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Georgetown to Mount Surprise: In quest of a fortune - fossicking for Gold and Topaz


This former gold mining town in situated on the Gulf Development Road (Savannah Way) in north western Queensland, on the banks of the Etheridge River. It's a popular destination for gold prospectors and is roughly 400 km south west of Cairns on the route to the Gulf of Carpenteria port of Karumba, located just 300 km away.

Like much of regional Australia it is in the grip of drought and the country could well and truly do with a good soaking drink.

We stayed at the Goldfields Caravan Park in the township where the residents were sprinkled under tall shady trees. The park proprietors were very friendly, sociable people and hosted a weekly sausage sizzle for the residents...with a range of tasty snags, potatoes in their jackets and a variety of salads...and for $4.00 a head, it was a veritable feast and a great way to meet and chat with other gold seeking hopefuls.

Powered sites were only $10.00 a night...the cheapest we have encountered on our trip so far, and less expensive than the unpowered National Park campsites we've stayed in.

We metal detected around Georgetown on private land that had once been mined for gold (with permission of the land owner) but had no the abundance of nails, rivets, brass buttons and bullets that caused numerous near coronaries.

To top it off, the two chaps residing in the park on the adjacent site returned from their day detecting very disappointed with the fruits of their labours...two small pieces of gold weighing several grams....geez, a gold painted rock would have had us doing cartwheels around the Park!!


Georgetown Goldfields Caravan Park


Georgetown Goldfields Caravan Park


Newcastle Range


A wall of rock created by an outcropping dyke(resistant volcanic material) forming part of the Newcastle Range, traversed between Georgetown and Mount Surprise.


Einasleigh River


Approaching Mount Surprise...the vista from the road bridge over the Einasleigh River


Mount Surprise

About 92 km east of Georgetown, towards Cairns, on the Savannah Way, Mount Surprise is the gateway to the O'Briens Creek Gemfields, world famous for its gem quality topaz.

road train Mount Surprise

I was a little embarrassed when Rod deliberately parked the Prado and van in front of a Road Train parked opposite a roadhouse at Mount Surprise... "to get a photo of the two rigs together"as he put it!.

The only thing they have in common is 6 cylinders.

Some statistics to ponder:

The Toyota (Prado), as kitted out for the trip, has four wheels on the ground and two spares....the cost of each...about $280.

It has a main fuel tank of 90 litres and an auxiliary tank of some 69 litres.

Its overall length is 4.75 metres, its tare weight is about 1.7 tonne and its gross vehicle mass is about 2.7 tonne. "It currently carries one bullock and one old cow".

The powerplant under the bonnet is a six cylinder toyota petrol engine with a maximum power output of 154 kilowatts. It has a manual transmission with 5 forward gears.

Its top speed when towing...well Rod has been reasonably well behaved to date...say about 120 kilometres per hour. Queensland State limit is 100 kilometres...but 90 in Western Australia?

...On the other hand, compare the road train...

It's a Volvo, it has 62 tyres on the ground and carries 10 spares....the average cost of each being in the vicinity of $500. The front tyres (steering) on the prime mover alone cost about $750 a piece.

The prime mover has a fuel capacity of 2000 litres and it carries an extra 800 litres in a belly tank on the first trailer. Average fuel consumption is about 1 litre per one kilometre.

Its overall length is about 51.5 metres, its tare weight is about 62 tonne and gross vehicle mass in the vicinity of 140 tonne. It has the capacity to carry around 300 weaner calves or 144 fat cows or 120 bullocks.

The powerplant under the bonnet is a six cylinder cummins diesel with a maximum power output of over 4200 kilowatts (565 horsepower). It has a manual transmission with 14 forward gears.

Its top speed when towing is 90 kilometres per hour...the motor is governed, and the speed is the legal limit for road trains, imposed by the State of Queensland.

Don Condon and his road train

A special thanks to Don Condon (insert above) who owns the real rig, aptly named "the long yard" and so kindly provided an insight into road trains. Don has been a livestock transporter, operating out of Charters Towers, for the last 28 years. And he was a great bloke to chat with.

Incidentally, if you've ever laid in bed dreaming about owning a road will set you back somewhere in the vicinity of $700-$750,000 all up. The prime mover (the bit with the engine) will cost you at least $300,000 to start with.

O'Briens Creek Gemfield - Topaz Hunting

We camped at Mount Surprise Station's designated camping area, adjacent to O'Briens Creek Gemfield and did some serious digging for Topaz (well Rod dug...and I sieved...a bit!

We stayed two days...beating the crows up each morning...and arriving at the site we had selected almost punctually at 7:00 am...then digging and sieving frenetically for several hours each day.

For our efforts we secured a dozen or so facetable stones, mainly clear...and a couple of pieces which were pale blue. Not bad for the amount of material we (Rod) had moved. We also found a couple of smoky quartz crystals.

On the day of our departure, we surrendered the huge hole we had created to an elderly couple who had arrived on the field a couple of hours before and appeared unlikely of meeting with much success without such divine intervention!

Our campsite was idyllic, located on the banks of a picturesque creek studded with numerous granite outcrops and a permanent waterhole.

It was reasonably warm while we were there and the waterhole was so inviting that we donned our togs and ventured in for a dip....well Rod did...I chickened out...getting no further than the waters edge.

Fingerlings, baby barrumundi presumably, started nibbling at my toes and fingers as I ventured I chickened out. Rod was more adventurous, however, and swum with the little critters.

Since he is still with us, in all his bulk, I can only deduce that the fish were not pirahna's...and there were no crocs OR if there were, they were more discerning about their diet.

topaz & quartz at O'Briens Creek


Some of the topaz, and bits of smoky quartz, found at O'Briens Creek on day one...if you look hard, you will see that one or two pieces have a bluish tinge of colour.