Big Question Marks

Friday, October 12, 2007

Go Fossick Yourself

We caught gem fever this week and headed west from Emerald to the funny little towns of Sapphire and Rubyvale for some fossicking. After hearing about this place from another backpacker, we had to visit. Visions of meeting old, white-bearded prospector types with picks slung over their shoulders at the pub, and of stumbling over a giant gemstone on a dried-up riverbed filled our imaginations. We’d heard cows ran free here, people were a little nutty, and the ground looked like a war zone. A crazy place! And it was all true (except for maybe the striking it rich part).

Our first night we stayed at a rest area on the way into Sapphire, under a giant orange full moon. A miner type (or so we guessed) burned a huge bonfire next to his shantytown trailer and tin-shed house across the street. It was all a little creepy (and we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes) so we headed inside the van early that night. We were jarred awake by loud mooing sometime in the wee hours of the morning—Adrian looked outside and there were cows hanging out by the bathroom block (weird!). We went back to sleep and not long after, the mooing woke us up again—this time Dayle popped her head out and the cows were grazing and scratching themselves right next to Daisy! It felt like a bad tabloid story—When Cows Attack! Not a very good sleep that night.

We moved onto a fenced caravan park the next day (yay, no cows!) and ended up in the pool all afternoon—who can fossick when there’s a swimming pool! Tame rainbow lorikeets jumped around our campsite and ate bread out of our hands (so cute). We visited the Rubyvale pub in hopes of drinking with old prospectors, but the clientele weren’t as dusty and disheveled as we’d hoped. (It looked like a pretty normal country pub).

The next day we finally visited a fossicking park—where for $7 a bucket, you get a bucket of “sapphire wash”, fossicking tools, and a lesson on how to sieve and wash the dirt and find sapphires. It was so much fun we hit two different fossicking parks, never really hitting the jackpot but we now have little baggies of sparkly jewels! We learned that sapphires come in more than just blue—green, yellow, maybe more colours than that, and they’re the hardest stone next to only diamonds. The Sapphire Gemfields were never commercially mined, but we’re told they’re the world’s largest sapphire fields (created by volcanoes ages ago). People buy mining claims and live on them for a while, some serious and some dig for a hobby. We were told that there are many rich miners around who just don’t look it… and there’s still plenty to be found, especially yellow and green sapphires, which used to be tossed away and are now more valuable than ever. We took a mine tour and our guide (probably the mine owner) told us that if you find human bones under the ground, you don’t tell anyone, because the authorities will shut down your mine to investigate. He told us the Rubyvale pub had been blown up twice over disputes, and that claim-hopping is worse than stealing your neighbour’s wife. A serious business this gem-mining is!

We sifted through one more bucket after the mine tour and actually found something worth cutting—but our dilemma was what we’d do with it after it was all faceted and pretty, since the jewelry itself is kind of ugly here. We had an invitation to go “real” fossicking—with pick and shovel out in the fields—from a really sketchy-looking dude who came by with his girlfriend to say hello (and the girlfriend was bubbling with joy, convinced she had a giant green sapphire in her hand—which we took one look at and were pretty positive it was a broken chunk of a green beer bottle). We dodged the offer… figuring if we found anything cool, old “Joe” (or whatever his name was) would steal our riches and push us down the nearest mine shaft.
We tore ourselves away from the crazy world of the gemfields finally after four days (we’d planned to stay a day or two) and Adrian is still making fun of Dayle’s “gem fever” even now.

** You may have seen our gem fever photos already—they were up on Flickr long before this blog— maybe they make more sense now! And thanks for your comments everybody... we miss you :)

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