…than as a tourist destination in its own right, but it has at least made an effort with the The Big Easel and the insect-infested associated mosaic pathway situated behind the very helpful tourist information office which itself is situated next to the never-open Pioneer Cottage complex
For us Emerald was the perfect meeting place for a long weekend (with Tali) with plenty of accommodation with pools and a number of places to eat. Our first walk was to the botanical gardens where we noted a few new bird species including the Oriental dollarbird, Pale-headed rosella and the very noisy Sulphur-crested cockatoo
That afternoon we drove out to the famous Lake Maraboon in the hope of some shade and cooler weather but this was not to be as temperatures soared to over 33C
That evening we were delighted to see the huge movement of fruit bats from their roost sites to feeding areas
Our first excursion into the Gem Fields was to Sapphire, a tiny village surrounded by piles of discarded top soil reminiscent of Yukon and small mining operations. The local shop had a number of claims for sale extolling the virtues of living a simple life in the area. We stopped purely by chance at Greg and Carol’s place, the base of their company Armfest which operates an open-cast mine a few kms away. As we found out all these mining companies have several strings to their bows, supplementing mining with offering gem cutting, gems for sale and the opportunity for tourists to fossick through gravel provided by the company and find their own sapphires. However, as we drove up their drive past their ponds and across the dam we had no idea what was in store for us. Tourism to the Gem Fields peaks in the winter and is at its lowest in the height of the summer so we were the only people there and we were met by their son, BJ. We spent a lot of time with him, learning about the mining, the hazards, the costs and the comparisons with gold prospecting in the Yukon. They sell AUS$75 bags of stone which are partially filtered from the output of their mine. The final cut is the one they use to find the best gemstones suitable for cutting but the bags represent a guaranteed means of picking out true sapphires. The bag is first filtered and then washed before being spread on a board and likely specimens picked out
Once likely stones have been picked out then Carol came out and showed us how to identify which were the best sapphires and so could be suitable for cutting for use in jewelry. They work with a Thai company that will cut any stone for AUS$3 and then post them back within 3 months. This company sponsor a local gemfest each year and are well-respected. So that was the sapphire bit of our visit.
Then the really interesting bit began. Carole asked if BJ had told us what happened to her a few months ago when there was a storm? No…… she proceeded to tell us how the higher dam (seen in the pictures above), was disappearing and the lower dam was filing up. At 5.30 am, her and her husband went to explore and realised there was a leak between the two and so he went off to their mine to bring a top loader back so they could shore up the bridge made of gravel and also find the leak and cover it in gravel. She noticed a whirlpool in the lower dam and as she had a handy shovel, decided to start filling in the area near the whirlpool on her own. The ground around the dam was clay and very slippery and she fell into the dam and was sucked into the whirlpool and thought she was dead, only to discover it had trapped her under their bridge in a small air pocket. After deliberating her chances of survival as being nil, and hearing a vehicle go across the bridge, she decided she had to do something or the family would not find her body or realise what happened to her. She took several big breathes , relaxed totally and pushed off using the shovel she was still grasping. She awoke on the side of the dam to her and BJ’s amazement (it was him arriving in his car). Her husband arrived back, drove over the bridge she had been under and the top loader went through where she had been and got stuck. She believed, if she had stayed where she was, she would have been crushed by the truck. Only as outbackers can do, she went off to shower all the muck off and her husband and son went to get another truck to pull the first one out so they could repair the bridge. When asked if she had got checked out by a Dr, she said she had gone a few days later and had broken ribs, bruised hip and various other minor injuries but hey that’s life out here. She did say she now has a fear of water!
Day 2, with Tali this time, was initially to the Miners Heritage walk-in mine in the town of Rubyvale. Previously an active sapphire mine this was now entirely devoted to running tourist tours of the workings
It’s not a deep mine, the depth dictated by the depth of the ancient river beds which contain the sapphires, so it was a gentle walk down to the working faces
And the Bent-winged bats which breed down there
We then had two goes at fossiking, one at the mine which was just Tali and then moving back to Sapphire and another stone emporium, Pat’s Gems and yet more searching through rubble for semi-precious stones by us all.
A good day was had and we returned to Emerald with bags of potential, including a huge sapphire which was found by Helen, lost by Helen and was found again by the owner and given back to Helen. It can’t be cut as it has flaws but can be polished and mounted into jewelry.
We left Emerald the next day, leaving Tali to stay another night before she returned to Woorabinda. We were finally heading north, via part of the famous Great Inland Way to Charters Towers, interesting name, interesting history..