The new platinum koala which has the platinum coin market virtually to itself - is stirring up new interest and visibility for Australia's ambitious gold program.

As chief executive of the newly formed Gold Corp., Don MacKay-Coghill is the architect of a strategy designed to provide Australia with maximum returns on its booming gold production. The Perth company, wholly owned and guaranteed by the state of Western Australia, was created through a merger of the Western Australian Mint and its marketing arm GoldCorp Australia.The koalas are expected to help create new outlets for the 1-year-old Australian nugget gold coins. "We felt in order to support the nugget it was necessary to have an overall precious metals plan," he said in explaining how the koalas fit into Australia's gold picture. "Whatever we do is ancillary and to support gold . . . what the koala has done is created excitement."

Dealers must take the gold nugget if they want the platinum koala. "The koala is a catalyst to support the nugget. It is creating distribution for us," MacKay-Coghill said.

Bruce Kaplan, senior vice president of A-Mark Precious Metals Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif., wholesaler, said: "It's the first platinum bullion coin to be issued by a major nation ever. There has only been the Noble by the tiny Isle of Man, a tiny country between England and Ireland. It is presently the leading and only platinum bullion coin in the world and it was issued in 1983."

He said there have been some special issue, numismatic platinum coins but "they are not for the average investor." Kaplan said the koala "looks like it's going to be a blockbuster. It's not just because it's the first platinum bullion from a major, popular country, but also because (people) love the koalas. It's like the (Chinese) panda. It's a wonderful design concept."

Gold Corp. selected platinum over silver because it was a new market and platinum is rare. Only 90 tons of platinum are produced worldwide annually, compared to 1,500 tons of gold.

The koala image was used partly to position the coin toward the Japanese market, which accounts for 50 percent of world demand for platinum, according to MacKay-Coghill. Gold Corp. buys its platinum from Japan where the blanks are manufactured and shipped to Perth for minting.

A day after the platinum coins were introduced in Tokyo and even before any advertising broke, 4,093 ounces of the platinum koalas were sold at prices between $510 to $520 an ounce, according to MacKay-Coghill. Platinum prices have been drifting downward from more than $600 an ounce four months ago.

"It's not only an industrial metal," he explained about platinum, "but a burgeoning investment metal, so there is a lot of interest in it. I knew we were coming up with the right product at the right time. But the reaction has exceeded my expectation."

The nugget was Australia's first attempt to crack the bullion coin market. Australian officials consulted with MacKay-Coghill, who had shepherded the debut and marketing of the krugerrand when he was chief executive of International Gold Corp., the marketing arm for South African gold mining industry.