". 

Another interesting fact was about the protective equipment.  The furnace worker wore a light woollen t-shirt (naturally fire resistant and breathable) with helmet and face visor.  He also had an apron and gloves made with woollen backing, kevlar inner and aluminium front layer.  The kevlar was strong to repel accidental spills and the aluminium reflected heat. 

The word Mint, is derived from an anglo-saxon word Mynnt. This means to strike, which is part of the metal working process.

The tour only lasted an hour, but gave a lot of food for thought.  Time well spent.

On our way back, Maurice and I had a look at St Mary's cathedral.  This was a wonderful stone cathedral.  Astonishingly two large sections of wall had been removed and replaced with modern plate glass window sections, which gave an amazing illumination inside the building.  In England the heritage lobby would have prevented this being done, but here, I am surprised to say, it enhanced the cathedral amazingly.  There was a combination of Victorian decoration and detail, alongside modern plate glass decoration at the alter, all giving a light, airy environment for worship.  Not at all like the formality of dim cathedrals in England.  It was a true eye-opener of how imaginative modern architecture can be successfully integrated into old buildings.  Had I not seen it myself, I would have been very derogatory about the potential success of such a plan, but it worked very well.

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