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Divine 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 their luck.

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 Rainbow Lorikeets at Willows Gemfieldslorikeets 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 sapphires.

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 days.

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.

"Yeah right"

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 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 beasts. 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!panning for saphires

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 existed.

Tired, and a little despondent we called it a day.

Crack of 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 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 work!!

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 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.digging for gemstones

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, compacted earth.

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.


green star saphire
The little green star saphire (larger than actual size)


kangaroo at our caravan door

One of the locals dropped by for a visit.