Sapphire and other Gem Related Places.
Leaving Carnarvon Gorge(ous), our journey continued, via Emerald, on route to Sapphire in the heart of the region known as The Gemfields. This is a place that hasn’t seen rain for a very long time and somewhere around Emerald, the air begins to smell like dust, (some might say bulldust) and the scent clings to everything you own. After a quick stop for supplies in the city of Emerald, (no sign of the wizard, but we were definitely in the land of Oz) we completed the last leg to the small town of Sapphire.
Upon arrival at Sapphire, you are greeted by a large metal sculpture
and a sign promising untold riches
Don’t believe a word of it, however don’t let this blatant lie deter you, this place is absolutely worth the visit.
The plan was to spend our first night at the Sapphire Caravan Park, as we were both in need of a hot shower, laundry facilities and 240volts to charge the devices that became essential to my life somewhere around the year 2000. The Sapphire Caravan Park is a quirky little gem with a great atmosphere, friendly management, but odd taste in statuary.
We also got our first taste of the locals’ odd obsession with signs, but more on that later.
After a good night’s sleep, feeling clean and energized, we moved on to the fossick/campsite where we’d be spending the next two nights, a place with the unlikely name of Big Bessie. We were attracted to the spot, not because it sounded like it was named after an 1890’s vaudeville performer, but because it was close to town, would allow me to try my luck at some fossicking and only cost $3.50 a night. What we hadn’t known was the place came with one other special attraction. This guy.
This little Rainbow Lorikeet was literally waiting for us when we arrived. Obviously, people had been feeding him and he was only one step away from domestication as the photos clearly show. (This is why it’s a bad idea to feed wildlife people. They become dependent and as this was the end of the tourist season, they can starve to death, not to mention how bad junk food is for animals, including people.) He wasn’t alone either. The next day he returned, despite the disappointing lack of titbits and brought a friend, a Pied Butcher Bird, coming to the door like some cute avian vagabond, looking for a handout.
These weren’t the only visitors we had. During the night we had a wallaby, (too camera-shy to be photographed) and a brushtailed possum looking to see if we’d left anything out for the birds, I suspect.
All these feathered and furry friends were cute, but I had come to make my fortune, like Smiley, as promised on the tourist billboard. So armed with sieves, water, digging tools and a laughable lack of knowledge, I tried my hand at finding a gem that might cover our holiday expenses and possibly fund our early retirement.
All I managed to do was wash some rocks and turn some silt into mud. It became apparent I needed help, and not just the psychiatric kind. Luckily for me there are a number of options in town, where they will show you how to do it all properly, supply the correct equipment and give you dirt to dig in that’s pretty much guaranteed to contain some of the elusive gems. (The term for this is “Wash” and it is basically the best part of the soil dug up from the actual mines. It turns out that Big Bessie has been pretty well picked clean over the last few decades, so it wasn’t entirely my fault I came up empty.)
We chose Gemfields Fossicking Park as it was empty, thus saving me from the embarrassment of displaying my amateurish lack of fossicking skills. A quick lesson from the nice man who owned the park, and for fifteen bucks we got the lesson, a bucket of wash (which I dug meself) and a cup of tea each for the wife and me, and soon I was finding the pretty little gemstones like I actually knew what I was doing.
I didn’t make our fortune, but for an hour or so, we had fun, learned a lot, found a few gems and had a thoroughly enjoyable chat to the bloke in charge about the history of Sapphire and it’s many characters. If you happen to travel to this small town in central Queensland, I really recommend you check out this place, you may not leave rich, but you will leave with a wealth of knowledge. We also learned that half of the area’s income is dependent on tourism, and we had arrived at the end of the season, which was not a bad thing. We had missed the crowds and the temperatures were still nowhere near the half boiling point degrees that they reach out here in December-February.
Chuffed with success, of a sort, we spent much of our remaining time doing the touristy thing and taking in the sights of Sapphire, Rubyvale and the surrounds. Below is a bit of a picture essay of what we saw.
Flora and Fauna
I gave fossicking one more brief go on my own at a nearby fossicking area called Graves Hill, (note to self, must write a horror story with that title,) without success, but an hour playing in the dirt really wasn’t going to get me a 2020 carat gemstone.
What it did get me was an insight into the other half of Sapphire’s income and the seriousness with which it’s taken. This is, after all, a mining area, and miners are a serious bunch who take their claims very seriously. It’s about finding that elusive fortune, that one in a million gem that will change everything. In a strange way, it’s the signs that tell so much about the mindset.
That escalated quickly.
So if you get a chance and you like shiny things, head west and check out the Gemfields of Central Queensland, but stick to the designated fossicking areas.