Some people like playing lotto, others like taking a punt on a racehorse and others like to dream of finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If you spend some time fossicking in the gem fields of Central Queensland, you just might find that pot of gold. Who knows? At the very least, you do have a fairly high chance of coming away with something of value.
We recently took a drive out to Rubyvale via Clermont. It was our first time in the Queensland gemfields and it really was a good experience.
We visited the Miners Heritage site, which takes underground mine tours, and then tried our luck with a bucket of dirt. Sadly we didn’t find our fortune, but we did go home with a few small sapphires and a nice zircon that could be cut. Our daughter also found a sapphire large enough for cutting, so it was a good day for all.
There are other mines where you can fossick. We chose Miners Heritage primarily for the underground tour.
The underground mine tour was really interesting and informative. Most gems are found in ancient river beds, just on top of the crust of the earth. Going down the mine tunnel is an easy walk and you get a real thrill looking at the actual crust of the earth, once your right down on the floor of the mine. Another interesting sight was how the digging tool leaves its mark on the tunnel. It’s amazingly soft dirt and an easy dig, especially with the modern tools af today.
You see how the early miners, equipped with just a small shovel, short handled broad pick and a hessian bag to collect the dirt, labored for hours and hours to get down to the earths crust, where the valuable sapphires are found. Luckily the ground in the area is very stable so a mine shaft doesn’t need supports to shore up the ceiling or walls. As long as the miner digs the shaft with a dome roof, safety is assured. Larger flatter roof areas do need to be supported.
The ancient river bed is perhaps just a quarter of a meter in depth, yet can hold many gems if your lucky. Digging anywhere in the gemfields doesn’t guarantee that you’ll even hit an ancient river bed. If you dig down to the earths crust and miss the river bed, you must fill in the hole and start again. Luckily today’s miners have a huge drill that can sink a shaft in a day, making life easier and more profitable.
The tour guide is usually an experienced miner from the local area, so it is more than interesting to listen to them, as they pass out great knowledge. You are some forty meters underground but at no time do you ever feel claustrophobic. The tunnels are well lit and large enough for the biggest person to walk through with ample room.
When you come back to the surface, you can purchase some nice gems from the shop or buy a bucket of dirt and try your luck at the Fossicking Park.
Someone will show you the technique which involves sieving out the sand, washing the remaining rocks, tipping the collection onto a table and hand sorting the spoil for those elusive gems. If you think you can see a gem you are usually right. They do look different from most of the common rocks, so are quite easy to recognize. If you hold it up to the light and can see through it, it is usually a valuable gem. Now the only questions remaining, is it big enough to be cut and polished and are there too many flaws in the gem?
You get a little plastic bag to put your gems into and when you are finished with fossicking through your bucket, you can take your collection back to the shop and an experienced person will look at them for you and grade your find. Simple and quite thrilling. Most finds are small sapphires but you never know. That’s why it’s thrilling.
You can go and fossick for gems in unclaimed areas by purchasing a license, digging your own hole and hoping that the gods will smile upon you. You can rent the necessary equipment, which is great if your staying for a for days or even several weeks. If you strike it big, you may stay forever, like so many of the local residents.
Rubyvale and the near by town of Sapphire are well known for the quantity and quality of the gems that have been recovered in the area. There is a “Big Sapphire” at Anarkie and the small community of Willows is another mining town that is situated in the central Queensland gemfields.
There is plenty of accommodation options available in the gemfields, with hotels, motels and caravan parks in each town. It’s a easy drive from larger towns such as Clermont or Emerald, ideal for a day trip. The gemfields are roughly a 4 hour drive from Rockhampton via the Capricorn Highway.
It’s an interesting area and well worth visiting. You could be the one to find that next big gem.
(Images copyright @ Tanya Puntti. Used with permission.)