THERE'S fair, if not spectacular, farm country on the Loddon plains north of Bendigo.
Reasonable for crops in a good year, same for sheep feed if the conditions are right.
Often a chunk of quartz will mysteriously pop up behind a local farmer's plough.
Many people are convinced the fabulously rich Bendigo goldfield extends underneath these undramatic paddocks right through Raywood, Tandarra and including Dingee.
Two ASX-listed companies have drilled thousands of holes in the past decade in the race to map it.
They've already found the lines of quartz reef, about 60 metres deep under dirt and clay.
The exposed reefs of Bendigo just 40km to the south, for a decade before the turn of the 20th century the richest single spot on the planet, are here as well, buried under the shallow silt of the Murray floodplain.
Exploration companies and their investors are not the only ones who are excited.
The Victorian Government has joined this gold rush as well.
Its own studies suggest a "second Bendigo" is buried here, $35 billion worth of gold kicks a fair bit of iron ore in the faces of those royalty rich governments in the west.
There's still some way to go before any local farmer needs to get happily nervous about an open-cut mine like Fosterville trying to lease or buy his land.
Investors need to stay interested for a few more years of drilling yet as they zero in on the mother lode.
Tasmanian-born geologist Geoff McDermott knows the hourly fluctuations of the gold price better than he knows the temperature outside his office at Navarre Minerals in Stawell.
The global financial crisis stopped all exploration in this area for three years and while gold prices stay high, so does the interest in his company's shares. His best bet is mining would start later this decade.
"Mother nature does not give up her secrets without a fight," Mr McDermott, Navarre's managing director and veteran gold explorer, said.
West Australian miner Catalyst Metals is also drilling in the Tandarra area.
It claims to be only three years away from mining its Four Eagles line of reef. Both miners are happy to be exploring virgin ground, particularly in central Victoria, where the ground has been well picked over.
Catalyst said it was only modern exploring methods which have allowed them to "see" the northerly extension of the reef underneath these flat farms.
"All the easy stuff was taken by the old-timers, they didn't leave much behind," Mr McDermott said.
The Government helped with mapping and historical research, a valuable aid to companies trying to woo anxious investors.
Victoria has produced 80 million ounces of gold since the 1850s and the Department of Primary Industries estimates there could be another 80 million ounces to be found.
It's worth remembering Bendigo produced 22 million ounces.
Drilling results since Leviathan Resources poked around underground in this area have been uniformly good but the geology was hard to understand.
Gold detecting on this scale is all about folds in the earth, fault lines - and strong nerves.
Navarre listed on the stock exchange only a couple of years ago but only after stumping up the millions of dollars needed to convince the market it was a serious player able to fund its exploration program.
The initial offering came up short and Mr McDermott mortgaged his house and leaned on friends to get a few thousand dollars over the line.
Shares listed for about 20 cents apiece and then dipped alarmingly.
"I took money from my friends, my family ... I was feeling pretty crook about it."
There is a picture on the office wall next to the receptionist as you walk into the company offices, the town's old nurses home. It is a football premiership-type shot of staff with arms in the air while sitting around the boardroom table.
They had just informed the ASX about a drill result on their Tandarra prospect.
The quartz core brought up by the drill included a handful of little gold nuggets.
Officially it was a "a high-grade drill intercept measuring one metre at 33.6 grams of gold per tonne and 44 metres in depth".
Navarre made sure a nice big photograph of those little nuggets, made life-size, appeared as part of the announcement.
Shares zoomed up to 30 cents, 40 cents, 50 cents and kept climbing. Mr McDermott's had not lost any friends, he'd made a whole lot more.
The picture on the office wall included the share graph for that day as well.
"For everyone it was excitement, for me it was relief," Mr McDermott said.
Now to find the extent of that reef, make sure it is on top of a hill under all that soil, as close as possible to the surface.
Until the ingots start to be poured and the mine makes its own money, they need the best possible prospect and close to the surface means it's cheaper to mine. They use the results of seismic lines, gravity readings and other technical aids to try to pinpoint their drill teams.
Navarre alone has used diamond and air core drilling to pepper the Tandarra landscape with about 600 holes and 30,000 metres of drilling.
They expect results to get even better as they close in with next year's drilling.
Mr McDermott said the local community kept a close eye on the miners and published their results in a monthly community newsletter.
"Some people like to know what's under their feet, some people might be wondering if they'll be rich if they want to mine their farm, others might be looking for jobs, but there is a lot of interest," he said.
"There's a bit of detective work to do yet," Mr McDermott said.