Tyler Mahoney doesn’t fit the image of a gold prospector as a bearded old coot with a pick gripped in one hand and a shotgun hanging from the other.
The onetime model is the modern face of mining for gold and has been breaking down sexual barriers as well as digging up precious metals most of her life.
Mahoney is the 27-year-old Australian star of the hit Discovery Channel show Gold Rush and has just written a book about her life titled Gold Digger.
The memoir covers a childhood spent fossicking in the desert with her family before a brief big-city foray and eventual return to what she says is her true calling.
It describes a male-dominated industry where discrimination is rife and workplace sexual harassment still includes men asking women to bend over.
And it also reveals the extraordinary lengths to which treasure hunters struck with gold fever will go in search of untold riches buried below the ground.
Tyler Mahoney doesn’t fit the image of a gold prospector as a bearded old coot with a pick gripped in one hand and a shotgun hanging from the other. She is the star of the Discovery Channel show Gold Rush and has just written a book called Gold Digger
Mahoney’s memoir covers a childhood spent fossicking in the desert with her family before a brief modelling stint and eventual return to what she says is her true calling. She says she would have to write ‘a whole other book’ to describe very time she was sexually harassed
The allure of gold has not diminished over the centuries and Mahoney still gets excited about a big find.
‘It is such a dopamine rush,’ she says. ‘It’s quite addictive, hence the gold fever. It’s like when you win the lotto or on a scratchy – a big rush of excitement.
‘It’s even more exciting when it’s your income and you’re only making as much as you’re finding.’
Mahoney’s biggest find was a 5 ounce nugget but she also located an ironstone lode which produced ten times that weight.
On a normal day, the family records their finds in grams (gold was about $85 a gram this week) and on a good day in ounces ($2,600).
‘I don’t get a set salary from gold prospecting,’ Mahoney says. ‘I get paid in gold.
‘Every day is different and it depends on what we are finding. It’s not a secure income at all. Some days it’s baked beans and some days it’s lobster.’
Mahoney, who has also starred in Gold Rush: Parker’s Trial, is aware of the image of a typical prospector but says the internet has attracted people to the pursuit from all walks of life
‘The stereotype is definitely an old man with a beard swinging a pick over his shoulder,’ she says. ‘Which I definitely am not.
‘I think people having this image in their mind isn’t inherently sexist as it is normally how prospectors look but how they treat me after meeting me is what is telling.’
Mahoney’s parents Ted and Lecky are full-time gold prospectors and she now works with them alongside her brother Reece on tenements outside of Kalgoorlie. Driving a loader (above is her favourite job at the family’s mine
Mahoney says gold mining is still dominated by men and there is ‘a very long way to go’ before women reach equality with their male counterparts.
‘As a woman it is very hard to get a place at the table and then when you’re at the table it’s bloody hard to be respected and heard,’ she says.
‘I watched my mum experience sexism, she was never taken seriously as a prospector like my dad was.’
Mahoney recalls when the family owned a dealership a man came into the shop wanting to sell his ‘gold’.
‘I told him it wasn’t real gold and he yelled and carried on that he wanted to see the boss because I had no idea what I was talking about,’ Mahoney says.
‘I got Mum and he still wasn’t happy and said, “I want to see the real boss, I know a man works here”.
‘Dad heard what was going on and told me to tell him to get out of out of the shop, so I did.’
Mahoney’s biggest find was a 5 ounce nugget but she also located an ironstone lode which produced ten times that weight. Pictured above is 7 ounce nugget her father found on one of their prospecting trips worth about $20,000
Mahoney says she would need to write ‘a whole other book’ if she were to record every time she had been sexually harassed or faced discriminatory behaviour.
‘Until you have been on the other end of it your whole life you won’t understand the implications that come with it,’ she says.
Australia’s Gold Rush was not all about men
Mahoney believes the role of women in the original Gold Rush which started in Australia in 1851 has been largely ignored.
‘The heroes of the Gold Rush, the places towns are named after, and the people who started it all are all men,’ she says.
‘The women who were holding the forts at home, teaching the children and saving the lives of them men as nurses are rarely spoken about. Their roles were equally as important though.’
‘We should be able to go to work without men making comments on our bodies and making us feel objectified.
‘I’m at work to do a job, not for a fully-grown adult man to ask me to bend over again.’
Mahoney is a fourth-generation prospector whose great-grandfather Ned has a large patch of productive ground he discovered named after him on the Murchison goldfields of Western Australia.
‘The next generation is my beautiful grandmother Nola,’ Mahoney says. ‘She loved prospecting and definitely had gold fever.
‘There weren’t many woman prospecting in her time so she definitely helped paved the way for me to come through.’
Mahoney describes growing up on the fields as ‘quite different’, with her friends spending holidays at the beach while she trekked with her family to outback locations.
‘We spent most of my childhood in places hundreds of kilometres from the closest town but we loved it,’ she says. ‘I am so appreciative of the childhood I had.
‘We would run amok out bush, riding dirt bikes, exploring old shafts, chasing goannas. We didn’t even have electricity after dark when we were out bush. No TVs or computers or any technology.’
Mahoney did not always know she would make a career of gold prospecting.
Mahoney grappled with an eating disorder for years and has been diagnosed as bipolar. She is pictured (L-R) winding down with a beer alongside Gold Rush co-star Parker Schnabel and producers Fred Lewis and Danny Etheridge
At 19 she moved from the goldfields to Melbourne to pursue modelling and open a business selling jewellery she designed.
‘I also did some events management,’ she says. ‘But after a couple of years I came back to the goldfields because I knew the gold world was where I belonged.’
Mahoney’s parents Ted and Lecky are full-time gold prospectors and she now works with them alongside her brother Reece on tenements outside of Kalgoorlie.
Reece drives an excavator while Mahoney and her dad operate a loader. All the family use metal detectors, and do research, exploration, panning, testing and processing.
‘It is physically demanding work,’ Mahoney says. ‘We are out in the elements all days in the outback, so it’s hot and there are flies.
‘The biggest danger would be the remoteness – you can’t really muck up because help isn’t always a phone call away.’
The family works all over the Western Australian goldfields, ‘depending on what’s going on’. In the winter they conduct exploration looking for new ground and in summer work closer to home.
‘To be a prospector you need to know how to read the ground, follow the gold and know the best way to mine the gold.’
Left to right: Tyler is dark red top is pictured with her brother, far left, dad, left and her cousins during one of their prospecting trips in the Outback
Tyler and her father Ted at Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia while filming with a specialised underwater metal detector for Aussie Gold Hunters in 2018
Mahoney, who grappled with an eating disorder for years, has been diagnosed as bipolar and says that condition has parallels with gold prospecting.
‘My bipolar mind tends to chase dopamine hits and it does love chaos,’ she says. ‘Gold prospecting is so unknown, with no schedules, no secure pay, big finds, and big rushes.
‘I just get so restless and bored working a 9-5 job that my brain starts seeking those dopamine hits in other places. Prospecting keeps me sane.’
Mahoney’s boyfriend Jake is an excavator operator at a big gold mine in Kalgoorlie but says it can be hard to find love in the desert.
‘It’s definitely slim pickings when you live in a remote location but even more so trying to find someone who supports my career when it means we spend a lot time apart,’ she says.
‘I was only home for two months of 2022 so it’s good Jake is very supportive and secure.’
As well as mining and appearing on television Mahoney runs a business providing resources for those interested in the industry called The Prospectors Club.
She also hosts a podcast called Let’s Unpack That which she calls ‘a place for me to share my mental health journey and help give people insight into bipolar.’
‘I don’t necessarily do a good job of juggling it all,’ she says of her busy workload.
Gold Digger by Tyler Mahoney is published by Affirm Press and is available now
‘I just do the best job I can. Sometimes I drop the ball. I just try to prioritise the important balls like family and friends and my mental health.’
For most people prospecting for gold is not a quick way to get rich, Mahoney says.
‘These days it’s extremely hard. I am very lucky that I was born into a family who have ground, contacts and generational knowledge.’
What prospectors consider ‘good ground’ is much harder to acquire than it was 20 years ago and gold is becoming increasingly hard to find.
‘You have to be really on top of your game to make it work,’ Mahoney says. ‘Gold is never in the easiest of places because if it was everyone would be out there finding it.
Mahoney has enjoyed working in television and likes meeting people who are interested in the world of gold.
‘I am definitely still a bit of bogan from the bush but I do get recognised from the shows, which is nice.’
Gold Digger by Tyler Mahoney is published by Affirm Press and can be bought here.
How ‘gold fever’ led to a prospector finding a dead body in the desert
Tyler Mahoney reckons there is definitely a state of mind that can accurately be called gold fever.
‘Gold fever is the contagious excitement of a gold rush,’ she says.
‘And anyone who has been in the gold world knows how much it can change people.
‘We have seen it ruin friendships and change people for the worse.
‘Gold really impacts some people in a negative way and brings out their worst traits.
‘All of the crazy stories from the gold underbelly stem from people having gold fever.
‘Our family have a rule now because of what people with gold fever have done to us, we don’t work with anyone but family, and only very selective family.’
Mahoney tells a story she says shows the ‘underbelly’ driven by gold fever.
One time a rookie prospector was in the middle of the desert and found a vial of flakes in a place not known for gold.
‘He took them into my parents’ gold dealership and my parents urged him to go back and have a look around because it was a very bizarre find,’ Mahoney says.
‘Some time passed and he came back into the shop after being out in the desert.
‘He walked in looking like he had seen a ghost, which actually wasn’t too far off.
‘He looked around the vial and ended up finding a dead body hidden behind some old branches in a little cave.
‘The experience had really shaken him and he left without telling us any more details.’