Australia experienced a major increase in gold production during the 1980s, and this is reflected in the production of ~250 tonnes of gold per annum since then. Much of the production has come from the Archean Yilgarn Craton of Western Australia, and mostly from gold-only deposits. Discovery is the factor best accounting for the outperformance of Yilgarn gold production in a global context, and both greenfield and brownfield exploration success have been essential. Scientific input to gold exploration evolved rapidly from 1980 and is implicated in the exploration success in the Yilgarn. Six scientific breakthroughs had changed the nature of almost all Yilgarn gold exploration thinking by 1990 and appear to have been important components of the exploration success. Breakthroughs relate to primary gold geology (timing and structural control, favourable host rocks, gold-related alteration), and gold in the regolith environment (landscape evolution, gold geochemistry, targeted sampling). These six breakthroughs changed paradigms from which the Western Australian industry has not reverted. These breakthroughs were not necessarily a key part of the original aims of the researchers. Common features in the development of the breakthroughs were small, but persistent, research groups with an understanding of industry, a willingness to challenge dogma, development of informal industry linkages and the ability to formulate and tackle key questions. Breakthroughs led to applications not considered when the research was conceived. The breakthrough ideas were eventually available globally, but they were not equally applicable and not equally accepted and adopted. An openness to new ideas may correlate with the massive and ongoing exploration success witnessed in the Yilgarn goldfields.