Intervention: Willows Gem field, Central Queensland
The Willows Gem fields sapphire
fossicking area is easily accessed by a ll kilometre sealed road branching
from the right hand side of the Capricorn Highway about 30 km west of
Anakie on the road to Longreach.
Unfortunately we weren't able
to camp on the gem fields but nevertheless .enjoyed a couple of days in
the spartan surrounds of the Willows Gem field Caravan Park which was
frequented mainly by retirees who made the pilgrimage each winter to try
We found them to be a friendly
and helpful bunch but needless to say they didn't exactly provide explicit
directions to the location of their favourite fossicking patches.
The Caravan Park had a bush
camp atmosphere and abounded in wood pigeons, rainbow lorikeets
and other chirping winged things that we couldn't name. Although I have
been often accused of being an avid "bird" watcher, Anita decided
that an ornithologist would be a more authoritive source for the identification
of these feathered varieties.
....and then the hunt was on!
Part of the deal with the Caravan
Park was a free fossicking demonstration if you booked in for three nights
or so and although we were confident of finding our fortune on the first
day we took up their kind offer anyway.
Like all hopefuls we hit the
gem fields fuelled with optimism and overdosed on enthusiasm. Armed with
a truckload of sieves, shovels, picks and other assorted implements we
had scrounged, we expected to be soon filling a bucket or two with sparkling
As arranged, we had dutifully
followed the Park manager, John, to the spot he had carefully selected.
Actually it turned out to be where his ute unexpectedly stopped with a
fuel blockage but he probably figured that one place was as good as another
and it would keep a couple of novices like us out of mischief for a few
John asked whether we had ever
divined for sapphires and then produced two small L shaped aluminium rods
that he suggested could be used to identify a likely fossicking patch.
He then proceeded to demonstrate
the use of the devices, holding the short side of the L's loosely in each
hand and the long sides stretched out before him, parallel to each other
and the ground.
"You have to think sapphires"
he said as he marched forward, rods outstretched before him...a bit like
twin Dialec (Dr Who) probes.
The rods moved gently towards
each other and then crossed...like a pair of scissors...supposedly indicating
where the sapphires resided in the ground below. He then marked the spot
by scratching his boot in the dirt.
John then offered Anita the
opportunity to try her luck divining...she followed his instructions faithfully...and,
voila, the rods crossed.
...if you placed any credence
in divining...the place was bristling with acres of the sparkling little
...so then it was my turn and
I tried my luck with the metal rods...well, I could have walked to Brisbane
and back and they wouldn't have moved !
Precious (Anita) muttered something
like "it's cause you're not a believer".
Well ain't that the truth...I
reckon if you closed your eyes and tossed the rods over your shoulder
you would have had better luck identifying a patch to fossick.
Anyway, I stood back and let
John perform the rest of his theatrics.
Using the point at which his
rods had crossed as a sort of notional centre, he dragged his boot across
the ground, roughly scribing a square in the red dirt, with sides about
a metre and a half long.
He then explained that we had
to dig down to the sapphire bearing alluvial wash layer which was located
under a covering of clay...and varied in depth from a couple of centimetres
to a couple of metres.
Conveniently, the area he had
chosen was free of trees and other debris. So we (I dug...but we went
fossicking!) commenced digging.
After digging at a frenetic
pace for half an hour or so, and to a depth of about half a metre, the
alluvial wash layer was encountered. It turned out to be about as thick
as tobacco paper...and was almost devoid of stones, let alone sapphire
bearing gravel. I reckon you would've had more chance of finding a sapphire
in a Christmas pudding!
Dejected by the labours of our
first morning's digging and sieving, we had no more than prolific beads
of perspiration to show for our efforts and decided to redirect our attention
in the afternoon, digging in an abandoned pit someone else had started.
In hindsight, we should have realised that it had already been relieved
of anything that remotely resembled a sapphire...if, in fact they really
Tired, and a little despondent
we called it a day.
Crack of dawn..day two
We even beat the birds up at
dawn and were the first out of the Park to the gemfields....We had elected
to find a "better" place to fossick.
I decided fossicking had to
be approached in a more scientific way.
Way back in my hazy past, "when
I was young and beautiful" as women would say, I had worked as a
cadet geologist. I thought that some of the experience I had gained with
stream bed sediment sampling might come in handy. That is...you find a
watercourse, find the outside of a bend in it and then sample the material
that has accumulated at that point.
The theory is that flash storms,
and the resulting torrents of water generated, tend to carry pebbles and
stones in suspension and deposit the the heavier material on the outside
of the bends...where the water looses speed.
...and sapphires have a relatively
high specific gravity.
So we set about finding a gully
and a bit of a creek at its base and isolated a bend to commence digging.
I suppose its a bit like a curve
isn't it...depends which side of it you are on to determine whether it's
concave or convex...but needless to say I had the theory right...but,
as precious pointed out, I was starting to dig on the inside of the bend.
...Subconsciously I think I
had selected this side because of its very absence of rocks and boulders...less
After graciously admitting what
should have been patently obvious to the informed, I repositioned my activities
on the "real" outside of the bend and set about moving the overburden
which comprised large pebbles and rocks... it was like moving house bricks
with a shovel.
I was driven...digging like
a dog in a flower garden.. and within two hours I had gouged out a respectable
sized hole, about two metres long by one and a half metres wide and just
over half a metre deep...moving over a tonne of material!
...but I had encountered the
tell tale signs of ash coloured sapphire bearing gravel...it was a start.
Anita assisted with the primary
sorting of material, using a tripod mounted sieve we had borrowed from
the Park, and wet sieved the graded gravel in a cut down petrol drum half
filled with water. (Water was in particularly short supply, but we had
been creative little vegemites and had captured the residual of a brief
thunderstorm off our caravan awning the night before.)
No more than half a dozen buckets
of wash gravel was put through the sieves when we found "colour"...our
first live gemstone. It was a greenish coloured star sapphire, with its
telltale metallic lustre.
We were relieved that our efforts
had at last been rewarded.
Armed with the satisfaction
that if we found nothing further we would not leave empty handed, I continued
to dig...punishing myself further by moving a couple of tonne of parched,
A couple of hours past without
further luck and we retired, victorious...leaving as our legacy a crater
sized hole for some other hopeful to further pursue.