GOLD miners are leading a stampede back into central Victoria after a spectacular fall from grace.
There are now 20 companies scouring 70 tracts of land for minerals including gold in the Bendigo Advertiser's readership area, according to a Minerals Council of Australia analysis.
The Advertiser's patch stretches from Echuca to Kyneton and from Donald to Stanhope.
Mining regulator Earth Resources is sorting through more than 120 exploration applications, 66 of which are in central Victoria.
Yet, less than a decade ago many investors shunned mining companies and explorers struggled to get people excited about the reputed 73 million ounces still thought buried beneath Victoria's crust.
In those days, investors chastened by the Global Financial Crisis did not believe Victorian gold exploration was worth the risk, Navarre Minerals' managing director Geoff McDermott said.
"We were listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2011 and at the time no-one wanted to know anything about gold, in part because of what had happened at Bendigo," he said.
What happened in Bendigo - and at another site in Ballarat - is that ambitious projects built up expectations of a gold revival, Mr McDermott said.
"They were never able to deliver," he said.
Companies Unity Mining and Bendigo Mining built and ran a $350 million tunnel under this city's centre at around about the start of the new millennium.
The tunnel was supposed to open up 12 million ounces of gold.
Miners found some undiscovered gold there, just nowhere near enough, Melbourne Mining Club chairman Richard Morrow said.
"The gold price fell down and people lost interest," he said.
The Kangaroo Flat mine never went away but owners GBM Gold have so far not been able to fulfill its aspirations for the site, including a gold exploration target of between two and six million ounces.
Meanwhile, investors have rediscovered Victoria.
"You will probably see $150 million dollars of exploration spending across Victoria for gold this calendar year, and maybe a similar amount next year," Mr Morrow said.
The change is partly about gold prices, which have surged over the last decade. It was at $2,578.71 per ounces on Friday - about $2000 up on what Unity Mining was basing key decisions on in 2004.
The price is probably the best in dollar terms that it has ever been, Mr McDermott said.
"That's driving people to look for the yellow metal, and its allowing groups like ours to do a lot of exploration," he said.
But something else has happened in Victoria in the years since investors were spooked.
Miners have struck the mother lode 24 km away from Bendigo, in Fosterville.
Fosterville: the mine that won't stop giving
Kirkland Lake Gold's Fosterville's mine has completely changed how investors see Victorian gold, every industry insider contacted for this story said.
It seems that every exploration company scouring central Victoria for gold wants to talk up how close it is to Fosterville.
GBM Resources (not to be confused with the owners of the Kangaroo Flat mine GBM Gold) boasts of a site 55km south of Fosterville; Competitor Kalamazoo Resources last week told the Australian Stock Market its new exploration zone is roughtly the same distance away.
"In fact, there is a newly created company called Fosterville South. And yes, it too is close to Fosterville," Mr Morrow said.
Mr McDermott's company is no different. Navarre and its partner Catalyst Minerals Limited have multiple sites including one near Dingee, on a fault line shared with Fosterville.
For many years, Mr McDermott's group was among some of the few that kept exploring in central Victoria.
He is not frustrated that Fosterville got in first, partly because his company was able to get in before the rush and reserve what it considers prime spots for gold.
"What Fosterville has done is ... allowed us to raise the funds to do a lot of exploration activity. We've now got the funds to do things we would never have been able to achieve in the past."
Doubts remain that explorers can strike it rich
Not everyone is optimistic about Victoria's gold prospects.
Mining observer Ian Magee spent years on a community committee monitoring the operations of Unity Mining, Bendigo Mining and then GBM Gold.
He fears investors are wasting their money during this latest rush to explore Victoria.
"Very few explorations actually develop to the state where someone actually applies for a mining licence, and even less will dig or even get to a point where they find gold," Mr Magee said.
"It's an easy way to persuade an investor. You point to all these machines and say that you are putting a hole in next year, the next shafts and tunnels.
"After all those years most have had multiple owners and hardly any have returned money to the normal investors. It's the people who provide services like geologists, consultants and equipment suppliers who get money."
Miners have a one in 660 chance of making a discovery that leads to a mine, according to statistics provided by the Minerals Council of Australia.
It can then take an average of 12 years before miners can start digging.
Mr Morrow said he did come across similar skepticism about investing in gold.
"That's the nature of exploration. It's high-risk," he said.
"But the science of looking through the crust of the earth has developed over the last 20 years, so explorers can make a more educated guess about where they might find gold."
Mr McDermott says the odds of someone in Victoria striking gold that can one day be mined are "very high".
"Particularly now that a lot of people are looking for it. The technology's there and we are starting to look through areas that have never been looked at before," he said.
"It's just a matter of time."